March 22, 2011 / 10:25 AM / in 7 years

Wine auctions see booming sales

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - After buoyant wine auctions that saw booming sales, most auctioneers believe the only bubbles in the wine market are in the Champagnes poured during the bidding.

<p>The auctioneer's hammer of Dominique Giafferi is seen during a vintage wine auction from the grand cellar of Paris City Hall at the Credit Municipal in Paris, October 20, 2006. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier</p>

Chicago-based wine merchants Hart Davis Hart reaped $4.9 million at its Lafite auction Saturday, reinforcing its image as the most sought-after, top growth Bordeaux. And on the same day New York’s Acker Merrall & Condit sold $2.3 million at its auction.

“I don’t see prices going anywhere significantly except up,” said John Kapon, its head of auctions.

Both sales were the first to be held after the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan. Although Japan is home to many wine collectors, the country is not considered influential in the wine market.

The Liv-ex Fine Wine 100 Index, which shows the price movement for 100 of the most coveted wines, confirms what auctioneers are seeing -- all signs are pointing up. The index rose 41 percent year-on-year to the end of February.

So far in 2011, leading wine auction house have sold more than $46 million of wine.

Kapon dismissed any comparison of the wine market to the housing bubble that helped spark the worldwide economic recession.

“Nobody is making more of this stuff ... and it’s getting consumed every week. Somebody is drinking this and who knows how many bottles every week are getting consumed,” he said.

Kevin Swersey, an adviser at Spectrum Wines, an auction house in Irvine, Calif., also dismissed any talk of a bubble in the market.

“You’re not dealing in shares of Apple computer or Cisco Systems or General Motors,” he said. “You’re dealing in something that a lot of people can end up consuming.”

Demand for Chateau Lafite has outstripped supply, Swersey said, adding that it is being driven by the Chinese market in particular.

“They latched their bulldog jaws onto Lafite and have pushed the prices into an imbalance ... where Lafite is selling for prices two, three, four times higher than other first growths.”

Cases of 1982 Chateau Lafite sold at various auctions in the last three week for prices ranging from $51,425 to $71,700, including the buyer’s premium.

Jamie Ritchie, of Sotheby’s auction house, sees the worldwide wine market as still strong, but flattening out a bit.

“I get the sense that it’s leveling off,” Ritchie said. “Asian buying is still driving the worldwide wine market and Asian buyers have bought an awful lot of young everyday Bordeaux, and I think that market, it’s evolving and some of the market is becoming a bit more price sensitive.”

Mark Wickman, who runs the Australian online site Wickman Wine Auctions, disagrees. He sees more room for prices to go down than up.

“We’re just waiting for that tipping point,” he said.

Katja Zigerlig, of Chartis Insurance which underwrites personal wine collections, believes Burgundies will be the next big seller.

“I expect Burgundy prices to spike as Burgundy becomes a status wine to match the Bordeaux,” she said recently.

The market’s appetite will be further tested when Sotheby’s holds a three-day auction in Hong Kong on April 1-3 and during Christie’s 36-hour marathon wine sale in Hong Kong and New York on April 9-10.

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