When fear of wine counterfeits remains high in the wine wine auction market, bidders will pay a premium for wines with superlative provenance. Such was the case with the Burgundies from the H. B. Harris collection, which fetched $7.5 million over the weekend in Chicago at Hart Davis Hart.
Harris, a real estate developer known to his friends and family as “Bubba,” got into wine in his twenties. He amassed a trove of fine wine that he kept initially in an apartment that he had customized into a wine cellar but then switched to professional storage in 1994. He died last year at the age of 78.
The 986 lots at the Hart Davis Hart auction all sold and the total of the auction exceeded the $4 – $6 million estimate. HDH printed some of the original receipts in the catalogue. I liked the fact that Mr. Harris bought the ’85 Jayer Cros Parantoux for $68.99 a bottle or $828/case back in the day. Six of those bottles ended up selling for $101,575 on Saturday.
Domaine de la Romanée Conti topped the charts at Sotheby’s last year. The auction house (and wine retailer) sold $57.9 million of wine in 2013 and DRC accounted for $7.2 million of that. Almost three quarters of the DRC was sold in Hong Kong. Lafite was second at $5.2 million and Pétrus and Haut Brion tied for third with $4.6 million of each falling under the hammer.
Asked at a press conference at Sotheby’s in New York City yesterday if DRC would continue as the top wine for 2014, Jamie Ritchie pointed to the tiny production of the wine, lots of demand and the that fact that people do actually drink it, uncorking it everyday somewhere (I want to meet these people). Ritchie is the President and CEO of Sotheby’s Wine Americas and Asia.
The house doubled sales between 2009 and 2010 as sales jumped from $41.8 million to $88 million. They have declined since that high-water mark as mainland China’s thirst for wine has slowed. Even with that slowdown, several observers at the event concurred that when traveling in China’s wine circles today, there are opportunities to drink abundant amounts of fine wine every evening. Asian buyers purchased 62% of wine at their auctions around the globe.
Even if the data are, in part, driven by what they procured (e.g. their large Opus One sale), it’s good to see Sotheby’s opening up their sales data. I wish other auction houses would do the same. Charts and other stats follow after the jump. Read more…
CBS Sunday Morning ran a 10-minute segment on wine fraud yesterday. The full segment is embedded above.
It centers on Bill Koch, including having the CBS correspondent walking around his cavernous cellar at his Palm Beach home, discussing his various counterfeit bottles. The segment also mentions the Kurniawan trial, talks with Maureen Downey, and examines some anti-counterfeiting technology at Opus One.
While it is an important and interesting subject, the piece could have been stronger. Interviewing other collectors, auction houses, some of the three Burgundy producers who testified at the trial or a wine critic would have made for a stronger segment–while Opus One may be faked in China, Bill Koch does not complain of having fave bottles of it in his cellar, so it would have made a tighter segment to have one of the producers involved his his story.
At any rate, it’s good to see the story getting reaching a broader audience. I was at a Christmas party over the weekend where people were talking about the trial, so it’s good the story is getting out there. A lot of people said it would make a great movie and I agree–maybe one day it will reach the silver screen.
For eight days at the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl St., proceedings were underway in the important and interesting trial of US vs Kurniawan. I attended for three days. Here are some outtakes from my time at the #rudytrial:
* Bill Koch, billionaire, testified that he liked “kiwi wine” as well as Spanish wine and doesn’t drink DRC every night from his 43,000 bottle collection. Alert John Hodgman to alter his billionaire schtick to include the everyday drinking wines of mere mortals!
* Bill Koch said the best wine he’s ever had was a bottle of 1853 Margaux at the chateau. Read more…
The jury has returned a verdict: Rudy Kurniawan has been found guilty of selling counterfeit wine through the mail and engaging in wire fraud. Judge Richard Berman will announce the sentencing on April 24; Kurniawan could spend 40 years in federal prison. Read more…
There was talk about guns from the witness box today, in the fifth day of the Rudy Kurniawan trial. And they might as well have been smoking guns.
Of the four witnesses today that included billionaire Bill Koch, David Parker had the moment of greatest drama. Parker owns two wine business in LA that sold Rudy seven bottles of 1962 Domaine de la Romanée Conti – Romanée Conti Read more…
Rudy Kurniawan sat with his back to the gallery, his Men’s Warehouse suit bunching up below his neck. Some have said he’s lost weight since he’s been in jail; never having seen him before, I can’t confirm that. But he is a slight man with a young face behind his thick-framed, black glasses.
And it was a dour face today at the US District Court in lower Manhattan. In case you haven’t heard, Kurniawan is standing trial this week, with the Department of Justice accusing of selling counterfeit wines. Although one of the auctions in focus, Acker’s “Cellar II” sale in October 2007, grossed almost $25 million, the amount of fake wine he is alleged to have sold is $1.3 million. Read more…
So much is underwater these days, from homes that are below their cost basis to homes stricken by Hurricane Sandy. Given this backdrop, it seems almost trivial to talk about lost wine. But that is our beat and there’s a big case that has bubbled up to page one of the NYT today.
The case involves missing wine and high-profile individuals slinging lawsuits. Sound familiar? Well, this is not a counterfeiting case. In fact, it is the story of WineCare, a wine storage facility that has an estimated 27,000 cases in its facility. The cellars were flooded during Hurricane Sandy and collectors have been denied access to either their wines or even surveillance video to show how much damage has been done. According to the story, Keith McNally who was forced to buy $2 million of wine for his restaurants after his wine stored at WineCare became inaccessible. One collector, the hedge fund manager Donald Drapkin, estimates the value of his wine at the facility was $5.2 million. WineCare has now filed for a bankruptcy reorganization that includes moving the remaining wines to a location in New Jersey.
The WineCare web site, still operation, states, “WineCare Storage LLC is committed to excellence in every way, in our work ethic, in the services we provide, and in our relationships with our clients, vendors, employees, related industries and communities.”
Just out of curiosity, do those who advise wine as an alternative investment ever mention the perils of collecting?
“More than a Flooded Cellar. A Vintage Mystery.” [NYT]