5 Expert Tips On Selling Your Wine At Auction

Wine And Whisky

5 Expert Tips On Selling Your Wine At Auction

Uncovering the treasures in your cellar and sending them for auction can be an experience that really pops your cork (in a good way) – provided you’ve taken note of these essential points.

Published on 21 November 2017

Bonhams’ international wine director, Richard Harvey, M.W., has been down to scope out many memorable cellars, but there’s one in particular that he’ll never forget: “It was a hidden cellar under a town house in Belgium, where the deceased owner’s children had no idea of the interest and value.” Having lain undisturbed since the death of the consigner’s father in 1970, the cellar was incredibly dusty to the point that it was described as being like the ruins of Pompeii, rendering the wine labels completely unreadable until they’d been properly cleaned.

Against an estimate of £75,000 (US$988,600), the collection was eventually sold in February 2007 for £125,000 (US$1.64 million), with the highlight being a set of nine bottles of La Tache Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1955, which went for £12,100 (US$15,950), surpassing an initial estimate of £4,500 (US$5,930). Since then, of course, there have been plenty of pleasant surprises during Bonhams’ wine auctions, which are held seven times a year in London, along with four sales a year in the United States, and two in Hong Kong.

Besides offering a diverse range of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, wines from the Rhone, and Port, Bonhams also auctions wines from Australia, Italy, Lebanon, Madeira and Spain, providing plenty of interesting opportunities for both sellers and collectors. Their most recent Fine and Rare Wines sale in London on 28 September 2017 saw a total of £794,841 (US$1.05 million) worth of wine being sold. A dozen bottles of Chambertin Clos de Bèze 1999, Domaine Armand Rousseau from a private cellar in Germany emerged as the star lot, eventually going under the hammer for £17,625 (US$23,231).

Despite – or perhaps because of – the frequent number of international auctions, Harvey maintains that the timing and location of a wine auction is “not really a factor” when it comes to ensuring that your wines perform well on the auction block. Instead, as he tells us, what you need to keep an eye on are your storage conditions, documentation, and your wines’ ullage.

Tip #1: A well-timed phone call or email is the first step to a valuation

Chambertin Clos de Bèze 1999, Domaine Armand Rousseau

Bearing in mind that the final consignment dates for Bonhams’ wine sales are typically two months before an auction, you’ll want to contact them with time to spare – and if it helps, they have offices in the UK, US, and Hong Kong. “The best way initially is to phone or to email us with details of the bottles or cases you wish to sell,” says Harvey. “Photographs will be essential for older bottles.”

“The next steps will very much depend on the circumstances: with a collection, for example, I or one of my team will almost always visit the potential seller,” he adds, “I spend much of my time on the road, visiting collectors both here and abroad – mainly in Europe, but I have visited the USA, Russia, and even Australia. The most interesting were cellars in Tblisi, Georgia and Yalta, Crimea.”

Tip #2: Pay attention to the ullage of your wine

Bottles of La Tache, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1955

“Provenance and storage conditions are the most vital factors,” Harvey points out, in reference to the features that can affect a wine’s value either positively or negatively. “Bottle condition is also important and we do draw potential buyers’ attention to torn labels in our cataloguing notes. We inspect all older bottles and cases – certainly any in excess of 15 years.”

“We regularly seek advice from the producers if we have any doubt, either through photographs or by actually taking the bottles to them. Of more importance is ullage – the space between the wine and the base of the cork. Acceptable ullage levels increase with age, but we will only auction wine we consider to be in sound condition.”

Tip #3: A clear paper trail makes the entire process easier

Taylor Fladgate Scion 1855 Colheita with documentation

“The more comprehensive the paper trail, the better, and particularly so with old, rare bottles. The original invoices or, if stored commercially, annual rental invoices are also helpful,” explains Harvey. He also adds that with wine in bond ­(meaning that it has not passed through customs, with no Duty and VAT paid on it): “We would be looking for proof of title and the correct tax documents. Supporting documents are always helpful.”

Tip #4: Temperature-controlled storage and transportation are vital

Wine Cellar InterContinental Hong Kong, Temperature Controlled Storage

The last thing you’d want to do is to destroy the value of your wine through poor storage, so if you’re looking to sell wines from your collection in the future, it’s wise to invest in a state-of-the-art cellar or storage system. As for transporting it, bear in mind that a few minutes in a hot vehicle can cause your wine to mature rapidly, while an hour of exposure to heat can spoil it completely, so don’t ruin its chances through careless transportation.

“Clearly it makes sense to look after your wine at all stages, including transporting it to auction,” Harvey notes. “All lots sold by Bonhams are held under temperature-controlled conditions at London City Bond in Salisbury, Wiltshire.” The auction house can, of course, arrange for collection and delivery as well, should you need a bit of extra assistance.

Tip #5: The buzz is all about Burgundy

Richebourg 1985, Henri Jayer

According to Harvey, as far as collectors go, they’re as focused as can be: “Burgundy is currently very much sought after, mainly because the production is so small. It’s 10% that of Bordeaux, which remains the mainstay, in terms of volume, of the auction market.” As for those rare, elusive specimens that he looks for, he says without hesitation, “I am always excited to find a red Burgundy produced by the late Henri Jayer.”

Those fortunate enough to possess a bottle or a case of Jayer’s wines have a lot to look forward to once they decide to put them up for auction. Due to the French vintner’s preferences for making extremely limited quantities of wine (around 3,500 bottles each year) from the early 1950s until 2001, his wines have gone on to become some of the world’s most collectible and expensive vintages.

For instance, case lots of Echezeaux 1988 and 1994 by Jayer and his brother Georges, were sold by Bonhams for £21,150 (US$27,877) in 2013, while this February, a Nuits-Meurgers 1985 Henri Jayer fetched £2,350 (US$3,097) despite a lightly bin-soiled label, a slightly torn capsule, and two cracks in its glass bottle – a clear indication that Jayer’s wines are a welcome sight amongst the international collectors’ market (although again, don’t use this as an excuse to neglect the wellbeing of your wine).

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