Wine auctions pivot – quite profitably – to the virtual world

In July, Chicago Hart Davis Hart Wine Co. hosted an auction for the mighty New York restaurant Del Posto. All 3,422 lots, including the vintage Quintarelli, Sassicaia and a complete case of 1999 Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, have been sold, with 80% of the lots selling for much more than expected. Overall, the Del Posto Collection raked in $ 5.7 million, far exceeding the estimated total between $ 3 and $ 4.5 million.

It was “one of the most comprehensive Italian wine collections in the world,” said Marc Smoler, senior vice president of customer services at Hart Davis Hart, noting that the large number of quality bottles, combined with the cachet of the restaurant, made for “a very competitive auction”. As Hart Davis Hart prepares for his first sale in Hong Kong this winter, Smoler is optimistic.

The auction business is booming. Another restaurant collection, picked from Danny Meyer’s cellars Union Square Hotel Group (Gramercy Tavern, the Modern, Union Square Café, Maialino and Marta in New York), was auctioned in April through a partnership between USHG HUGS, the company’s non-profit employee relief fund, and White Plains, based in New York Zachys wine auctions. All the lots, bottles of Margaux and Selosse among them, were taken into account. The final return of $ 905,907 was well above the estimate of $ 592,610.

During the pandemic, the auction giant Sotheby’s wine featured five sole proprietorship auctions that totaled over $ 26 million, selling 50 percent above the low estimate. In the first seven months of the year, total wine and spirits sales topped $ 45 million, with $ 24 million generated online. Acker, New York’s historic wine merchant and auction house, also saw a noticeable spike in activity, totaling over $ 50 million worldwide Sales during the first semester of 2020, surpassing its nearest competitor by 50 percent.

Although the online format greatly diminishes the thin air that is synonymous with an auction, it allows potential buyers in remote locations to participate. And at a time when in-person dining is severely limited in most parts of the country, virtual auctions are proving to be an effective way to retain consumers with good wines during an unconventional era of wine buying.

“The digital transformation in the wine and spirits industry has accelerated over five to ten years, as innovation, automation, simplicity and customer empowerment are very clearly the future,” says Jamie Ritchie, global manager of Sotheby’s Wine.

More places around the table

One of the great benefits of virtual auctions is the ability to reach a much larger audience, says Jamie Peha, Executive Director of Washington Wine Auction (AWW), which went virtual for the first time this year: “We’ve seen people register and log in who are new to the Washington Wine Auction, including many from across the country.”

According to Acker Chairman John Kapon, “The first six months of 2020 have shown that buyers have continued their hunt for good wine at an even higher rate, with a 33% increase in the total number of bidders at auction compared to 2019 and 1,679 new auction records. world established as a whole. Acker’s auctions were “live online”. Due to popular demand, the company added another Hong Kong auction to the schedule in July.

Sotheby’s Wine statistics from January to July 2020 reveal that more than 1,000 bidders from 40 countries bought 67% of wine lots and 83% of spirits online. Additionally, says Ritchie, 20 percent of bidders are new to Sotheby’s, and half of them are under 40. “Digital tools allow us to reach a much larger, younger and more dynamic market while continuing to benefit from the support of our traditional customers,” he says.

Zachys Wine Auctions is also up on its January projections. “The supply has remained constant to high and demand has increased to meet it. Not only did our online sales go well, but our live sales became what we call “Studio Sales,” broadcast live from our White Plains offices, ”explains Charles Antin, Sales Manager.

Even Hong Kong sales are auctioned from New York (Hong Kong time). All the typical Zachys pre-auction dinners turned into Zoom or al fresco lunches. More importantly, adds Antin, “our sales have been so strong that we have maintained our multi-year plan to open in London on September 12, with ‘auction parties’ in countries around the world, so that people can get together and always stay in small groups while they bid.

Photo courtesy of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association.

Create a rich virtual experience

In 2016, the Willamette Valley Vineyard Association (WVWA) launched Willamette: The Pinot Noir Auction, a unique and commercial showcase of exemplary wines produced in the region. In 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis raged, WVWA migrated to a virtual format.

First, he created Preview Week, a series of 15 educational virtual tastings leading up to the tender. “Because the auction is a snapshot of the vintage, the place and the people, we were convinced that these exquisite wines of 2018 should be tasted, discussed and bought,” says Executive Director Morgen McLaughlin.

Then, for three days in August, customers settled safely in their living room, bidding on 74 exclusive lots of Pinot Noir from the 2018 vintage and six lots of Chardonnay at auction. The event ended with a lively live finale featuring such figures as the Portland Trail Blazers goaltender.and newly created winegrowerCJ McCollum. Along with this year’s digital switch-over, the auction was also remarkable as it raised $ 503,000, including $ 100,000 will support the James Beard Foundation’s Food and Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Native Americans, as part of the James Beard Foundation’s broader Open for Good campaign.

For its 33rd iteration, the Washington Wine Auction (AWW) also rose virtually in August. He raised $ 1.74 million for Seattle Children’s Hospital and Washington State University Research in viticulture and oenology. More than 600 people registered for more than 130 prizes, including a 22 year old vertical series of Leonetti Cellar Sangiovese and a place reserved on Cayuse Vineyards’ coveted member list.

“Our biggest challenge was bringing so many elements of our in-person events to life online,” says Peha. She adds that highlights like the Gala-in-a-Box meals cooked by well-known Seattle chefs were meant to draw people into the live auction.

Details have yet to be released to the public, but First Napa Valley, the annual invitation-only event for members of the wine business, features a virtual auction in February. “We I really had no idea how long the pandemic would last and how comfortable our business partners would be traveling to Napa Valley, ”said Stacey Dolan Capitani, vice president of marketing at Napa Valley Vintners. In case conditions allow for small gatherings by then, organizers are also planning a few in-person events. “It will be a fluid situation, but we are excited about the way we are reinventing and reimagining this event. I really believe that a lot of these concepts will stay in place once we can get together again, ”she adds.

Fill the Meal Gap in Person

Hart Davis Hart Wine Co. has also seen the number of auction participants increase since the start of the pandemic. “People don’t travel as much, so they have the ability to connect and bid live. Consumption at home has also increased and customers have more time to focus on their cellars and their collection, ”explains Smoler.

He also observes that auctions have benefited from current wine prices on some European selections, with people “looking for new ways to buy wines, especially ripe wines, at no additional cost. Auctions also offer a wide variety of vintages, formats, prices and regions not found in other venues. It really is a one stop shop.

One of the darkest realities of the pandemic is undoubtedly the collapse of the on-site sector – for owners and staff certainly, but also for wine-loving guests. As McLaughlin of the WVWA sums it up: “A lot of people have lost the chance to sit down and browse a wine list, interact with a sommelier, discover new wines and just enjoy the restaurant experience. . “

Hanging on to special bottles, such as those from Del Posto, is a luxury, but for collectors who speed up auctions, it’s also a way to channel a dining room full of stories.

Alia akkam is a writer who covers food, drink, travel, and design. She is the author of Behind the bar: 50 cocktails from the world’s most iconic hotels (Hardie Grant) and she works have appeared in,, Penta,, BBC, Playboy and Taste, among others, and she is a former editor of Edible queens, welcome design, and Beverage media. Born in New York, Alia has now made her home in Budapest. Follow Alia @behdria.

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