Auction houses sold more than $350 million worth of wine worldwide in 2010, roughly in line with or exceeding pre-recession levels. And all of them credited their sales in Hong Kong or Asian buyers for the spike in sales.
Sales in Asia were “particularly robust” said John Kapon, president and auction director of Acker Merrall & Condit, which reported total sales of $98.5 million for 2010.
“Hong Kong has now overtaken New York as the world’s largest wine auction center,” Kapon said. Sotheby’s auctioned off more than $88 million worth of fine wines and Christie’s said it had sold $71 million.
Significantly, Christie’s head of wine sales in North America, Charles Curtis, is surrendering that title to take over the auction house’s operations in Hong Kong beginning in January.
“In Asia one must have a nuanced view of the market. Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore there are relatively mature buyers. But in mainland China, there are the characteristics of a newer market,” he said. “In newer markets, they tend to focus on topline stuff first,” Curtis said, which explains why sales of premier cru Bordeaux, such as Lafite-Rothschild and Haut Brion, have skyrocketed.
Serena Sutcliffe, head of Sotheby's International Wine Department, echoed Curtis’ observation, noting that many of Asia’s buyers "are starting from scratch.
“They're drawn to the Western lifestyle. They’re building big houses and want a cellar. It’s an important part of business and social life.” Kapon expected that 2011 would be a banner year for sales overall and in Asia in particular and Curtis predicted “2011 will go through the roof” for auction prices of the top growths and big names.