Saturday, March 15, 2008

Skinner Wine Auction: Exciting and Interesting

So I finally went to my first wine auction. And I quite enjoyed myself. Plus, I learned more about the local wine community and was surprised by some of what I witnessed. It is definitely an experience I will repeat again.

This past Friday night, the Skinner Gallery in Boston held their second Wine Auction. It was held at their offices near the Park Plaza, the same room where they had the pre-auction wine tasting the evening before. Upon entering the room, you could partake of a glass of chilled Louis Roederer Champagne. They even had a few appetizers to nibble upon.

I registered for a bidder number and received my paddle, #40. There were plenty of chairs in the room and a fair number of people showed up, predominantly men. There were a few telephones set up at the front of the room for phone bids though there was only need for one such phone. Though that phone would be quite busy during the auction.

There were over 240 lots up for auction and they planned on going through about 100 lots each hour. And they would actually come fairly close to accomplishing that. The auctioneer was a woman and she did an excellent and professional job of hosting the auction. Matters proceeded quickly so if you wanted to bid, you needed to be on the ball or you would lose out.

The auction catalog listed all of the lots with a description of their condition as well as a ranged estimate of their value. I had done a bit of research prior to the auction and it seemed their estimates were generally conservative. What surprised me were the number of lots that sold for less than the estimates, or at the low end of the range. Very few wines sold for more than the estimated value. So this seems to indicate that bargains can be found at these auctions. You probably could find better deals at the auction than if you tried to buy some of the same wines at a retail store.

I only stayed for the first 100 lots but almost all of those lots sold. Only three did not sell and they were two lots of Opus 1979-80 and a lot of Opus One 1984. Two other Opus One lots sold so I am not sure why the other three did not.

Let me give you a sampling of some of the lots that sold and for how much. The first lot of the evening was 3 bottles of 1953 Chateau Margaux that sold for $1500, which was less than its estimated value of $1800-$2800. One of the oldest wines was six bottles of 1870 Lafite Rothschild, estimated at $25K-$35K. And it sold for only $19K. I was interested in two half-bottles of 1988 Chateau d'Yqeum but they sold for $425, more than its estimated value of $250-400. I was not interested in paying that much for them. A bottle of 1996 Screaming Eagle sold for $1900 and a bottle of the 1998 vintage sold for $1300.

The person who bought the most lots was the man on the telephone. It seemed like he bought about 20% of the lots though I did not keep an exact count. This mystery man certainly bought a lot of wine. Some people had previously bid online or phoned in bids earlier. So, when some of the lots were initially offered, there were already bids in place. Though generally those bids did not win the lots.

Everything seemed to go very smoothly and professionally. It was fun to watch the bidding, to see what some were willing to pay for the various wines. You do get caught up in the action and you want to join in, to make a bid. I did bid on a couple items for which I had not previously planned on bidding. But at the moment they seemed like potentially good buys. Though the price rose too much for me.

I do wish though that there had been a bit more diversity in the wines up for auction. Many countries were not represented at all, such as Spain and South Africa. And other countries only had a minimal number of wines at the auction, such as Australia and Italy. But that is a function of who offers their wines for consignment. And that tends to be those holding French and California wines. It is out of the hands of the auction gallery. They can only sell what others offer for sale.

I eagerly look forward to their fall wine auction. This was only Skinner's second wine auction in Boston and it will continue to improve with time. There will be more lots and hopefully more diversity. Skinner certainly sells almost all of the lots and they run a very professional operation. It is definitely something that all wine lovers should experience. I would recommend it to all, even if you just go to watch.

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