Monday, November 21, 2005

Buying Opportunities at Wine Auctions

As wine enthusiasts and dedicated collectors, we are always looking for ways to acquire rare or harder to find vintage wines. We scour our favorite wine shops and super discount retailers; maybe we even join a wine club, always looking for that ever evasive vintage hidden treasure. Sometimes we succeed, but more often than not, we don’t. Have you considered buying wine at wine auctions?

Believe it or not, wine auctions can offer some real buying opportunities. It is not uncommon for many wine auctions to offer “sleeper lots”, or those wines that are flying low under the radar of public awareness and perception. Sometimes it is just a matter of timing, and a great buying opportunity comes up immediately and then disappears just as fast with the loud report of the auctioneer’s gavel and his hallmark word, “sold”, being spoken from the auction block.

Sure, some wines sell for astronomical prices at wine auctions. As a professional auctioneer, I can attest to this personally. During May 2005, I participated as an auctioneer in a retail wine auction where we set five world records for price of wine sold at auction. Though record prices may be achieved at certain wine auctions, this still does not mean that great buying opportunities do not exist or present themselves at those very same wine auction venues. One bidder walked away with four bottles of 1985 Cakebread Cellars (Napa, CA) Cab for only $125.

The most common types of wine auctions exist with brick and mortar retail wine auction houses and also with online retail wine auctioneers. Your better values can be found in these venues. They will almost always utilize “reserve bids” or opening bid amounts, so don’t be disappointed if the auctioneer does not accept a lowball bid offered under his stated reserve bid.

Charity wine auctions may also promote some incredibly rare wines, but you will usually pay a very high price as the charities are the beneficiaries of these, usually more than generous, bids. There are also some more esoteric wine auction venues such as “industry wine auctions” (i.e. The Wine Barrel Auction of Napa), but you must be employed in the wine industry in order to participate in these wine auctions.

Your knowledge of wine and current wine market prices will undoubtedly help you to spot those bargains at the wine auctions in which you choose to participate. Always attend the preview. This will help you to assess the quality of the wines on which you might bid.

What else can you do to find those diamonds among the rhinestones during the auction?
(1) Listen to the auctioneer. The auctioneer will go to certain lengths, even telling the bidders “this is a true bargain and value”, in order to sell a wine lot, rather than “pass” a wine lot over the auction block without selling it. The auctioneer wants to keep his “items sold” percentage higher, rather than lower by “passing” a lot.
(2) Attend the start of the wine auction. It is not uncommon to find a few bargains at the very beginning of the auction, while the bidders are still acclimating to the auctioneer and auction venue.
(3) Stay through the end of the wine auction. The bulk of buying opportunities exists toward the end of the auction when the crowd thins out and the bulk of showcase wines have been previously sold. Auctioneers tend to fear this time period, with the balance of power becoming more equalized between auctioneer and bidder, as the vultures are often seen circling overhead.

I recently purchased an eleven-bottle lot of Washington wines at a wine auction in Chicago for $375. All of the wines in this auction lot consisted of “library stock” from vintners such as L’ecole 41, Leonetti, Quil Ceda Creek, and Woodward Canyon. The average cost of each bottle was $34.09, which any Washington wine collector would acknowledge as a great deal. For those of you who remember that infamous laugh of the 1960’s Hanna Barberra cartoon character, “Mutley”, well that was me, laughing on the plane all of the way back home to Washington with her native wines in tow. Happy Bidding!

Tom DiNardo is a licensed auctioneer, certified appraiser, writer, and avid wine collector. You may reach Tom through his web site . © 2005 Tom DiNardo – All Rights Reserved.