U.S. Wine Auction Market Enjoys Banner Year As Hart Davis Hart Again Takes Top SpotJanuary 15, 2015
In what amounted to a banner year, live wine auction sales in the United States increased 32% in 2014 to reach $156.5 million, with Chicago-based Hart Davis Hart Wine Co. (HDH) leading the live wine auction market with $42.8 million in gross volume. In a distant second place with $27.1 million in U.S. sales was Acker Merrall & Condit in New York, followed by Wally’s Wine Auctions at $23.2 million, according to data compiled by HDH’s researchers.
The U.S. market’s rise last year—it represented 52% of worldwide live auction volume—was in stark contrast to Hong Kong, where volume shrank by 6%. Also notable was the continued market share declines registered by the two big international houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Sotheby’s ranked No.-5 in the U.S. last year with $15.5 million in sales (behind No.-4 Zachy’s at $21.1 million), according to the HDH data, while Christie’s registered $10.6 million in volume, ranking it No.-7 behind Heritage’s $11.5 million total.
Hart Davis Hart has now led the U.S. market for four straight years, noted company president Ben Nelson. He says that leading performance validates HDH’s decision years ago to forgo establishing auction facilities in Asia, just when sales in the region were on the rise. “We’ve stayed focused on not moving around the world physically, but instead keeping our operation in one place and focusing on customer service,” Nelson said. “We believe our strategy has ended up being the right one.”
Nevertheless, Nelson said his company has bolstered its presence in Asia with two full-time sales representatives, along with a busy schedule of dinners and tastings to court leading buyers and sellers and promote events in Chicago.
With the dollar growing stronger, Nelson predicts auction prices could be headed lower in the coming year. He believes that Burgundy will be flat while the Bordeaux vintages of 2009 and 2010 hold promise for investors.
“The sweet spot to me is centered around the second through fifth growths of Bordeaux,” Nelson says. “The 2010 Montrose is selling for $250 a bottle right now at retail, for instance. Buy a pallet of that and hold it long enough, and I think you can make some money.”
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