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"There is currently more wine in his cellars than any one individual could ever hope to drink in a lifetime."
A lifetime?! As in one?! Singular?
But Taiwanese billionaire Pierre Chen's collection of bottles is believed to number well into the six-figures. We're going to need more lifetimes...25,000 bottles - a mere fraction of Chen's total archive - are heading to auction at Sotheby's over the next year, starting next month in Hong Kong. The strong likelihood is that "The Epicurean's Atlas" (what a name) will become the largest single-owner sale of all-time. Events will also take place in Paris, Beaune, and New York, with a second sale in Hong Kong. The events will be regionally focused, with the exception of the first Hong Kong event which is slated to be the ultimate wine flex.
The crown jewels of the collection include coveted vintages from La Tâche in Burgundy. Two 1985 methuselahs (six liter bottles) are estimated to sell for between $120,000 and $190,000, while a methuselah from the 1996 vintage may fetch $100,000 to $130,000. A 1971 jeroboam (double magnum) is also expected to breach six-figure territory with an estimate of $110,000 to $140,000.Those are just four bottles of twenty. five. thousand.
Two years ago, Sotheby's sold 364 bottles from Chen's cellar, amassing approximately $15 million in sales. Some of the same vintages settled towards the top of that event. The 1985 La Tâche methuselah sold for $163k, while a 1971 jeroboam sold for $146k. We'll soon find out just how much the market for these rarities has appreciated.
The news comes amidst a challenging 2023 for the wine market. Macro Liv-Ex indices including the Lix-Ex 50, 100, and 1000 are all down over 10% year-to-date, and there are few regional standouts. While wine proved relatively resilient in 2022, momentum began to shift in the second half of the year, and the slide has continued into 2023 with markets persistently grinding lower on a monthly basis.
The collection also enters an auction environment plagued by lukewarm bidding in recent months, particularly for trophy lots. Results haven't been weak, but enthusiasm has been lacking. Take a few recent events as examples. Just Monday at Sotheby's Hong Kong, the "Colossal Formats" event - named for the comically large methuselahs and jeroboams - offered DRC as well as Bordeaux staples. The top ten estimated lots delivered an average hammer ratio to the low estimate of 0.97, with only one lot delivering a hammer price above the low estimate. Not a disaster! But not indicative of a dynamic bidding environment.
Yesterday, "The Impeccable Burgundy Collection" event closed in Hong Kong as well, with three of the top ten lots going unsold, and most of the others failing to impress. The aggregate hammer ratio of the top ten lots was a mere 0.68, and the average among the sold lots was 0.93.
While tepid demand in Hong Kong is concerning, this is not merely an Asian market concern. Results were similar at the "Monumental Cellar" event last month in New York, and the composition mirrored that of the Colossal Formats session. The top ten estimated lots there, also featuring plenty of large format DRC, offered mix results. Two of the lots went unsold, yielding an aggregate hammer ratio of 0.71. Among the lots that did sell, the average hammer ratio was 0.92.
It's a small sample of top lots, but it paints a clear picture of a market not currently ravenous for high-end supply nonetheless. Ready or not, Sotheby's and Chen will soon unleash significant supply from an epic collection onto an uncertain audience. The hope would be that The Epicurean's Atlas can do for the wine market what the Paul Allen Collection did for art: provide an injection of activity and enthusiasm to a market otherwise wobbling on unsteady ground. The events of the Allen Collection proved somewhat anomalous, though, rather than demonstrative of broadly resurgent market appetite.
Should the results not accumulate as hoped, at least Chen can find consolation drowning his sorrows in any of his remaining tens or hundreds of thousands of bottles.
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