Driven by the positive wave of digital technology, auction sales also performed well. While Christie's sets its record on the web, Catawiki and Cambi are experimenting with new sellers. And good news comes from Hong Kong as well: the first physical wine auction of 2020 in Asia will be the Gelardini & Romani auction dedicated to Italian wine.

Lockdown has frozen social life, travel and face to face events, but certainly not the desire to drink wine: e-commerce sales are growing at warp speed, the positive momentum of the large-scale distribution continues and wineries are increasingly equipped for home deliveries. But what about wine auctions and the value of collectible bottles? The dynamic appears very similar to that of other channels: online auctions are proceeding at full speed (see the record of interest collected since Christie’s latest auction), while traditional auctions need to revise their plans. But in Hong Kong auctions are already in the process of returning to normal, with Italian wine ready to sprint at the start line.

Catawiki: growing number of buyers and lots

We took stock with Catawiki, the most visited digital marketplace in Europe for collectibles, art, design, jewelry, watches, vintage cars and even wines. After closing 2019 with a turnover close to 350 million euros (+27% compared to the previous year) and 7 million monthly users, in the first three months of 2020 – when the emergency had already covered the globe – it continued to line up plus signs: growth went even over 60% compared to last year.

“Being born as an online platform, the daily activity of Catawiki remains close to normal” the two wine experts Andrea Curatolo and Daniel Elswood explain to Tre Bicchieri “with the only exception of delivery times which, in some cases, have lengthened a bit. The most interesting dynamic, however, concerns the new sellers who have chosen us as a possible new path for the market. Among these also many sellers from the hospitality sector, who use auctions as a new sales channel. Therefore, the lots and variety of wines available have increased, without hindering the high quality of the proposal, thanks to the daily work of our team of experts who focuses on checking each lot”. 

The dynamic on the buyer side is not too different, and is also growing: “In this period, obviously more people spend time online and, consequently, we have never had so many buyers in our auctions”. The verdict is therefore unequivocal: the online model also works for auctions. “This trend had already been growing for some time” conclude Curatolo and Elswood “and probably, in this difficult moment, including when the emergency ends, the trend will continue on this path. Whether it’s daily drinking aimed at high-end wines or collectibles”.

Record interests for Christie’s latest online auction

The good moment for online sales was also photographed during the last auction at Christie’s, which recorded the best online performance for the group, raising 1.1 million US dollars. The auction was held in New York for two weeks starting March 24 and was followed by 31 countries on five continents, with a 20% increase in unique visitors compared to previous web sales. The top lots were the old vintages of Bordeaux and Californian wines and the best result was 12 bottles of Petrus 1990, which raised $40,000. Californian wines also did well: Harlan Estate, Promontory, Opus One, Insignia, Dominus, Ridge, Bond Araujo and Spotteswoode collections. The catalog also includes champagne, Scottish whiskeys, Italian and Portuguese wines. “This is a testament to our strong customer relationships,” said Chris Munro, wine manager for Christie’s Americas, “and given the current circumstances, an excellent result also linked to marketing initiatives that embrace social media and digital campaigns.”.

Gelardini & Romani: on May 17 the first wine auction of 2020 is in Asia

The situation is somewhat different for those who have always dedicated themselves to physical auctions, as is the case of Galardini & Romani, the auction house founded by two Italians but which, since 2013, is based in Hong Kong. And precisely from the Chinese hub, where we reached Raimondo Romani, the good news comes. The restart is already underway. “Although it should be clarified” explains Romani “that there has never been the undifferentiated lockdown that has been applied in many other countries, city life has never suffered great limitations: the greatest damage to the economy has resulted from the closure of borders resulting therefore in a contraction of tourism”.

Therefore, restaurants are also open and in May the other activities so far postponed will resume: including traditional Gelardini & Romani auctions in April, dedicated to Italian wines coming directly from Italian collections and companies, has a new date: May 17th. “In reality,” Romani reveals, “we had to postpone it because of the Italian lockdown which slowed the withdrawal of credit lines and consequently cataloguing. But now we are ready and we can say that May 17th in Hong Kong will be the first wine auction to be held across Asia from the beginning of 2020. To precede it, there will be a whole series of wine dinners dedicated to great Italian wines in the catalogue, which will be presented by Sarah Heller – Asia’s youngest master of wine – also with the intention of supporting Italian dining in the city which is suffering a lot due to the drastic contraction of tourism”.

Wannenes: the wine will not be devalued

In the meantime, in Italy, the Wannenes auction house has reshaped its calendar as far as design, antiques and ancient art. However, no appointments were scheduled in the first half of the year for the new Wine & Spirits section, entrusted to Gelasio Gaetani d’Aragona, whose debut was last autumn in Rome, during Gambero Wine Weeks, with an excellent result: 321.36 thousand euros and 71% of sales per lot (100% of bottles from Cantina di Masseto).

In any case, the transition to online would not be a problem: “The situation would not change much” reveals Alessio Leonardi of the Wine Department “because more than 3/4 of the total lots sold in the last Wine & Spirits auction were sold either via platform or by phone. By structuring a totally online auction, the bid time would only be extended which would not be limited to a couple of minutes per single lot, but to a span of a couple of days for the entire auction.” No worries even about any loss of value of the wine: “Currently, fine wines are not excessively affected by a change in value; they are always considered investment goods. We cannot predict whether their estimate will increase, but it certainly will not decrease, given that it is always carried out on the basis of the analysis of previous sales”. Everything else will be addressed in due time.

Cambi also moves online: over 352,000 euros for the “Precious and Collectible Wines” auction

The strategy of the other Italian auction house Cambi was also successful when it decided to not stop and continue to offer its sales by organizing and managing all the work remotely. Experience that also involved the Wines department, one of the youngest of the maison, led by director Luca Martini (best sommelier in the world in 2013). Last April 22, for almost 8 hours – times also extended by the online management – numerous Italian and international collectors and enthusiasts collided with bids on almost 500 lots. The results were very positive and comforting, with 82% of the lots sold and a surprising 114% of sales by value. Overall, the figure of 352,500 euros has been reached. The podium of the most expensive lots sold is entirely French (four gold medal bottles of Criots Batard Montrachet, Domaine d’Auvernay, vintage 2006, sold for 15,000 euros), but also Italian wines fared well: the top lot was 6 bottles of Barolo Giacomo Conterno Riserva Monfortino 2000 which, starting from an estimate of 2,000 euros, reached 5,500 euros. Among bubbles, a rare bottle of Dom Perignon Moet et Chandon 1998 dominated the scene, one of only another 100 in the world, sold for 6,000 euros.

by Loredana Sottile