The Most Prestigious Wine Auctions in the World
Most of the world’s wine auctions are handled by three major international auction houses: Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Acker Merrall & Condit. Some of the most expensive sales have been made at these auctions, most recently the record-breaking $1.6 million sale of a superlot of Romanée-Conti Burgundy Grand Cru at Sotheby’s Hong Kong last October 4, 2014.
However, there are also the specialty auctions. While they are on a smaller scale than the ones operated by the Big Three, they command a significant amount of prestige because of their history, their contributions to charity, or the specific kinds of wine being sold. The rarer wine varieties are often scooped up by collectors and kept safely in storage at specialized facilities like Singapore Wine Vault. Here are some of the notable auctions in the industry:
The Wine Auctions at Kloster Eberbach (Eberbach Abbey)
Located in the Rheingau district in Hesse, the Kloster Eberbach auctions are organized by the Verband Deutscher Prädikats und Qualitätsweingüter (VDP), an association of estates across the wine-producing regions of Germany. The abbey was first founded in 1136 as a Cisterian monastery, and for centuries the monks had cultivated what, at 300 hectares, was essentially the largest medieval vineyard in Europe. Today the estate is run by the Federal State of Hesse through the Hessian State Wine Domains, which run the auctions together with VDP-Rheingau.
The auctions, first started by the Duke of Nassau in 1806, are what are known as first-hand auctions—where the wines sold are new vintages coming directly from their source vineyards. These auctions are unique in that the vintages being sold must first be approved by a panel of commissioners, who conduct taste tests to determine the categories the wine must be classified under as well as the minimum number of bottles the vintner can put up for auction. This is to keep the quality of the vintages under the gavel high.
The Kloster Eberbach auctions are held bi-annually, in March and September.
The Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction
It is the oldest charity wine sale in the world. Situated at the heart of Burgundy country, the Hospices were founded in 1443 as a hospital and refuge for the poor. The Hôtel-Dieu, the oldest building in the complex, is now a museum, but is also the site of the annual wine auction, held on the third Sunday of November every year. Wine connoisseurs and collectors from all over the world have been gathering at the Hospices every year since 1859 to bid on some of Burgundy’s finest vintages from the vast domaines surrounding Beaune. The wine is auctioned by the barrel, and the Hospices maintain the tradition of bidding “by candlelight”—where the length of the bidding is determined by the lighting and extinguishing of a candle.
In 2005, the international auction house Christie’s took over the organization of the Hospices charity auction, and with Christie’s expanding the auction to online bidders, the Hospices have earned upwards of 5 million Euros, which go to support the Hospices’ upkeep and their charitable works.
The Nederburg Auction
This auction takes place every September at the Nedenburg winery in Paarl, South Africa. The auction, inspired by the examples of the Kloster Eberbach and Hospices de Beaune auctions, has been held annually since 1975; winemakers and enthusiasts flock to bid on some of the best and finest of South African wines, which include Nedenburg’s signature wine, the Edelkeur.
The auction was an instant hit with wine enthusiasts curious about the then-emerging South African wine industry, and by 1979 people were flocking to the auctions in droves. The 1980s saw the auction reach international status with the esteemed guests from the world of wine such as Hans Ambrosi, founder of the German Wine Academy and organizer of the Kloster Eberbach auctions.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the Nederburg auctions, which saw record earnings for the Nedenburg winery and other South African vintners, as well as the various charitable organizations such as Hope Through Action.
The Napa Valley Vintners Auction
It is the largest and most famous charity wine auction in the United States. Started in 1981 by the Napa Valley Vintners Association, a trade association of Napa Valley vintners dedicated to promoting viticulture and marketing the best of Napa Valley wines around the world, the auction is held in Meadowood Resort in St. Helena each June.
In 2000 the Napa Valley Auction broke records by selling a bottle of the Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 from the Screaming Eagle winery for a record-breaking $500,000—a record unsurpassed to this day. In the most recently concluded auction last June, the auction raised $18.7 million for charity, breaking its own record of $16.6 million the previous year, with the money going to youth groups and health care organizations.
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