In just a decade, wine auctions have not only gained traction amongst industry members such as merchants and brokers, but also with private customers on the look-out for some good buys. “They are inquisitive, label aficionados, investors and collectors and they make up a loyal, and increasingly young audience that enjoys discovering rare wines and vintages, some of which cannot be found anywhere else”, comments Laurie Matheson, a valuer with Artcurial. The company sells between 30,000 and 50,000 bottles a year, most of which come from private cellars belonging to enthusiasts who have passed away or restaurants that have gone bankrupt.
The challenge nowadays for experts such as Laurie Matheson is not so much selling the wines as guaranteeing a collection’s provenance and storage conditions. Their reputation hinges on it. Where was the wine bought? When? How was it stored? The specialists – and each auction house has at least one – have to carry out some real investigative work, which is totally justifiable. “Storage conditions are essential for assessing a bottle”, explains Matheson. “In fact, we reserve the right to refuse to sell any wine we cannot guarantee as genuine, even if it is a prestige label.”
As for storage solutions, Matheson has no preference between a natural wine cellar and a high-tech one but she admits to being extremely scrupulous when it comes to the efficiency of the chosen solution. “Wherever possible, we make an inventory of lots actually in the client’s cellar, which enables me to assess the conditions in which the bottles have been stored.” Philippe Faure-Brac, voted World’s Best Sommelier in 1992 and owner of the Bistrot du Sommelier in Paris, concurs: “Whatever the cellar, the humidity and temperature in particular must be optimum. It is better to have a premium wine that has been stored well, than an ultra premium wine that has matured badly. For wine, and of course this is true of auctions, you are not just buying a reference, but the way it has aged.”
by Agathe Petit