WineBid.com cellar / Photo by Ryan Entwistle
With many wine auctions traditionally reliant on in-person events, one might think the pandemic would have hobbled the industry. Instead, it’s turbocharged sales.
“It’s one of the most frenzied and active markets I’ve seen in my 20-plus years of doing this,” says Acker Wines Chairman John Kapon. “It’s just incredible demand and continues to surge.”
At an Acker auction earlier this fall, six of the top 10 lots broke records. Bids on some wines are currently 50–100% higher than when the pandemic started and, overall, sales from January through October 2021 are up 33% compared to the year prior.
“We were amazed how resilient the market was and how active it stayed,” Kapon says of 2020. “In 2021, it took off to a whole other level the first six months, and then the fall rolled around, and it’s gone to even another level.”
Digitization and Changing Demographics
What’s driving this frenzy? Quite simply, the pandemic forced many auction houses to radically change the way they conduct business.
Jamie Ritchie fielding bids for Romanée-Conti 1971 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti at Sotheby’s Hong Kong / Photo by Tso Wai Lok
“We’ve become a digital first company,” says Jamie Ritchie, worldwide head of wine at Sotheby’s. Previously, in-person auctions were the norm. Now Sotheby’s does a combination of online-only auctions, live auctions with no physical attendance and live auctions with attendees, where people can also participate online.
“We used to hold roughly 25 to 30 live auctions a year,” says Ritchie. “We’re now holding closer to 60 auctions, and everything is heavily digital.”