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Lafite Thirst, Battling Billionaires Push Wine Auctions Up 88%

Chateau Latour 1982
Two bottles of Chateau Latour 1982. The wine was estimated to sell for between HK$160,000 and HK$240,000 per case at Sotheby's Jan. 22 auction in Hong Kong of wines from the collection of the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. The auction raised HK$43.3 million; it had been estimated to raise as much as HK$32 million. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Sales at the world’s three biggest wine auctioneers increased by 88 percent in 2010 as wealthy Asian buyers dominated the market for prestige French vintages such as Lafite.

The total sales were a record $252.1 million, according to Bloomberg calculations. The company that sold the most wine, $94.9 million, was specialist Acker Merrall & Condit, which may add as much as $5 million at the final New York auction on Dec. 18. Sotheby’s global wine auctions made a record $89.3 million.

Hong Kong events were the main contributors to growth at Acker and Sotheby’s, which both doubled sales. Christie’s International saw a 39 percent increase to $67.9 million.

“The reason it’s happened so quickly is that many of the Asian buyers are starting from scratch,” said Serena Sutcliffe, Sotheby’s international head of wine. “They’re drawn to the Western lifestyle. They’re building big houses and want a cellar. It’s an important part of business and social life.”

Hart Davis Hart Wine Co.’s wine auction total increased 63 percent to $39.2 million, the company said in an emailed release last night.

U.K. composer Andrew Lloyd Webber is the latest collector who will be offering a major consignment in Asia. He will be selling 747 lots of Bordeaux and Burgundy at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on Jan. 22, valued at as much as HK$32 million ($4.1 million).

Old Masters

Demand was less feverish at last week’s evening auctions of Old Master paintings in London. Year-on-year sales at the December series declined 41.4 percent as museum-quality works struggled to attract bidders.

There were no takers for a Poussin canvas, estimated at as much as 20 million pounds ($31.5 million), at Christie’s on Dec. 7. The following evening at Sotheby’s, a Stubbs painting fell to a single telephone bid of 10.1 million pounds with fees, an artist record, after being estimated to sell for as much as 15 million pounds.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s evening Old Master auctions raised a total of 48.9 million pounds, down from the 83.5 million pounds last December.

“Really good material is scarce and the market is getting more critical,” Johan Bosch van Rosenthal, an Amsterdam-based art consultant, said. “The fight among the auction houses for the best paintings is also pushing up estimates.”

The low valuation for the Stubbs was pitched at more than three times the auction record for the artist, set in 1995. The Poussin was also estimated at more than triple the record.

“You need a tempting estimate to encourage bidders to go higher,” Hugo Nathan, a director at the London-based dealers Dickinson, said in an interview. “Poussin is not an easy seller, particularly when the economy is a little edgy.”

Banksy Donation

Urban painter Banksy is donating the royalties from his latest print to support a group of art activists in Russia, said the London-based online gallery, Pictures on Walls.

“Choose Your Weapon” sold out when it was issued on The screen print, showing a hooded youth walking a cartoon dog, was issued in four different colored limited editions. The 175 prints were priced at 450 pounds each and the buyers selected at random by computer.

Banksy’s share of about 100,000 pounds will be given to Voina, or “War,” an artists’ collective. Two members were arrested on Nov. 15 and remain detained in St. Petersburg on charges of hooliganism, according to the group’s website.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Scott Reyburn in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at

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