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Romanee-Conti Tops $8.2 Million Sellout Auction

Sotheby's weekend wine sale
The scene at an auction in Hong Kong held by Sotheby's on March 31, 2012. All of the lots sold in the two-day event. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg.

Strong demand for bottles of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and magnums of Chateau Lafite at Hong Kong’s weekend auctions showed that concerns about economic growth slowing haven’t deterred Chinese buyers of fine wines.

The Romanee-Conti topped Sotheby’s two-day wine sale that ended last night with every lot sold for a total of HK$63.64 million ($8.2 million) including fees, compared with a HK$57.3 million presale estimate at hammer prices.

“I do see a sudden improvement in prices,” Ami Hung, a Hong Kong-based collector, said at the event. “It’s one of the ways to see how people feel about this year’s worldwide economics and they have a pretty optimistic outlook.”

Sotheby’s 100 percent success rate in the first major Hong Kong auctions of the year was in contrast to last September when some lots failed to sell. The Liv-ex 100 Index of Fine Wines gained 2.5 percent in the first two months this year after falling 21.6 during the second half of 2011.

Two cases of Romanee-Conti 1988 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti had the top price of HK$1.59 million each, compared with a presale high estimate of HK$1.1 million.

Romanee-Conti produces about 450 cases of wine per year on an estate of 1.8 hectares (4.4 acres) and is consistently the most sought-after Burgundy at auction.

Acker Auction

Wine auction house Acker Merrill & Condit raised HK$58.3 million including premium during a two-day sale ending March 31, compared with at $50 million presale estimate at hammer prices, with 95 percent of all lots sold.

Acker’s top lot was a case of 1945 Mouton Rothschild sold privately before the auction for HK$1.7 million.

Chinese buyers are broadening their purchases to Burgundies including Domaine de la Romanee-Conti as well as less expensive second-and-third-growth Bordeaux, said Robert Sleigh, senior director and head of wine for Asia at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.

That’s one reason Sotheby’s included wines shipped directly from California boutique wine maker Colgin Cellars and Harlan Estate. Six bottles of the Napa Valley-based winery’s 2006 Colgin Cariad 2006 sold for HK$6,125 a bottle, more than twice the lot’s high estimate.

Sotheby’s auctions started a five-day marathon of more than 3,100 lots that the New York-based auction house estimates may raise as much as HK$1.9 billion. They include everything from contemporary Asian paintings to Qianlong-era porcelain and Patek Philippe watches. Demand is being watched after China pared the nation’s economic growth target last month to 7.5 percent from an 8 percent goal in place since 2005.

Today Sotheby’s auction will be led by an oil painting by Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang from his 1993 Bloodline series. The work may fetch as much as $4.5 million. An oil-based work by Zao Wou-Ki, a 20th-century Chinese abstract painter, carries a high estimate of $HK28 million.

A work by Vietnamese painter Le Pho sold for HK$2.9 million, a record for artist and the highest paid for a Vietnamese painting, Sotheby’s said.

(Frederik Balfour is a Reporter at Large for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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