On May 19, 20,000 bottles of wine from William Koch’s cellar will go to auction at Sotheby’s. The blockbuster sale, spread across three days (May 19–21), represents close to half of the billionaire’s total collection and was acquired over the course of nearly 40 years.
“He’s bought on scale,” said Connor Kriegel, head of auction sales for Sotheby’s Wine, who organized the sale. “Whenever he saw an opportunity to buy the things he loved, he bought.”
Koch’s wine, which will be broken up into about 2,700 lots, is estimated to go for $10.5 million to $15 million. More than 120 lots are from the coveted Château Latour, including one that consists of six 1961 magnums, which carries an estimate of $42,000 to $60,000. There are also more than 80 lots of Château Mouton Rothschild; one, composed of 10 bottles of Mouton’s 1945 vintage, is expected to sell for $80,000 to $120,000. “That’s one of the most legendary wines,” said Kriegel. “It’s the wartime vintage, and it’s one of the greatest wines they’ve ever made. To see it on such a scale is pretty spectacular.”
Koch has made headlines with his wine collection before. In the late 1980s he paid $500,000 for four bottles that had supposedly once belonged to Thomas Jefferson but were later determined to be fake, and in 2005 it was discovered that a fine-wine dealer named Rudy Kurniawan had sold Koch 211 suspicious bottles for more than $2 million. (Koch filed suit, and Kurniawan was eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison.)
The Sotheby’s sale, in contrast, came about for a different reason: Koch simply had too much of a good thing. “He realized he could never get through all of this wine,” said Kriegel. In a statement announcing the sale, Koch echoed that sentiment: “With around 43,000 bottles, I could not possibly consume everything in my cellar so I am delighted to offer this selection to allow collectors all over the world to enjoy the glorious moments that come with these wines,” he wrote.
The auction comes at a relatively robust time for wine sales. The market is down from its 2011 highs, but recent auctions have seen strong prices for unique bottles. At a Sotheby’s London wine sale last week, for instance, a single bottle of the same 1945 Mouton Rothschild offered in Koch’s collection sold for more than $12,000.
“Mr. Koch is a big name, and I suspect there will be a lot of excitement,” Kriegel said. “You’re going to be seeing clients from all over the globe—individual collectors, all sorts of people interested in wine.”