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January 9, 2011

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Asian buyers responsible for spike in 2010 sales

AUCTION houses sold more than US$350 million worth of wine worldwide in 2010, an amount roughly in line with or exceeding their pre-recession levels of 2007.

And all of them credited their sales in Hong Kong or Asian buyers for the spike in sales figures.

Sales in Asia were "particularly robust" said John Kapon, president and auction director of Acker Merrall & Condit, which reported total sales of US$98.5 million for 2010.

"Hong Kong has now overtaken New York as the world's largest wine auction center," Kapon said.

Acker Merrall was the latest house to report its sales following those of Sotheby's, which auctioned off more than US$88 million worth of fine wines and Christie's which said it had sold US$71 million.

Christie's head of wine sales in North America, Charles Curtis, is surrendering that title to take over the auction house's operations in Hong Kong this month.

"In Asia one must have a nuanced view of the market. In Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore there are relatively mature buyers. But on the Chinese mainland, there are the characteristics of a newer market," he explained.

"In newer markets, they tend to focus on the topline stuff first," Curtis said, which explains why sales of premier cru Bordeaux, such as Lafite-Rothschild and Haut Brion, have skyrocketed.

Serena Sutcliffe, head of Sotheby's International Wine Department, echoed Curtis's observation, noting that many of Asia's buyers "are starting from scratch.

"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."

Christie's wines sales were right around the levels of 2007 before the global recession took hold.

Acker Merrall's Kapon said his company's Asia sales of US$63.5 million represented a 206 percent growth over 2009. The remaining US$28 million sold in New York represented a 55 percent increase from 2009.

Sotheby's total of US$88 million was twice the amount of wine it sold in 2009.

Kapon expected that 2011 would be a banner year for sales overall and in Asia in particular, while Curtis predicted "2011 will go through the roof" for auction prices of the top growths and big names.


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