From America to Zanzibar, the popularity of wine has skyrocketed in recent years. While millions of people have come to appreciate wine’s taste, a growing number of collectors also recognize it as a sound investment. For these savvy individuals, as well as top chefs and wine aficionados, the wine auction has become an important place to find superior wines. Now, renowned wine auctioneer Ursula Hermacinski has written The Wine Lover’s Guide to Auctions to explain how wine auctions really work so that you, too, can become a successful player.
The guide begins by exploring the history of wine auctions. It then provides information on wine basics and details the auction process—for buyers and sellers. Rounding out the book are helpful hints for starting or expanding your wine collection, choosing the best auction house for your needs, and organizing your own wine tasting.
Ursula Hermacinski was named “goddess of the gavel” by Food & Wine Magazine when she won its Golden Grape Award for “perfecting the art of auctioneering.” She began her career at Christie’s in New York, and in 1994, established Christie’s New York wine department along with the wine retailer Zachys. In 1998, she went out on her own, first
pioneering interest in online wine auctions, and then becoming the first woman auctioneer at the world-famous Napa Valley Wine Auction.
Foreword by Michael BroadbentIntroduction
Part One: Getting Started
1. A History of Wine Auctions
2. Essential Wine Basics
3. Introduction to Auctions
4. The People to Know
Part Two: The Art of Bidding
5. Understanding the Catalogue
6. Preparing for the Auction
7. Auction Day!
8. Collecting Your Wine
Part Three: The Science of Selling
9. Choosing the Right Auction House
10. Auction Fees and Their Negotiations
11. The Seller's Paperwork
Part Four: The Fruits of Your Labor
12. Expanding Your Collection
13. Charity Wine Auctions
14. Drink and Learn
You may have seen me, gavel in hand, step into a podium. If you have, you know that I genuinely enjoy each quick-quipped, split-second auction transaction. And if you have ever seen me, corkscrew in hand, step into a wine cellar, you know that I am also fascinated by the fruits (juices) of my labor. I truly believe in the wine auction process.
I’ve been an auctioneer for over twenty years. Most of that time was spent with the world-renowned auction house Christie’s, in its offices in London, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Concurrent to the Christie’s years, I presided over most of the nation’s most successful charity auctions, including the granddaddy of them all, the Napa Valley Wine Auction. I have pounded the gavel in famous wineries and four-star restaurants, on the stages of great opera and theater companies, at world-class resorts, and in missions, museums, and zoos. At the apex of the dot.com era, I enjoyed an adventurous stint in cyberspace when I was brought onto the executive team of Winebid.com. Each auction has been an opportunity to learn. This book shares my experience and knowledge so that you will be as comfortable at a wine auction as you are drinking a great bottle of wine at home. By the end of this book, you’ll know everything that I know about wine auctions.
The traditional image of a dusty, oak-paneled room cushioned by the hushed tones of an equally dusty, but always elegant, bespectacled auctioneer is gone. The auctions of today are dynamic events filled with movement and momentum. They have also become more popular, particularly with the rise of Ebay and regional charity events. Yet despite this gain in profile, the wine auction community is thought of as a secret society, with its own language and rules. Is this because wine itself is such a mysterious obsession? Probably not, as I have been surprised by collectors with sophisticated palates, boundless wine knowledge, and great collections, who consistently avoid the auction process. Regardless of the reason, sidestepping auctions means missing the opportunity for deeper immersion into the captivating world of wine.
The Wine Lover’s Guide to Auctions provides a clear understanding of the auction process, from start to finish. After two decades of performing at the podium, I relinquish hints and insights that will give you an edge in the auction game. Whether you are attending auctions for entertainment, buying or selling at a commercial auction, or organizing your own charity event, The Wine Lover’s Guide to Auctions will assist you by revealing every aspect of the process. My goal is to provide you with great confidence every time you enter the auction arena.
Once you are comfortable with the process because you have studied the rules and have a handle on the game, the excitement of auctions will have you hooked. There are great treasures to be found and fortunes to be won. I see the thrill in the audience each time I announce, "Starting now with lot number one!"
I have been on both sides of the podium, having also bought and sold my own wine at auction. I have enjoyed great successes and, believe it or not, been humbled. I want you to experience the success and minimize the mistakes. I want you to win.
The Wine Lover’s Guide to Auctions is divided into four parts. We will begin, appropriately, with "Part 1: Getting Started," which elaborates on both the history and details of the auction process, as well as the fundamentals of wine basics. Only after we take a look at the wine auction process as a whole can we get into the specifics that will set you apart as a cunning bidder and clever seller.
Chapter 1 provides an overview of the history of wine auctions. As you will see, the first wine auctions were similar to those of today in that they were about bringing wine to the people. At the beginning, though, these auctions sold wine in earthenware crocks or wooden cask and solely as a potable commodity. Centuries later, thanks to cork closures, glass bottles, and the benefits of aging, the idea of collecting this beverage began to take form, and the modern day wine auction was born.
To make the most out of your wine auction experience, you should be familiar with various types of wine. Chapter 2 will break this huge topic down to its fundamentals, from production to identification. It will also describe and explain various bottle sizes and shapes. Then, you will read about storing and serving different types of wine. This background will serve you well when you choose, bid for, and win your first bottles.
The essential facts to know about auctions are discussed in Chapter 3. Whether new information for the novice or a review for the experienced collector, these facts are imperative to anyone interested in participating in an auction. I cannot tell you how often wine collectors ask me, "What is a lot?" I find it surprising that I am never asked what an auction is--because how many people really know how auctions work? In this chapter, I will explain different types of auctions, from cattle call to cyberspace. And, of course, I will tell you what a lot is. We will take a look at which wines are sold at auction and why. Auction houses only sell certain bottles and types of wine, and once you know this, you can tailor your consignment or hone your purchases to your best advantage.
In Chapter 4, you will be introduced to the auction workers and attendees. This knowledge will allow you to participate with the greatest of ease. There is an entire team of professionals responsible for putting these events together. From the warehouse workers to the world famous wine critics, they all make tremendous contributions to the auction process. You will be able to take concerns or questions to the correct worker once you are aware of the responsibilities of each player.
"Part 2: The Art of Bidding" is where your true auction work will begin. This section will prepare you to put down this book, pick up a catalogue, and head to an auction. You will be ready to raise a paddle and buy some wine. Bidding is often considered the most intimidating aspect of the entire wine auction scene. But as a potential bidder, you must realize that every other bidder in the room had a first time as well--and none of them had the advantage of having first read this book. You, on the other hand, will walk in knowing what a wine auction looks and sounds like. You will be aware of the paperwork you need to complete to obtain a bidding paddle. You will even be armed with bidding strategies to help you win the lots you want. You will bid confidently at your very first auction.
In Chapter 5, you will learn how to read a wine auction catalogue, from its front cover to its index. There is so much code-like information crammed into each lot description that unless you take the time to decipher it, you may overlook important features of any given bottle of wine. You will be better educated to choose among the lots after this chapter because you will be able to thoroughly read the auction book.
Once you can navigate your way through the catalogue, you will continue to prepare for the auction. Chapter 6 will teach you to set bidding limits, review and mark the catalogue, and pre-register for the event. Then, we will explore your bidding options as you decide whether to bid in person or by absentee bid, and the advantages of each choice.
It is time for the auction! Chapter 7 is divided into two sections: Live Bidding and Absentee Bidding. The first half explores every aspect of what you need to know about attending an auction, including when to arrive, what to bring, and where to sit. Most importantly, it explains how to bid and offers helpful tips to put you in the best position to win the wine you want. The chapter's second half details how to successfully buy wine at an auction even if you can't attend. You will never miss an opportunity to bid at an auction again. After reading Chapter 7, you will be ready for the bidding battle.
Winning your first auction lot is quite an accomplishment and will feel great, but you need to be prepared for the post-auction work. Chapter 8 explains what to expect. From checking the accuracy of the invoice to thoroughly inspecting the bottles when they arrive, the after-auction steps are crucial towards determining that the wine you receive is the wine you were expecting.
Part 3 of The Wine Lover’s Guide to Auctions is "The Science of Selling." Experienced sellers can tell you that there are advantageous ways to approach the situation, and then there are the mistakes that are frequently made. This eye-opening section will steer you in the right direction towards consigning your collection, or fill in the holes if you are a buyer just curious about the other side of the coin. You will read through each step of a standard consignment, from the first thought of selling wine at auction to receiving the nice, large check.
The first step towards selling wine at auction is choosing the auction house that is right for you. With so many truly excellent choices, how will you decide among them? Chapter 9 introduces "The Four P’s"--guidelines by which to compare houses--to help you make this decision. You will learn how to contact the auction houses and speak their language, while seeing through the big smiles and chummy slaps on the back to the actual offer. You will also read about producing an inventory list that will best promote your bottles. This methodical look at getting your wine out of the cellar and into the glossy catalogue will lend ease to the nerve-racking process of determining which auction house shares a passion similar to your own.
Chapter 10 explains the charges associated with selling wine at auction, and may save consignors some money. Between staffing, temperature-controlled warehousing, and catalogue production, the companies' operational costs increase every year. As a result, these for-profit ventures are left trying to squeeze dollars out of narrowing margins. Regardless, auction houses are often willing to work out compromises in the various consignment fees. This chapter will educate you on where to ask for special discounted consideration when you are offering a terrific collection.
You will be inundated with paperwork throughout the process. The most important of these may be the contract, but it is necessary to to be aware of and review the accuracy of everything sent your way. Chapter 11 thoroughly explains the importance of each document. I know what to expect once the process begins and the flood of papers arrives, and I will help you stay in control of the game from beginning to end.
When you are up to Part 4 of The Wine Lover's Guide to Auctions, you will be ready to buy and sell at auction. As you probably know, though, there are other important aspects of wine auctions and wine appreciation. "The Fruits of Your Labor" will round out your wine knowledge by offering education on several related topics.
Chapter 12 includes a shopping list that will help you decide which bottles to purchase. There are some wines that, in my opinion, should be in every collection, and there are trophy bottles and prizes that simply cannot be resisted. With your newly acquired bidding skills, you will have a greater shot at adding these treasures to your collection. You will also read suggestions on what the cost will be to accomplish your goals. This is the fun (or fantasy) part.
We will then explore the big money world of charity wine auctions in Chapter 13. Due in part to both the unprecedented popularity of wine and the generosity of the wine industry, almost every city in America hosts some type of fundraising wine event. Today, almost $50 million is raised annually for various US charities. It is all for a good cause and in good fun, and fantastic prices are paid. Nonetheless, there are sometimes bargains to be found and I will tell you where to find them, as well as offer suggestions on hosting your own event.
Finally, Chapter 14 of The Wine Lover’s Guide to Auctions looks at a variety of ways to enhance the pleasures of the wine-collecting experience. The best part of opening a good bottle of wine is sharing it with others. I review the most enjoyable ways to taste, drink, and talk about wine. There is no better way to learn about the grape.
Some readers may choose to head straight for the Resource section before settling into any of the earlier chapters. I welcome you to do so. This section offers valuable lists of important names and addresses, including the largest and most reputable auction companies, as well as a helpful glossary of wine auction terms. I also recommend books for beginners and books that need to be within an arm’s reach of any cellar.
Now it is time for the best part. Pour yourself a glass of wine and start your journey along the road of discovery. It is all here for you. No longer will any aspect of the auction process confuse you. You will never have to be uncomfortable or sit on the sidelines because wine auctions seem too complicated. It’s fun--and it’s easier than you think. The Wine Lover’s Guide to Auctions is not a "dumbing down" of a complicated process. It is, instead, a thorough explanation of the game's rules. Beginners will suddenly find auction procedures within reach, while experts will discover informative facts and tips on every page. With The Wine Lover’s Guide to Auctions, you will be able to experience the adventure of a wine auction, while avoiding mistakes and confidently playing the game to its fullest advantage. Discover what it is like to see the auctioneer point at you and say, “It’s yours!”