Citizen Reporter
5 minute read
6 Oct 2021
5:05 pm

Wine auctions: What it feels like to witness someone buy a R900k bottle

Citizen Reporter

Staff reportedly held their breaths with anticipation as the bids kept pinging on the internet bidding console and the price kept rising.

Strauss & Co auctioneers recently hosted a wine auction that saw a 200-year-old bottle of Grand Constance 1821 go for over R900,000 | Picture: iStock

Wine auctions seem to be reaching new heights in South Africa and a recent sale to the tune of over R900,000 is proof of this. 

Strauss & Co fine wine auctions, the company that facilitated the sale, recently entered into a partnership with auction partners Wine Cellar fine wine merchants and Higgo Jacobs to showcase rare, maiden vintage wines from the most esteemed producers such as Alheit Vineyards, Sadie Family and Vilafonté wines. 

Susie Goodman, Executive Director of Strauss & Co auctions and Fine Wine Director Roland Peens, sat down for a Q&A about the sale and the partnership which endeavours to bring significant volumes of SA vintage wines to market. 

Susie Goodman began by recalling a recent highlight that saw six-figure sales of a range of wines put together by Strauss & Co. 

In our Johannesburg office we had the opportunity to put together a 90-lot auction-based around a theme of Impressionist/Expressionist artworks. The selection of works, all by South African artists, fell under these banners and provided us with a context to relook, discuss and appreciate a number of our important artists,” explained Goodman. 

“When we presented this bright spring-themed auction idea to the wine department, they enthusiastically questioned: what would it mean in the South African wine context!?”

According to Goodman, they came up with ‘574 years of South African wine icons’. 

“They jumped at offering five important lots that when the ages of the wines are added up produced the grand total of 574. Giving the collector access to an incredible history of ownership and context.”

Goodman went on to describe the mood in the room when the R900,000 purchase was made.

Grand Constance 1821 sold
A 200-year-old bottle of Grand Constance 1821. Picture: Facebook @Strauss&Co -Fine art Auctioneers and consultants

“The excitement in the room, on the phones and with the online bidders was palpable, and the momentum just kept building. There was fierce bidding on the single bottle from numerous potential buyers. 

“As the battle heated up the price kept on rising and rising, and the staff all held their breaths with anticipation as the bids kept pinging on the internet bidding console and coming in from the telephone bidders. We flew past R 400,000 and the records kept tumbling. The gavel finally came down at R967,300… Five bottles totalling 574 in years sold for R1,274,560.”

It is these moments that Goodman considers “the best of the auction world, a dream for an auctioneer, and for the department and the seller.”

Lockdown and the alcohol bans

As one of the country’s foremost art experts, Goodman leads Strauss & Co auctions as an Executive Director. Fine wine was only recently added to the company’s portfolio and Goodman described the performance of the fine wine portfolio as “beyond our expectations.” 

“It has been an absolute pleasure and delight to watch the development, growth, and enthusiasm that the wine department has generated. Despite the combination of a few lockdowns, various levels of Covid-19 restrictions, and the limitation of curfews in 2020 and 2021, these challenges have all been instrumental in connecting and developing a department virtually, physically and with a good dose of ‘vooma’,” she said. 

“The first inaugural wine auction was held in Johannesburg in June 2019 and eight auctions later, we’ve had two incredible ‘white glove’ sales – in May and July 2020 – a fabulous achievement for a year-old department.”

What are white-glove sales?

The executive director explained that white-glove sales refer to an auction term that conjures up glamour and excitement but really means an incredible 100% sell-through.

“All auctioneers dream of conducting a white-glove sale. To have happened so soon is testament to the care, professionalism, research, market knowledge and passion that Roland, Higgo and Sarah have poured into the development of the wine department. The May 2020 white-glove sale happened under level 5 restrictions, with a small team of five in the auction room, a large number of cables and cameras, and ‘the world’ connected to us via a bidding console. Our Covid-19 silver lining was we took Strauss & Co wine auctions into people’s homes and spaces and connected in new and surprising ways.”

She chalked this achievement up to one of the auction house’s biggest strengths – the ability to sell across departments, interests, collectors, geography, and sale clusters. 

“The whole world has had to leap onto digital platforms, make new connections, pivot towards different markets, offerings, and types of auctions.At Strauss & Co we have grabbed these challenges and opportunities of rethinking and reshaping our auctions in the ‘new normal’ we find ourselves in.”

Goodman is of the belief that adding wine to their portfolio in addition to the changes that the pandemic has required them to make to their operations has brought Strauss & Co a considerable number of new buyers. 

It has also “grown our market and expanded the demand for high-quality lots on auction. Bringing an auctioneer into your home makes the whole process more accessible.”

The business of auctions is no longer defined by location or geographical boundaries. 

“Our reach and expansion has created an overlap of collectors and a strong flow of new buyers, and more buyers from across the globe, coming into our auctions. It is so exciting and a privilege to witness this growth and reach. We are very much part of a global auction world.”

Strauss & Co will be hosting another sale on 10 October, which will spotlight wines from Alheit Vineyard, Sadie Family and Vilafonté. 

“Early vintages of each of these three legendary modern South African producers are now rare, as we offer vintages stocks direct from their cellars. This is surely the largest offering of all three producers on the secondary market,” said Strauss & Co Fine Wine Auctions Director Roland Peens.  

All three producers offer consistently brilliant, age-worthy wines and have played a significant part in the South African fine wine revolution.”

Sourced predominantly from the producers’ private cellars, this auction offers a rare opportunity to purchase the finest mature South African wines.

Compiled by Kaunda Selisho