Why didn't Sir Alex Ferguson shift his Bordeaux at big-bottle auction?

By Nick Harty, Platinum Wines

- Last updated on GMT

Why didn't Sir Alex Ferguson shift his Bordeaux at big-bottle auction?
As Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson auctioned part of his fine wine collection through Christie’s in Hong Kong last weekend, the absence of his sizeable Bordeaux stock was especially noticeable.

The low pre-auction estimate was HKD26m (US$3.35m) so the sale was expected to generate closer to HKD30m with HKD29.3m realised.  

At this point it is worth noting that 60% of the sale took place in the Hong Kong auction, with a further 30% due to be sold in London next week and a further 10% to online bidders only, which shows us how Hong Kong continues to dominate worldwide auction trading now, having only started holding wine auctions as recently as 2008.

Christie’s also continues to prioritise online-only auctions having held the first completely net-based auction in August 2012, which saw 25% of sales go to bidders who had never bought wine from them before.

Sir Alex was in his usual affable mood talking about his collection before the sale. Following a chance conversation over a lunch in France in 1991, he started his own wine collection, initially with Bordeaux from the excellent 1982 and 1985 vintages.

He also bought into other wines, adding to his collection along the way and gradually building an exceptional and classic inventory of fine and rare bottles, always sourced from the most reliable and trusted agents and principally from the renowned wine-growing regions of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Tuscany. 

Following his departure as Manchester United manager last year, Ferguson expressed a desire to increase further his wine knowledge and said he hoped to visit more regions of production. 

He also judged that the time was now right to sell this part of his collection—his “star players”.

Included in this sale were some of Ferguson’s Burgundies and Super Tuscans, around 60% of which were Domaine de la Romanee Conti from Burgundy, some of which sold for nearly £12,000 (US$20,000) per bottle.

But he also has a huge collection of Bordeaux which would usually account for 70-80% of the lots at auctions like this, but which he chose to keep in his cellar. So why is demand for Bordeaux different now ?

We’ve seen press, auction and merchant commentary mentioning Bordeaux very little over the past couple of years in an attempt to lobby the Bordelais to keep release prices down,  instead the emphasis has been more towards Burgundy and Super Tuscans because this is where the value/profit has been.

Indeed, our market report for the 2013 En Primeur campaign mentions: “Some of the Chateaux this year have paid attention to market sentiments and have listened to it’s pleas for value​.”

Last week, The Independent newspaper in the UK named fine wine as the best investment of the 20th century based on a study of only 1st Growths of Bordeaux; Lafite, Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Mouton Rothschild and Haut-Brion.

Now that 2012 has been released at a very good value, and 2013 at exceptional value (Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2010 is currently traded at HKD93,840 per case, 2012 HKD51,000 and 2013 HKD41,640) we are starting to see a change in attitude as we continue to lobby the Bordelais to keep release prices down and maintain the return to value.

With 2012 and 2013, Bordeaux has listened to the market’s pleas for value and successfully handed the margins back to the brokers, merchants, collectors, investors and drinkers, having hiked their prices up too far while the burgeoning China market emerged.

Bear in mind investors in 2012 have seen 11% growth over the past year across the board and some of the bigger wines like Mouton are up 16% in little over a year.

Nick Harty​ is country manager for Malaysia and Singapore for Platinum Wines, the Hong Kong-based brokerage.

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