For my third in my series on collecting Champagne, I talked to Molly Zucker who runs K&L's auctions and Old & Rare department about the upswing in Champagne trading at auction. She had some great insights! My first and second installments on collecting were posted early this year.
At the time of writing we have a two bottle lot of 1996 Krug, a one bottle lot of 1998 Billecart-Salmon "Cuvée Elisabeth" Brut Rosé, and a one bottle lot of 1999 Louis Roederer "Cristal" Brut Champagne active in our auctions.
Gary Westby: The press has been publishing stories on investment in Champagne lately. Have you seen an increase in Champagne consignments over the last 12 months?
Molly Zucker: We’ve definitely noticed an uptick in Champagne consignments, which accounted for few lots early on in our auction. I think historically, most people have not purchased Champagne as an investment in the same fashion as Bordeaux or Burgundy. For one, it’s generally ready for consumption upon release (though aging can make it significantly better) so people don’t think to lay it down in the way they might with Bordeaux. In addition, Champagne can be more of an occasion-driven purchase, which increases the likelihood of being consumed earlier on in its lifetime. The positive thing for Champagne collectors that have aged their best bottles, is they will have a smaller pool of competition. With auctions, rarity/scarcity is a huge component in getting top prices and generating an exciting competition.
GW: How about bidding activity on Champagne over the last year?
MZ: It seems that bidders, both in the United States and abroad, are trying to build a more diverse portfolio of wines. When we started the auctions in February 2011, the headlines were consistently about First Growth Bordeaux and DRC. It seemed 50% of our lots were comprised of these wines and little attention was paid to Champagne and other categories. Now there is a shift and people are looking for wines whose price point haven’t been ballooned to the point of ridiculousness. You can get incredible, aged Champagne from the top producers for much less than the new release of Lafite. I think that appeals to buyers who want the prestige without feeling like they have been foolish with their pocketbook.
GW: Have new records been set over the last 12 months in the Champagne category in the US? Has K&L set any auction records with Champagne?
MZ: We are consistently competitive with our prices, because we have such an eager audience of Champagne lovers. In October, we had a 3-bottle lot of 2005 Cristal sell for $575 ($191/bottle), which is higher than any other auction house and quite a bit more than it’s selling at retail as well. The seller of the wine did acquire the wine on release from the producer (they are a wine fund), so the provenance was perfect. We’ve been doing very well with 2002 Cristal too, with a recent hammer price at $265/bottle. In addition, we’re holding the North American high for 1995 Krug Brut at $301/bottle. These are a few examples, but as you can see, the prices are still relatively reasonable in comparison to Bordeaux and Burgundy prices for wines of comparable quality.
GW: Out of all the categories of wine, what is the hottest at auction right now?
MZ: I would still put Bordeaux in the number one spot, but it’s much less about First Growths these days. Liv-ex came out with their Power 100 (which looks at offering value for money) and put Pape Clement at the top of their list followed by Pavie and Smith Haut Lafitte. Montrose, Cos d’estournel, Ausone, and Pontet Canet have performed very well over the past year and have a strong showing in almost every lot we put up on the site. California wines, especially Caymus, Shafer, Joseph Phelps Insignia and Ridge Monte Bello almost always sell for higher prices at auction than at retail. People just go crazy for them and there’s always a heated competition.
GW: Which category(ies) moved aside to make room for this?
MZ: Lafite and Carruades de Lafite are not commanding the price points they did in 2010-2011 – there’s a lot of money to spread around in other areas now. The market has just shifted away from those wines, and even DRC to a certain extent because of all the issues and publicity surrounding counterfeits.
GW: What do you think about investing in Champagne now for sale in the future?
MZ: I think it’s a very solid bet to invest in Champagne, as long as you’re willing to properly age it in the right cellar conditions. You’ll likely have less completion than in other categories when you decide to sell it in 5 to 10 years, and your input costs will be lower as well.