Investing in wine: the end of the Burgundy bubble

Bottle of 1945 vintage Romanee-Conti wine © FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
This 1945 Romanée-Conti fetched $558,000

Tastes – and prices – are starting to change in the wine market as Burgundy goes out of fashion. 

Burgundy has long been France’s premier wine region. The Bordelais may take issue with that statement. But it’s the Burgundians who fetch the highest prices for their bottles at present. It was, after all, a bottle of 1945 Romanée-Conti that fetched a record-breaking $558,000 at Sotheby’s in New York last October, while another sold for $496,000 at the same auction. “These wines are now virtually unobtainable, rare as they were even decades ago,” said the honorary chairman of Sotheby’s Wine, Serena Sutcliffe, after the sale. “Those who bought them have vinous miracles in their possession.”

That the bottles had been bought to be drunk is part of the reason they sold for such exceptional prices, the auctioneer, James Ritchie, tells Abby Schultz in Barron’s Penta. No ordinary bottles these. Only 600 had been produced; 1945 is considered to be a good year and was the last vintage for the particular vines that produced the wine; and the provenance was impeccable. But even so, the $32,000 pre-sale high estimate placed on each bottle, when compared with what they actually sold for, suggests that even the auction house was taken by surprise. The auction room was apparently filled with Burgundy lovers with deep pockets, as opposed to investors. “When you have so much wealth available in the world, the things that people really treasure are these very special moments where you get the opportunity to do something that’s unique,” says Ritchie. But even deep pockets have their limits.

Any wine from the renowned Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) is, of course, exceptional. Burgundy, in general, also has a relatively low output (3% of France’s total), making Burgundies rarer than wines from, say, Bordeaux. Considering the market had risen by 94.9% over five years, according to the Liv-ex Burgundy 150 index, it perhaps should have come as no surprise that every lot was successfully sold at the Sotheby’s sale, which raised a total of $7.3m.

Yet no sooner had the hammer come down on those ’45s than the market took a turn for the worse. The index is down by 6.2% in the year to the end of June. “The question many investors are now asking themselves is whether the Burgundy bubble has burst,” says Alan Livsey in the Financial Times. “For investors – and wine drinkers – Bordeaux could offer better value.” Revenge for the Bordelais at last.

It could just be a case of the market adjusting to more reasonable valuations after years of growth. The Liv-ex Bordeaux 500 index, which rose by 34.8% over five years, plateaued over the last 12 months. And if it should slip, there is always Italian wine. The Italy 100 bucked the trend with a rise of 2.4%. As for Burgundy, there are still buyers for the top stuff. At the beginning of the month six magnums of Henri Jayer’s Vosne-Romanée, Cros-Parantoux 1996, fetched £97,600 at Bonhams in London – close to, but not quite reaching the £100,000 high estimate (and unlike the estimate, the sale price also includes the buyer’s fee). Burgundy’s heady days look to be over for now.


Sneakerhead swoops in

1972 Nike Waffle Racing Flat Moon ShoeIt can be hard to gauge the health of a market if all of the lots are snapped up by a single buyer. But that is what has happened in an auction of rare trainers – almost. Sotheby’s and online retailer Stadium Goods had planned to offer 100 pairs of the rarest vintage trainers in an online auction – including the iconic Nike Mags from the 1985 science-fiction adventure Back to the Future Part II. There were also the Air Jordan 11 “Derek Jeter” trainers, made to commemorate the baseball star’s retirement, and 15 pairs of singer Kanye West’s Yeezy Boosts. But before the sale could happen, Canadian entrepreneur and car collector Miles Nadal swooped in with an $850,000 offer and bought 99 of them. He plans to display his newly acquired collection of Nike, Air Jordan, Adidas and Yeezy trainers at his Dare to Dream Automobile Museum in Toronto. Nadal had also had his eye on that 100th pair – a pair of 1972 Nike Waffle Racing Flat Moon Shoes (pictured), valued at between $110,000 and $160,000. The seller opted to keep these in the public auction.

His motives are understandable. Why spend years building a collection when you can do it all in one go (provided you have the money)? “I’ve always been an admirer of sneakers, but I didn’t know much about it,” Nadal told Luke O’Neil in The Guardian. “I thought this was, in one fell swoop, the opportunity to have a world-class collection that I could build upon over the next 25 years,” he said. “I am what I would call a S**t. A sneakerhead in training.”


Auctions

Going…

Marlon BrandoMarlon Brando’s watch (pictured) from Apocalypse Now is heading for auction. Brando refused to part with his Rolex GMT-Master ref. 1675 during the filming of the 1979 war epic. “If they’re looking at my watch, then I’m not doing my job as an actor,” he told concerned filmmakers. As a compromise, he removed the bezel, which is how the watch appears today, along with his name, which he engraved on the back. In 1995, Brando gifted the watch to his daughter, who in turn gave it to her husband in 2003. Starting bids are expected to be “in the six figures”, Paul Boutros of Phillips tells The New York Times. It will appear as part of the auction house’s Game Changers auction on 10 December in New York.

Gone…

The Space Traveller I watch, made by legendary British watchmaker George Daniels in 1982, sold for £3.6m at Sotheby’s in London earlier this month – three times its estimate. Daniels had made the watch in honour of the 1969 moon-landing. It was, Daniels said, the kind of watch you would need on your “package tour to Mars”. After being persuaded to sell it to a collector, a decision he came to regret, Daniels made a second. Space Traveller II sold for £3.2m in 2017. “Since Daniels’ death in 2011, the penny has started to drop and interest in his work is steadily rising around the world,” Daryn Schnipper, chairman of Sotheby’s International Watch Division, tells The Daily Telegraph.