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There have always been top-class wines. However, the number and variety of top wines, some of which even enjoy cult status, have never been as great as they are today. But with the surge in quality that has driven viticulture across the board in the last 20 to 25 years, the prices for a large number of wines have also been catapulted to unimagined heights. This makes auctions - apart from the special charm associated with them - increasingly interesting as a shopping platform for private wine lovers as well. Reason enough to take a closer look at the opportunities for buying wine at auctions in Germany and the auction market and, above all, to answer the frequently asked question "Bargain market or risky business?

To the first% to the second and to the third: Auctioneer Stefan Sedlmeyr of the Munich Wine Company in his element (Photo: Hailer)

Where wines go under the hammer

Before you place your first bid at an auction, you first have to find out where wines go under the hammer. Basically, there are two good ways to buy wine at auction:

  1. The classic auction houses in terms of their business model - regardless of whether they also conduct face-to-face auctions or only act as internet providers; in Germany these are Koppe & Partner Weinauktionen, the Munich Wine Company and WeinCash.
  2. The typical online auctioneers, first and foremost of course the industry leader Ebay.

The auction houses that operate in Germany primarily put their expertise, seriousness and reliability on the line. In concrete terms, this means that they examine the wines before they are included in the auction catalogue. They guarantee that the condition of the bottles (especially with regard to the fill level and the appearance of the labels) really corresponds to the description - and in the case of internet auctions they also document this with meaningful photos. And they ensure that the wines are fairly valued for both sides - seller and buyer.

A look inside the room: wine auction by Koppe & Partner at the Hotel Königshof in Munich (Photo: Hailer)

As a rule, one buys at auctions below the usual trade prices. With most of the wines on offer - especially if they are still available in the trade - it only makes sense to buy them at auction under this condition. Experienced bargain hunters like to wait at auctions for the so-called "post-sale" of those wines that have not found a direct buyer. These can then be "dusted off" at the lower estimated price or sometimes even a little cheaper. However, this presupposes that one is not fixated on certain wines and does not buy them "at any price" - in any case the best tactic to fill the wine cellar at auctions comparatively cheaply.

Online auctioneers offer an even better chance of making special bargains and buying wines at prices far below their market value (in relation to the trade). However, speculation on cheap prices also "pays" for a significantly higher risk of falling victim to dubious sellers and their tricks. For this reason, increased caution is advisable here and one should not switch off one's mind in the face of bargain greed (see the advice for buying wine on the internet).

High-quality large bottles are sought-after collector's items among passionate wine lovers.

Contact details of the wine auction houses

Koppe & Partner Wine Auctions
Office North
:P.O. Box 104063, D-28040 BremenPhone
(0421) 242455, Fax (0421) 242359Office
Aschauer Str. 3-5, c/o Michael Unger, D-83112 FrasdorfPhone (
08052) 951382-0, Fax (08052) 951382-8Internet



Munich Wine Company
Jägerstraße 2, D-82041 DeisenhofenPhone
(089) 678055-50, Fax (089) 678055-77Internet



Am Wehrhahn 50, 40211 DüsseldorfPhone
(02471) 1322250, Fax (02471) 1322255Internet



First wine auction house: Koppe & Partner

A trio% that makes every wine lover go weak at the sight (from left): Mouton-Rothschild% Pétrus and Lafite-Rothschild (Photo: Hailer)
It all began in 1995: at that time Koppe & Partner, based in Bremen, was founded as the first German wine auction house, and in the same year it launched its first face-to-face auction in Düsseldorf. Earlier than all its competitors, Koppe & Partner also relied on the internet and in 1996 - as the first auction house worldwide - organised its first online auction. At that time, the Zurich auction house Steinfels also held regular room auctions in Germany, but withdrew from the German market a few years later. Today, Koppe & Partner is run by five personally liable partners: Gernot Koppe, Heiner Lobenberg, Jens Krau, Dr. Wulf Unger and Michael Unger, who is responsible for press relations, among other things.

In terms of the number of auctions and turnover, Koppe & Partner is the clear number 1 on the German wine auction market. Every year, the company holds eight face-to-face auctions in Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Berlin, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich and also in Vienna. In addition, there are monthly internet auctions - twelve in all - on a fixed date: they end on the first Sunday of each month and always start on the Wednesday before (for the internet address, see the box with the contact details).

A passion for wine: Munich Wine Company

Pétrus total: Bottle assortment of one of the best and most expensive wines in the world from the AC Pomerol in Bordeaux.
Behind the Munich Wine Company, founded in autumn 2004 and based in Deisenhofen near Munich, stand as founders and managing directors two men who have turned their passion for wine into a profession: the graduate sommelier UIW and licensed auctioneer Stefan Sedlmeyr (former head of the now defunct wine department at the long-established Munich art auction house Hampel) and the EU business economist (wholesale and foreign trade) Hans Friedrich. The comparatively young company quickly developed into an established player on the German auction market and today also benefits from very good international contacts.

The four face-to-face auctions currently organised by the Munich Wine Company each year take place exclusively on the company's own premises in Deisenhofen. In addition, eight to ten online auctions are held annually. According to Stefan Sedlmeyr, internet auctions account for about 25 per cent of the Munich Wine Company's turnover from the auction business (for address and website, see box with contact details). In addition, MWC offers a range of other services, including the immediate sale of consignment goods, the brokerage of wines and the acceptance of search orders.

New "player" on the auction market: WeinCash

High-quality German wines find only a limited circle of interested parties and buyers at auctions
In terms of professional competence, control of the wines offered for auction, seriousness and reliability, WeinCash as the youngest "player" on the wine auction market in Germany is also an auction house in the classical sense. Nevertheless, there is a serious difference between the company, founded in autumn 2007, and its market competitors: It only auctions online - for the first time in March 2008 - and does not conduct any face-to-face auctions. Last year, WeinCash held five online auctions. Four to six auctions are planned again for this year, the first one at the beginning of March.

WeinCash does not want to be bound to a fixed schedule and auction rhythm. A new auction with an average duration of ten days is only started "when we believe we can offer our buyers sufficiently interesting lots," explains Stefan Gerner, one of the two managing directors of WeinCash alongside Sascha Dörfler. René Gabriel, a well-known wine book author and Bordeaux connoisseur, and "Stevie" Tarach have been on board as other partners of the company since day one. All four are - due to various trade and marketing activities - anything but blank slates in the wine scene.

2009 marked by financial and economic crisis

The worldwide financial and economic crisis did not leave the wine and auction market unscathed in 2009, but the effects - seen over the whole year - turned out to be more moderate than was to be feared: this was the unanimous tenor of the representatives of the auction houses.

The Munich Wine Company was the only one to make no secret of concrete figures on the development of sales: in 2008, it had sold about 1.4 million euros worth of wine, in 2009 it was about 300,000 euros less. Especially between autumn 2008 and autumn 2009, according to Stefan Sedlmeyr, the "high-end business" - i.e. sales in the top price segment - had dropped significantly and "the restraint in consignments increased with the falling prices". Sedlmeyr: "We felt the effects most strongly when the crisis reached Asia and the Chinese in particular, but also customers in Hong Kong and Singapore, dropped away as end buyers". Customers who buy through large trading houses as intermediaries and "have bills of between 20,000 and 60,000 euros per auction". Despite the significant decline, the bottom line at the Munich Wine Company is by no means dissatisfied with the year 2009 in view of the general conditions and the strong revival of business at the end of the year.

Concentrated at work: The Koppe & Partner team conducts eight presence auctions a year.

At Koppe & Partner, the analysis of the 2009 business year is similar - although without concrete statements on the development of turnover: "We don't like to talk about figures, but in general we have also felt the effects of the economic crisis, as has the entire industry," Michael Unger says. The economic crisis had caused "partially falling prices and pressure on supply" in the top wine segment, especially in 2008 and 2009. Added to this was the weak dollar, which made sales in the US more difficult. Unger: "But since demand from the Asian region is very strong, there was some compensation or a shift here." His final conclusion for the past year: "The end of 2009 went very well, though, and we were very satisfied with the overall result."

Stefan Gerner of WeinCash gives the same assessment - "we are very satisfied" - to the 2009 financial year measured against the general conditions. "We were able to significantly raise our profile and increase both the number of consignors and potential buyers," Gerner sums up. The effects of the financial and economic crisis were not directly felt "as a young auction house" because WeinCash was still in the "start-up phase" and therefore lacked the comparable commercial figures from previous years. However, WeinCash also registered a "reluctance to buy from abroad" (especially from the USA, Asia and Eastern Europe) and a decline in consignments until autumn 2009. "Concerns about whether one can achieve top prices for one's wines were the main reason here," adds Gerner. By autumn of last year, however, "a positive trend reversal" was noticeable.

Bordeaux, Bordeaux and Bordeaux again...

But what were the most sought-after and most expensively paid wines on the auction market last year? The unanimous and anything but surprising answer of the experts: Bordeaux, Bordeaux and again Bordeaux. Even high prices and strong demand for various cult wines and Parker favourites from other provenances cannot hide this fact.

In general - as in all collectors' or investment areas (e.g. watches, vintage cars, paintings) - "only the top does really well", emphasises Michael Unger (Koppe & Partner): "And in the wine sector, that is definitely Bordeaux; in the auction sector, nothing works at all worldwide without Bordeaux." Italy and Australia have lost a lot of ground, while top Germans have gained. From California and Spain, only the absolute top wines from very good vintages are stable in price. One wine is currently exemplary for the run on Bordeaux: "Lafite-Rothschild and all the wines associated with it are currently the most sought-after wine worldwide due to the demand from China," says Michael Unger.

The auction will take place at the Munich Wine Company in Deisenhofen near Munich.

"Bordeaux is still the big seller," confirms Stefan Sedlmeyr (MWC) and also names Lafite-Rothschild as the current high-flyer. The 1er Grand Cru Classé (Médoc) has already more than compensated for the price losses of a whole year since autumn 2009 and is now being traded at top prices. As a matter of principle, the affluent Asian clientele only buys bottles in "100 per cent perfect condition" and from 95 Parker points upwards from the 1990 vintages and younger. His tip: "But if you don't only buy according to Parker points and from the first guard, you can still find enough bargains in Bordeaux."

Stefan Gerner (WeinCash) also agrees with the competition in his assessment of what is happening on the market: "The entire wine auction scene lives on the topic of Bordeaux." No other area of origin is described so extensively and no other wines are tasted so often. As a result - as has been the case for many years - the classified growths of Bordeaux form "the main driving force of our industry". Otherwise, it is primarily the high-quality or highly rated growths from Italy, Spain, Portugal, but also (to a lesser extent) from overseas. "However, we have also had good experiences in the area of higher-quality drinking wines, which are bought less as an investment and more for their original purpose: drinking," adds Gerner.

German wines play only a minor role in the auction scene, but they are not completely left out in all three auction houses. Stefan Sedlmeyr proclaims for the Munich Wine Company: "Compared to the competition, we have a very high proportion of German wines" - even if, apart from the rare noble sweet top qualities with big names, they do not generate huge sales. Stefan Gerner (WeinCash) describes German wines as "one of our hobby horses", "but only out of pure conviction and unfortunately less out of commercial reason". However, they believe in German wines and will "continue to stand up for them" despite the limited circle of interested parties. And maybe the auction houses will be better rewarded for their loyalty to German wines some day. In any case, Michael Unger (Koppe & Partner), looking back on 2009, states: "Top Germans have gained.

A look at the bidding round: the Munich Wine Company holds four room auctions a year in Deisenhofen near Munich.

Outlook for 2010 is optimistic

The upward trend that began in autumn 2009 makes the representatives of the auction houses optimistic for 2010 as a whole. WeinCash is still in the process of being set up, but the increasing number of interested parties on both sides of the trading platform "makes us very confident", says Stefan Gerner. Serious business models would hold their ground in the long run, which is why they firmly believe in a further positive development of WeinCash, even if the wine auction industry "has to be described as vulnerable with regard to the overall economic situation".

Stefan Sedlmeyr (Munich Wine Company) also points to this important factor: "The wine prices at the auctions are closely linked to the international share price and the business climate." For the current year, he expects the worst case scenario for his auction house to be "the result of 2009". Sedlmeyr also draws confidence from the increase in the number of clients last year. Michael Unger even sees "a very good year 2010" coming for Koppe & Partner with rising prices, especially due to demand from China. "The outstanding Bordeaux vintage of 2009 will continue to create demand and fuel the market," Unger predicts.

Calendar of Presence Auctions 2010

At present, eight presence auctions are firmly scheduled for 2010 at Koppe & Partner, four at the Munich Wine Company. Of course, written bids can also be submitted for the auctions without being on site. The first Koppe room auction in 2010 has already taken place on 30 January in Düsseldorf, here is an overview of the further dates (abbreviations: K&P = Koppe & Partner, MWC = Munich Wine Company):

13 March, K&P: Frankfurt, Rocco Forte Hotel20
. March, MWC: Deisenhofen, company offices24
. April, K&P: Vienna, Coburg (World Wine Festival)
12 June, K&P: Hamburg, Vier Jahreszeiten26

. June, MWC: Deisenhofen, company premises24
. July, K&P: Stuttgart, Le Meridien11
. September, K&P: Berlin, Adlon18
. September, MWC: Deisenhofen, corporate offices23
. October, K&P: Munich, Königshof4
. December, K&P: Hamburg, Vier Jahreszeiten11
. December, MWC: Deisenhofen, company premises

Huge offer at online auctions

An even better chance to make bargains, but combined with a higher risk for the buyer of falling for swindlers and paying "apprenticeship money": These are the "side effects" of buying wine from typical online auctioneers. The reason for this lies in the strategic orientation and business model of Ebay and Co.: they merely provide the trading platform, but offer no further service. Above all, they do not exercise any "receiving and goods control" and do not check the truthfulness of the posted offers in advance.

However, as the undisputed market leader of online auctioneers, Ebay has some plus points to offer, especially the huge range of wines. In this respect, Ebay is unrivalled, with 15,000 to 20,000 (at times even more) different lots on average. Browsing for specific wines is made child's play by an excellent search engine. Moreover, the variety is incomparably large. On Ebay, for example, you can also find wines from countries and growing regions that, despite their first-class quality, rarely or never appear at the classic auction houses. If it doesn't always have to be Bordeaux and other high-priced wines, you can often buy them here at particularly good prices.

Buying wine on Ebay & Co.: What to bear in mind

If you follow the following advice before placing an offer, you minimise the risk of buying wine on Ebay (or other online auctions) and increase your chance of finding a bargain:

  • Basically read the entire description of the seller - also the possibly smaller print in which a "trap" could be hidden (e.g. an empty bottle being sold).
  • Check the number of bottles on offer carefully - it does not always match what is shown in the photos posted on the net.
  • When bidding, keep a cool head and don't buy at any price. It is better to forego a wine once - the greater the joy about the really cheaply bought bottles.
  • Before submitting a binding bid, find out the current retail price of the wine in question (the best way is to use the Wine Finder at Wein-Plus) and make comparisons.
  • Keep your highest bid at least 20 to 25 percent below the usual retail price (especially for very high-priced prestige and cult wines) and set yourself a fixed limit.
  • Be sure to include the shipping costs - this applies all the more the lower the price and the number of bottles of the respective increase wine (not that a bottle of a 10-euro wine is auctioned for 7 euros, but with the shipping costs you end up paying 14 euros).
  • Especially with older wines, stay away from bottles where the fill level and other condition are not exactly described and cannot be clearly seen on a photo.
  • If in doubt, ask the seller again and take a look at the ratings he has received from his "customers" so far (if they can be viewed, e.g. on Ebay).
  • Look very carefully at all offers under the heading "Buy it now". These are often traders who offer certain wines at the normal list price; wines that can sometimes be found cheaper at other traders.

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