White Burgundy Grand Cru at auction

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Burgundian wines cover approximately 25,000ha. of which a mere 200ha. is given over to the production of Grand Cru white wine. As a comparison Bordeaux acreage devoted to white cru classés is probably around 1,600 hectares. Many of these Burgundian parcels are less than 10ha which are then divided amongst many different growers. Fiona Beeston did not exaggerate when she said that “in Bordeaux there are 200 great chateaux, whereas in Bugundy there are 200 great Appellations multiplied by 200 owners, or 40,000 different wines.” The comparison does not stop there. Pitte characterised the viticulturists themselves: “the Bordelais have degrees, speak English and sometimes another foreign language, read the daily economic press, frequently travel to Paris and beyond, dress like English gentleman farmers, play tennis, even polo. In short they are chic mannered. The Burgundians, by contrast, don't often pursue further education, dress rustically or 'sportively', and their manners are proudly borne from peasantry. The former are based in their office and have employees who undertake the manual tasks, the latter, even if they have employees, are also labourers and only spend a part of their time in the office.” Note 1Bordeaux Bourgogne - les passions rivales. Hachette Litératures. 2005. Jean-Robert Pitte.

Table 1 – Growth of white Burgundy sales at auction 2009 -2012
2009 £'000s 2010 £'000s 2011 £'000s 2012 £'000s # hectares
Montrachet 1460.6 2524 3591.9 1052.2 8.00
Chablis Grand Cru 31.8 26.5 9 4.3 104.08
Bâtard-Montrachet 409.3 431.7 592.3 231.7 11.73
Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet 128.4 178.5 167.2 42.5 3.58
Chevalier-Montrachet 524.2 676.7 872.5 318.5 7.47
Corton-Charlemagne 366.4 730.1 892.1 380.2 52.08
Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet 7 17.1 12.1 6.2 1.57
Charlemagne (See note) 0 0 0 0 0.28
Musigny (white) 2.5 10.7 22.4 9.6 0.6
Corton (white) 0 0 0 0 4.53
2930.2 4595.3 6159.5 2045.2 189.39
4.53
Note: No longer used - included in Corton-Charlemagne
Source: Fabian Cobb

Sales at auction of white Burgundy Grand Cru in 2011 were more than £6million. Note 2All prices include Buyers Premium which vary according to location and auction house and were for the period 2009 – 2012. Burgundy too has not been immune from the two greatest changes in the auction market over the last few years: the arrival of the Chinese buyer and a renewed interest from speculators. It's not just the wine they're buying either: earlier this year a tycoon from Macao bought the Chateau de Gevrey-Chambertin, paying well over its estimated value acquiring it over the heads of the distressed local vignerons who offered nearly twice what it was worth to maintain their patrimony.

There are 8 Grands Crus appellations relating to the exclusive production of white wine, two of which also permit red wine production (Musigny and Corton) and undoubtedly the most important of these is Montrachet. The comparative volume of wines sold from these Appellations, the hectares and values are included in a Table 1 below. Putting these figures into perspective, sales of Montrachet in 2011 were more than double those of 2009 and more than four times that of Corton-Charlemagne which has a surface area six times greater. Montrachet made up more than 50% of all auction sales from an area of less than 5% of the total given over to white grand cru production.

Table 2 – White Grand Cru Burgundy Sales Worldwide Summary 2009 – 2012
Chicago £1,507,360
821
Acker Merrall & Condit
£66,740 25
Hart Davis Hart £1,440,620 796
Hong Kong £6,213,869
1,602
Acker Merrall & Condit £3,182,148 681
Christie's £156,248 37
Sotheby's £1,588,329 406
Zachys £1,287,144 478
Las Vegas £32,036
27
Zachys £32,036 27
London £814,329
671
Christie's
£346,895 241
Sotheby's £467,434 430
Los Angeles £475,439
259
Acker Merrall & Condit
£46,349 12
Zachys £429,090 247
New York £6,694,968
3,135
Acker Merrall & Condit £1,771,848 941
Christie's £619,746 258
Sotheby's £656,345 251
Zachys £3,647,029 1,685
San Francisco £146,842
84
Zachys £146,842 84
TOTAL £15,884,843
6,599
Source: Fabian Cobb

Since sales to the Far East accelerated in 2008 values of Burgundian white wine sold at auction have increased every year by more than 30% year-on-year Note 3Many lots of top Burgundy are sold as 'Assortment'. This article only uses whole lots with exclusive vintages/growers/bottle sizes. Bottles are converted to standard equivalents of 75cl.. Table 2 above is a graphic illustration of this interest demonstrating the strength of the market in Hong Kong for white Burgundy of the highest quality.

Montrachet - Grand Cru – Cote de Beaune

Approx. 2,500 auction records (>12k bottles) worth £8.75m (2009-2012)

The iconic wines from this small appellation (8ha) assemble some of the greatest producers in Burgundy. Even despite their rarity both the volume of sales and the values attained are remarkable. If one assumes an average production of 340hl (the maximum allowed is 48 hectolitres per hectare) in the Appellation as a whole then the production is limited – on average about 45,000 bottles per annum. Given the small size of holdings one can estimate some production figures. For example: Domaine de la Romanee Conti (0.68ha) – 3,000 bottles, Domaine Domaine Comtes Lafon (0.32 ha) – 1200 bottles, Domaine Leflaive (0.08ha) – 300 bottles. Sales of white Burgundy have reached a point where the equivalent of one year's production from these estates is effectively sold at auction every 5-6 years. Given that Burgundy is supposed to be for drinkers this is an astonishing figure.

Some of the high prices paid for lots demonstrate just how much people are willing to pay and reflect the geographical interest in these wines:

Montrachet Domaine de la Romanee Conti 1996. 12 x 75cl. May 2010. Acker Merrall & Condit Hong Kong. £103575 (HK$1171200)
Montrachet Domaine de la Romanee Conti 1983. 12 x 75cl. December 2010. Zachys NY. £61,970
Montrachet Domaine de la Romanee Conti 1978. 12 x 75cl. May 2012 Zachys HK. £60,250 (HK$732,000)
Montrachet Domaine de la Romanee Conti 1990. 12 x 75cl. November 2011. Acker Merrall & Condit HK. £43,210 (HK$536,800)
Montrachet Domaine de la Romanee Conti 1996. 12 x 75cl. September 2011. Acker Merrall & Condit HK. £42510 (HK$536,800)
Montrachet Domaine de la Romanee Conti 1990. 12 x 75cl. April 2011. Sotheby's HK. £38,780 (HK$484000)

Table 3 – Top 10 most traded wines from Monrachet for years 2009 – 2012










Montrachet 8 hectares
#Auction records # Bottles Value sold at auction (Note 1)






1 Montrachet Domaine de la Romanee Conti

652 1,920 £4,387,282
2 Montrachet Ramonet

379 1,615 £1,189,737
3 Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche

389 3,469 £796,876
4 Montrachet Comtes Lafon

244 605 £624,961
5 Montrachet Domaine Leflaive

103 163 £376,104
6 Montrachet Bouchard Pere et Fils

166 1,401 £301,296
7 Montrachet Etienne Sauzet

107 846 £218,162
8 Montrachet Louis Jadot

88 827 £170,184
9 Montrachet Henri Boillot

88 725 £170,184
10 Montrachet Louis Latour

73 715 £93,310






Source: Fabian Cobb




See Note 3

Table 3 (above) shows the Top 10 most traded wines at auction for the period under review. Whilst Domaine de la Romanee-Conti dominates the sector, the paucity of wine available from Domaine Leflaive is reflected in its price. Contrary to most other type of auctions for wines the lot sizes are fairly small for Burgundy Grand Cru: most lots auctioned consist in one bottle only. The second most popular lot size is 6/12 bottles with lot sizes of just 2 and 3 bottles not far behind. Most popular formats are 75cl with limited quantities of larger sizes although magnums do appear more regularly.

Table 4 shows average values during 2012 for some of the most popular wines from the Appellation during 2012 for vintages 1993 – 2009 ((Auction values from Zachys, Acker Merrall & Condit, Christie's and Sotheby's are current to mid-September 2012))

Table 4 – Average prices for Montrachet vintages in 2012

1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Montrachet Domaine de la Romanee-Conti £2,232 £1,682 £2,597 £3,345 £2,843 £2,002 £2,726 £2,831 £2,321 £2,408 £2,533 £2,432 £2,954 £2,550 £2,537 £1,980 £3,067
Montrachet Comtes Lafon £825 £683 £975 £890 £607 £544 £748 £939 £705 £1,283 £756 £817 £1,138 £895 £920 £671 £1,087
Montrachet Ramonet £606 £524 £987 £239 £361 £480 £557 £680 £731 £512 £508 £603 £576
Montrachet Domaine Leflaive £2,369 £2,137 £2,639 £2,018 £3,260 £2,173 £2,794 £360
Montrachet Etienne Sauzet £263 £305 £211 £313 £293 £285 £250
Montrachet Louis Jadot
£153 £155 £263 £211 £202
Source: Fabian Cobb

2012 has yet to complete but the general volumes sold of Montrachet have increased significantly each year: 2009 - £1,440,493; 2010 - £2,460,790; 2011 - £3,578,476 and 2012 - £1,230,671. Hong Kong has kept pace: 2009 - £488,750; 2010 - £1,057,792; 2011 - £1,828,267 and so far in 2012 - £478,506.

Domaine de la Romanee-Conti has shown consistent gains throughout the period. A super-lot of x12 bottles which sold in Hong Kong in 2010 accounts for the spike. Overall, the gain over the period has been 98%.

Conclusion

Analysing some of the auction results for Burgundy is fraught with problems. The data upon which much of the analysis is done can be confusing or over-simplified and needs to be put into a standard format for accessing. As an example, even where a wine is identified as Chassagne Montrachet cru Morgeot (Premier Cru), it is not always clear who is the producer e.g. Gagnard, Ramonet, Latour, Leflaive or Clos de la Chapelle (Jadot) or even its colour? However, this is less of a problem for the most important crus. Working out whether a wine should be Domaine Leroy, Maison Leroy or just plain Leroy can be more problematic. Note 4Amongst auction records for Montrachet some are undefined in terms of their producer but these make up less than 20% of the total value covering all traded vintages for the period. It is also likely that many of these are the top-traded wines.

And what of premox? If this were considered to have a major impact on the wines under review then one should be able to discern a major tailing off for auction lots of, say, the later vintages in the 1990s. Below is a tabulation of the number of auction lots by vintage and year. Taking into the likely growing scarceity of older vintages and the relative merits of a particular year it might appear that vintages in the later 90s have suffered some loss in confidence from the press and discussions concerning these revelations but on the whole this is inconclusive. However, these should also be considered in the context of much higher sales generally for white Burgundy. There is a straight line correlation between the older vintages and volume offered for sale which is to be expected given the small quantities available - one assumes someone is drinking them.

Vintage Popularity by Year and Vintage
vintage 2007 2008 2009 2010
Very good 1995 152 76 110 84
Excellent 1996 279 114 157 138
Excellent 1997 100 64 59 43
Very good 1998 95 58 56 33
Very good 1999 240 133 144 153
Good 2000 273 167 141 144
Good 2001 93 75 64 78
Excellent 2002 266 141 202 238

Prices of these scarce and wonderful wines are already astronomic. Top class Burgundian white wine is now firmly on the international stage and in all probability the prices will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. What is most surprising is the volume of wines coming onto the market given the small production quantities and that attempts are made by some shippers to restrict sales to genuine enthusiasts although the prices must surely be beyond most people's reach. Whatever the case their fate is diverse from that of Bordeaux given the differences inherent in so many areas not least in terms of the selling networks and means used to commercialise the wines. But it was once said: “In Burgundy, everything is for drinking and nothing for sale; in Bordeaux, everything is for sale and there's nothing to drink”. Sadly, this is no longer the case.

Burgundian wines cover approximately 25,000ha. of which a mere 200ha. is given over to the production of Grand Cru white wine. As a comparison Bordeaux acreage devoted to white cru classés is probably around 1,600 hectares. Many of these Burgundian parcels are less than 10ha which are then divided amongst many different growers. Fiona Beeston did not exaggerate when she said that “in Bordeaux there are 200 great chateaux, whereas in Bugundy there are 200 great Appellations multiplied by 200 owners, or 40,000 different wines.” The comparison does not stop there. Pitte characterised the viticulturists themselves: “the Bordelais have degrees, speak English and sometimes another foreign language, read the daily economic press, frequently travel to Paris and beyond, dress like English gentleman farmers, play tennis, even polo. In short they are chic mannered. The Burgundians, by contrast, don't often pursue further education, dress rustically or 'sportively', and their manners are proudly borne from peasantry. The former are based in their office and have employees who undertake the manual tasks, the latter, even if they have employees, are also labourers and only spend a part of their time in the office.” Note 5Bordeaux Bourgogne - les passions rivales. Hachette Litératures. 2005. Jean-Robert Pitte.

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Burgundian wines cover approximately 25,000ha. of which a mere 200ha. is given over to the production of Grand Cru white wine. As a comparison Bordeaux acreage devoted to white cru classés is probably around 1,600 hectares. Many of these Burgundian parcels are less than 10ha which are then divided amongst many different growers. Fiona Beeston did not exaggerate when she said that “in Bordeaux there are 200 great chateaux, whereas in Bugundy there are 200 great Appellations multiplied by 200 owners, or 40,000 different wines.” The comparison does not stop there. Pitte characterised the viticulturists themselves: “the Bordelais have degrees, speak English and sometimes another foreign language, read the daily economic press, frequently travel to Paris and beyond, dress like English gentleman farmers, play tennis, even polo. In short they are chic mannered. The Burgundians, by contrast, don't often pursue further education, dress rustically or 'sportively', and their manners are proudly borne from peasantry. The former are based in their office and have employees who undertake the manual tasks, the latter, even if they have employees, are also labourers and only spend a part of their time in the office.” Note 6Bordeaux Bourgogne - les passions rivales. Hachette Litératures. 2005. Jean-Robert Pitte.

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References   [ + ]

1, 5, 6. Bordeaux Bourgogne - les passions rivales. Hachette Litératures. 2005. Jean-Robert Pitte.
2. All prices include Buyers Premium which vary according to location and auction house and were for the period 2009 – 2012.
3. Many lots of top Burgundy are sold as 'Assortment'. This article only uses whole lots with exclusive vintages/growers/bottle sizes. Bottles are converted to standard equivalents of 75cl.
4. Amongst auction records for Montrachet some are undefined in terms of their producer but these make up less than 20% of the total value covering all traded vintages for the period. It is also likely that many of these are the top-traded wines.