Some 25,000 bottles of the collector’s rare wine will hit the market over the course of a year.
(Bloomberg) — Two years after selling $11.4 million worth of wine from his cellar, the Taiwanese billionaire Pierre Chen is set to sell an even bigger tranche starting this fall. Some 25,000 bottles, worth an estimated $50 million, will go to auction at Sotheby’s in five dedicated auctions over the next 12 months. The first will be staged in Hong Kong in November.
Chen is the founder and chairman of the Yageo Group, an electronic component company that employs 40,000 people worldwide, according to its website. Outside industry circles, he’s known for his art collection. ARTnews named him one of the top 200 collectors in the world; in an interview with the Art Newspaper, Chen disclosed that he has seven Picassos, 10 Gerhard Richters and two Francis Bacons, among others.
“The key thing for Pierre is that this underlines his approach to all the things he considers great in life,” says George Lacey, Sotheby’s head of wine for Asia. “Not just wine, but also food and art. His approach to life is that things are best when shared.”
The bottles Chen has placed to auction represent, Lacey says, “a fraction of Pierre’s entire collection.” Chen is selling, Lacey continues, because his collection has simply grown too large for him to enjoy on his own. “We were given a list of wines within the collection that he would be interested to sell,” Lacey explains. “We had a conversation about valuing them and what works in the market now. We went back and forth with him and his team and ultimately put together a collection that’s representative of him and his tastes.”
“I have curated a selection of remarkable wines. Yet, I truly believe that it shouldn’t be eternally held in storage,” wrote Chen in an email. “It needs to be savored, experienced, loved. It must be shared and used to enhance culinary experiences.” As his taste has expanded, Chen continues, “I’ve come to acquire more wine and I have far more than my family, friends and I could enjoy. I’m bringing this wine back to market to ensure others get to experience these incredible wines.”
Should Chen’s collection sell for its estimate, it will become one of the most expensive single-owner auctions in recent history. In comparison, last year the Hospices de Beaune auction netted $32 million; in 2019, a single-owner sale in Hong Kong with nearly 17,000 bottles drew $30 million; and in 2018, the cellar auction of legendary producer Henri Jayer sold for $35 million.
What’s for Sale?
Lacey says the five auctions well represent Chen’s taste in collecting. “He’s driven by exploring, tasting and finding new producers and new things, but the reality of his journey is that he’s been particularly captured by Burgundy and Champagne,” he says. “They represent the vast majority of the collection in terms of volume and value, but there’s really a cross section of the whole wine world.”
Top lots include bottles of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche. Two methuselahs (six-liter bottles) of the wine from 1985 are estimated from $120,000 to $190,000 apiece. Six separate magnums of the Henri Jayer Vosne Romanée Cros Parantoux 1er Cru from 2001 are estimated at $50,000 to $70,000 per magnum; and two bottles of 2001 Domaine Leroy Musigny are estimated at $12,000 to $18,000 per bottle. Another extremely rare bottle coming to auction is a six-liter Imperial bottle of 1982 Château Petrus, estimated from $45,000 to $65,000.
“The collection has been divided up, and the destination is very specific to what we feel works well in different markets,” Lacey says. “It’s not just parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 but with all the same wines; each has a very different identity.”
The first auction in Hong Kong “is a cross section of the whole collection,” Lacey explains. The Paris auction will be focused exclusively on Champagne; the Burgundy sale “is unsurprisingly, focused on Burgundy wines”; and the New York auction will place a particular emphasis on Chen’s collection of Italian producers. The final sale will occur in Hong Kong next year “with what’s essentially the peak of the collection—the very rarest Bordeaux and the most sought-after bottles,” says Lacey.
Unlike estimates for art, which can be rendered artificially low to stimulate demand, Lacey says that the prices—and overall estimate for the collection—reflect real-time market conditions. “In that respect, my job is much easier than some colleagues in the fine art department,” he says, “because wine is inherently much more commoditized. There are transactions for even the rarest examples of bottles, so it’s easier to price 1947 Cheval Blanc than it is to price a Picasso that hasn’t been seen in 70 years.”
As a result, he says, “the estimates with wine are already much more in line with what’s expected to be achieved by the market and what will be accepted by the market.”
Chen’s decision to sell comes at a unique moment in collecting. The secondary wine market—particularly at the highest end—continues to grow. “The strongest year we’ve ever seen for demand for Burgundy was 2022, and the strongest center of demand was from Asia,” Lacey says. But China’s economy continues to falter, with sales of luxury goods shaky, at best, leading some to wonder if the market for art and collectibles could slow next.
In response, Lacey says “the market for the rarest and most exclusive bottles remains strong, and that’s what Pierre’s collection is focused on.”
“He’s essentially realized he has more wine in his personal cellars than any one individual could ever drink in a lifetime,” Lacey says, a choice that does not reflect market timing. “He realizes he’s ended up in a position with the greatest private cellar in the world, and wants to share it with wine lovers everywhere—and know that it will be appreciated and enjoyed.”
(Updates with comment from Chen in fifth paragraph.)
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