After Vinexpo's recent success in Hong Kong, interest in the former British colony is growing in the world of wine and spirits. For several months now, Acker Merral & Condit, Sotheby's and Christie's have set up their homes in what is known as the new world capital of wine business. The auctions reach dizzying prices on French grands crus. Rather than seeing the train pass, two auctioneers, the Breton Jack-Philippe Ruellan and the Toulouse Marc Labarbe, will organize from 11 to 13 May 2012, the first French auction of great wines. Exclusive interview with Johan Gesrel.
- How was born this auction project in Hong Kong?
Marc Labarbe - The idea goes to Jack-Philippe Ruellan, auctioneer in Vannes who was the first French to attempt the adventure in China. For the moment, no big French box left there. He started last year and asked me to accompany him. On site, we saw the infatuation of the Chinese for wine and that's why we decided to organize a new auction both in May in Hong Kong.
- By studying your catalog, we notice from the outset that this sale is articulated around the big names and great wines of Bordeaux: Château Figeac, Rothschild, Château Latour, Cheval Blanc ... Why?
Marc Labarbe - It must be recognized that the Chinese clientele is rather for the moment fond of great wines of Bordeaux. It opens to the Burgundy and is currently discovering White Burgundy so we turned to recent vintages because the Chinese want to drink immediately. For now we are not on collectors, we are on merchants who buy for customers. Some buy some old bottles for birthdays, of course, but they want bottles that are meant to be drunk. For them, there are legendary labels like Laffite Rothschild, even if it is running out of steam; the Burgundies arrive behind and I think they will quickly occupy the field. In our opinion, the market will explode within two years, which is why we are positioning ourselves now.
- How did you build your catalog of rare wines?
Marc Labarbe - Quite simply, we are announcing our sale in Hong Kong. Following this, individuals and professionals call us by proposing to sell their cellar. There, I have a restaurant that called me a few days ago that told me he wanted to finish his cellar bottom. We also have many individuals who have speculated at a time speculative buying wine 20-25 years ago, it is an opportunity to sell these bottles to a market in demand. I even think that they will have the opportunity to sell them better than in France at the moment.
- Do you stay open to other, less luxurious areas?
Marc Labarbe - You can not fall in the small areas because it's an auction that has a cost and you have to write it off. We can not make a sale with 3000 lots. We limited ourselves to 1000 lots with relatively high starting prices while going towards 2e, 3e, 4e raw to allow modest Chinese to access quality wines at more reasonable prices.
- How are you doing from the logistic point of view? Carry bottles of values with the whole issue of travel-related turmoil, climate change, etc. ... It's not running a risk?
Marc Labarbe - All the wines will not go to China. The Grands Bordeaux will surely remain on site. Part will be transported with one or two months in advance. Once sold, the bottles will be shipped via our own services.
- These sales from Bordeaux to Hong Kong, as we know, are reaching dizzying prices. (Between 10 000 and 25 000 € the box of twelve bottles, reports the weekly Express), do not you have the impression to participate in this speculative frenzy today criticized by figures like Michel Bettane or even Robert Parker?
Marc Labarbe - Yes of course. But let's say that the Chinese are still reasonable. Of course, the goal in going to Hong Kong is to have the presence of wealthy individuals who could actually, to please themselves, raise prices at prices higher than those we know today but it We must also know that foreign competition is present so prices can not fly in the immediate future. If there is flight, it will be in the coming years because the Chinese market is really nascent. What will happen, we do not know anything about it. For now, we are more about a reasonable increase in value than on an explosion of prices in China.
- The counterfeiting of vintage wines is a reality in China. What guarantee do you bring to your customers-buyers?
Marc Labarbe - We are lucky in France to work with cellars of individuals who generally do not book unpleasant surprises. Our expert, Jean-Christophe Lucquiaud, looks at them one by one so that the Chinese customers are not disappointed and that we can then renew the experience.
- In your catalog, there is a buyer's guide with drawings to learn how to check the level of collars. Is it to infuse a culture of auctioning in China?
Marc Labarbe - Yes, the Chinese do not know the auction world well. These wealthy people we talk to have often made a fortune in a very short time and I think the auction houses are intimidating them. However, these people are very demanding and we must do advice and quality. Last year, we saw that once the sale was over. If a bottle of their lot does not match what has been described in the catalog, some Chinese customers refuse the whole lot. So yes, we try to instill in them a taste for detail so that they have confidence in our expertise. The goal is to sell bottles of which they are happy to see them return to the next sales.
- The auction will take place from 11 to 13 May 2012, fifteen days before the next edition of Vinexpo. A lot of stress and excitement in the end, right?
Marc Labarbe - For my colleague Jack-Philippe Ruellan and me it's a challenge but it's also a challenge for Jean-Christophe Lucquiaud, our expert. For example in France, if I sell a case of wine of a great vintage and that I indicate "Twelve bottles of white horse 1990 wooden box" and that I do not put any mention beside, in the spirit of the French customer, it means that the bottle is intact. In the mind of a Chinese customer is that the bottle hides a defect that is not mentioned. So you have to indicate everything: the level, the label, etc. ... There is a very high level of requirement which finally turns out for us, you are right, very exciting. But I confess that going to China is already an adventure in itself.
-Last question even if we should have started there. When was your taste for Marc Labarbe wine?
Marc Labarbe - It's a passion that began twenty years ago through my stepfather who introduced me to great meals and great wines. And so I took a liking to it. I met friends who made me share this passion. Because wine is something that is not lived alone.