Lloyd Webber uncorks sell-out in HK

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 January, 2011, 12:00am

Hong Kong's wine auctioneers started the year with a bang yesterday - 746 bangs, to be precise - as eager buyers snapped up part of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's collection.

French-wine lover Lloyd Webber, who often composed the music to the hit shows Evita, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera with a glass of wine by his side, opted to sell part of his vast collection because he no longer had space to store it.

With Hong Kong having overtaken New York as the world's largest wine auction centre, all 746 lots on offer at a Sotheby's auction at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Central, were sold in the course of six hours. In Sotheby's first sale this year, more than 100 bidders - locals and telephone and online bidders - paid HK$43.3 million, topping the pre-sale estimate of HK$32 million.

'I hope the new owners enjoy my wines as much as I have and look forward to reacquainting myself with them in restaurants all over China when Cats starts its national tour in Mandarin [Putonghua],' the British composer said.

He gained an interest in wine aged nine, thanks to an aunt who collected Italian wine; he started collecting wine himself when he was 15.

'He [Lloyd Webber] is known for buying excellent wine and storing them in excellent condition,' Robert Sleigh, head of Sotheby's wine department, said.

The highest price paid by more than 100 bidders was for a 12-bottle lot of Chateau Petrus 1982, which was sold for HK$605,000 - far exceeding the pre-sale estimate of HK$480,000.

A 12-bottle lot of Chateau Lafite 1982 was sold for HK$459,800 and an 11-bottle lot of Chateau Petrus 1982 for the same price. Three bottles of Romanee-Conti 2002 were sold for HK$314,600 - nearly double the auctioneers' upper estimate.

Sleigh said Hong Kong was likely to remain the leading location for wine sales in the world, thanks to the abolition of wine duty in 2008.

'The Asian economy is generally stronger than the rest of the world and there is a genuine wine bloom in Asia. But the reduction of wine duty to zero started the whole thing.'

High demand would keep wine sales in Asia strong this year, he said.

Of the auction house's record sales of more than HK$688 million of wine worldwide last year, nearly 60 per cent was sold in Hong Kong; last year's sales in the city were more than three times that of the year before.

Sotheby's holds a second wine auction today, featuring the Bordeaux Winebank 2000 collection.

Meanwhile, auctioneer Acker Merrall & Condit also predicted a good year ahead.

Its two-day wine auction at the Island Shangri-La and Grand Hyatt hotels generated revenue of HK$85 million - one-fifth more than its estimate. The 1,200-plus lots were all sold.

'As strong as 2010 was, it seems that 2011 has already exceeded the benchmark set last year,' chief executive John Kapon said.

Eight bottles of 1985 Henri Jayer Richebourg, one of the star lots, were sold for HK$780,800, exceeding the upper estimate of HK$680,000.

Bordeaux continued to outperform its counterparts, with wine from Chateau Petrus and Lafite taking the lead, Kapon said.

Early taste

The age at which a schoolboy Andrew Lloyd Webber - the future composer - bought his first bottle of wine: 15