Serena Sutcliffe, Master of Wine, the head of Sotheby's international wine department: about great auctions and outstanding wines


Sotheby`s is one of the world`s oldest and authoritative Auction Houses. Last year Sotheby`s sold $57,9 million of wine at auction.

 


Drinks+:
Dear Serena, as we know you had been working in NATO and UNESCO organizations as interpreter from French language, when you changed your specialization in favor of wine business. After you started to speak fluent “wine language”. As result you became the second lady after Mrs. Sarah Morphew Stephen who passed for Master of Wine. Could you please tell us about your way to this title?

Serena Sutcliffe: I had always been fascinated by taste and smell and I was lucky enough to be brought up in the countryside which gave me so many wonderful scents.   It is just so ‘normal’ for me to analyse and describe perfumes and flavours.   I never thought I could translate this into a job but finally I found out about the Master of Wine and decided to pass the examination in double quick time!   It was difficult, as a woman, at the beginning in this profession, but I am a very determined person!


D+: You are also the only representative of British wine business, who is honored to be awarded Legion of Honor for contribution and popularization of French wines in Great Britain. What do this regalia mean for you personally?

S.S.: Being given the Legion d’Honneur by the French is certainly the part of my profession of which I am most proud, probably because of all the people who have won this award in the past – some very famous names. I feel honoured to have received it and France is very close to my heart. I never had the ‘attitude’ there that I often received in England, from Englishmen!

D+: Could you please tell us about wine department of Sotheby’s – what differences does it make comparing to Christie’s auction for example? What are the structure and principles of your department?

S.S.: Our wine department at Sotheby’s, in our three centres, is based on hard, professional work and integrity. We inspect everything. We turn away collections that do not meet our standards. The whole team is highly trained and our experts stay with us to give real continuity. It is total teamwork.

D+: Sotheby’s organizes auctions in London, New York and Honkong. Are there any key distinctions between these auctions except the place of venue of course? 

S.S.: In London, we sell great wine collections from Europe.  In New York, we sell great wine collections from America. In Hong Kong, we mostly sell excellent collections, either from Europe or America. It all depends on the composition of the collection. The buyers everywhere are truly global, European, North and South American and pan-Asian.

D+: How do you search for wines? According to which system wines can be allowed to sale? Do you remember the situations when for example just before sales you had to buy wines in? How you do identify wines and who is responsible for that? What wines are used to be falsified most often? If you had such cases could you please mention them? May be some chateaux recalled their wines from the sale? 

S.S.: We often know where great collections are but people also contact us when they want to sell. We take extreme care over both provenance and condition. We check everything – it must be traceable. The risk of fake bottles only falls on very expensive wines. We have an extremely good record where this is concerned, as research will show! It takes years of experience and training to do what we do, but that is our job.

D+:
In 1999 you run one of the most successful auctions ever having been realized the sum 14,4 millions dollars. Could you please tell us about this sale? What does influence on success in this case?

S.S.: The Millennium Sale was of course amazing, but there have been many other great sales. The Lafite Ex Cellars sale held by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong in October 2010 set a new record for a single standard sized bottle at auction when a bottle of Château Lafite 1869 sold for $232,692. This means that Sotheby’s now holds the world records for a standard bottle, a bottle in any format – the Jeroboam of ChâteauMouton Rothschild 1945 which fetched $310,700 in February 2007 in New York – and any wine lot at auction – 50 cases of Château Mouton Rothschild 1982 which sold for US$1,051,600 at Sotheby’s New York in 2006.
In 2009 in London, we held a landmark sale of wine direct from Château Cheval Blanc; in October 2013 in Hong Kong, we presented an auction of historic wines direct from the cellars of Domaine Clarence Dillon: Château Haut-Brion, Château Quintus and Château La Mission Haut-Brion. In October 2013 in London, we offered the legendary Lacoste-Loubat Cellar, a remarkable treasure trove of three Right Bank wines: Châteaux Petrus, Latour a Pomerol and La Fleur. In 1997, Sotheby’s London auction of The Andrew Lloyd Webber Wine Collection set a new world auction record for any wine sale when it raised £3.7 million ($6 million) – more than 18,000 bottles were sold.  Our much anticipated sale of The Andrew Lloyd Webber Wine Collection in Hong Kong in January 2011 – a further tranche from the composer’s cellar – achieved an outstanding total of HK$43.3 million ($5.6 million) which far exceeded the high estimate. In April 2013 in Hong Kong and New York, Sotheby’s offered the elBulli cellar. The overall total for the two auctions was $2.7 million and proceeds from the sale benefited the elBulli foundation.

D+: The famous winery “Massandra” took part in Sotheby’s with its collections for several times. How did you bring in contact with representative of “Massandra”? Or may be Ukrainian winemakers did it? May be they have some unique wines that you would like to put on auction?

S.S.: The Massandra auctions were very special – extraordinary old dessert wines. We have a lot of admiration for the way these wines are made.

D+: Collectors of what countries are the most active during the sales?

S.S.: Collectors come from everywhere and they can bid by sending their bids before the sale, in the room, on the telephone or live on-line.

D+: Once during the interview you said that online auctions are booming, nevertheless “live auctions” hardly can be neglected in the nearest future. What tendency can we see today?

S.S.: We think that live auctions have their place – people love coming to them, especially in New York and Hong Kong. But bidding on-line is also important, especially in view of both distance and time differences. It is very easy.

D+: What format of sales gives more money turnover for Sotheby's wine department?

S.S.: Successful sales are based on having great wines to sell – then everyone participates, in every way!

D+: How do you see Sotheby’s wine auctions in 10 years?

S.S.: I think the market will continue to grow and spread everywhere. There are many people in this business but the most reputable will survive.  

D+: Thank you for the interview!


Interview by Olga Markovets

 

 

 

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