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Spectrum Wine Auction's Mario Sculatti featured in FINE Magazine

Taken from Fine Magazine, http://www.fine-magazines.com.

Just a quick 10-minute taxi ride from Hong Kong Central, on the other side of the Aberdeen Tunnel up to Shouson Hill, there is the discrete entrance to Crown. This is hallowed ground in the wine world, as it is probably the single greatest wine depository system in Asia. These converted underground Second World War ammunition bunkers are historical strongholds, and proved to be a special venue for our first live auction on Hong Kong Island.

The morning had a cool freshness to it and I felt a happy anticipation as the pallet of Spectrum’s pre-auction tasting wines arrived in perfect shape. It was an honour to protect and escort this specific prize from California into Asia: the cargo was in fact a complete 20-year vertical of Harlan Estate in magnum form, direct from the estate, including near-impossible to find 1987, 1988 and 1989 vintages. Indeed, these were the very first wines Harlan Estate produced and had never before released to the public – the estate’s official first vintage was 1990. The collection belonged to a gentleman I call “Tai Pan”, a good friend and client of mine who had purchased this historic lot at Auction Napa Valley earlier in the year.

One of the most enjoyable parts about being in the rare wine business right now is that we can increasingly make use of technology to better document and authenticate wines. In this vertical of Harlan Estate magnums, for example, the collector had commissioned a firm called iProof to affix RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips to each of these bottles, making them scannable by all relatively new mobile phones worldwide. This is an amazing innovation that may someday be able to give all wine collectors a true geo-location provenance list for their wines they acquire.
The excitement amongst both local aficionados and old Hong Kong friends was palpable at the pre-auction tasting event at Crown Cellars, in what proved to be a fantastic affair! The highlight of the night for me was the arrival of our surprise guests. Don Weaver from Harlan Estate and Tuck Beckstoffer of the famous vineyard dynasty in Napa Valley of the same name were both in attendance, on their way back from a Shanghai tour, and provided us with a little hometown good luck. As the party got rolling at about 8pm, we opened a quantity of truly great bottles. It was a cross-section of wines direct from the 3000-bottle Aubrey McClendon Collection listed in the auction, so bidders could taste how the bottles had been cared for.

The mark of a great tasting event, to me, is when seasoned and first-time auction buyers can converge upon the common ground of just drinking and appreciating the same wines together. I looked across the crowded main bunker clubhouse at Crown, and saw one of our older clients in deep debate with a new 22-year-old buyer from Singapore. These two gentlemen were happily harassing each other about the pros and cons of new world Napa fruit plushness versus old school Bordeaux acidity and longevity, and the younger guy was the one extolling the virtues of the old-school Bordelaise finesse! 

The plan for the auction was the first in the wine world: to connect Hong Kong and California in a real-time live video exchange – bridging 7300 miles across the Pacific Ocean – so we could literally wave our bidding paddles at each other across the world! We wanted all the bidders in each auction to feel like their counterparts were sitting in the room next to them. You have to love technology.

Our first auction opened on Sunday morning at 9am Hong Kong time, in the Crown Cellars. With the video link streaming to big LCD screens, we were fully connected and corresponding exactly to the 6pm Saturday start back at Laguna, California ballroom at the St. Regis Monarch Beach. It was a complete honour and privilege to have Ms Ursula Hermacinski as our auctioneer in California, who was taking a weekend break away from her day job as Estate Manager of Screaming Eagle in Oakville. Standing at the podium, Ursula welcomed us all to the event, and then raised her gavel as if to signal that “now we’re off to the races.”

From lot number one all the way through to number 686, it was a battle to procure the best of the best wines. Bidding started fiercely for one of the most coveted of the First Growth Bordeaux, Lafite-Rothschild. Among the lots offered from the McClendon Collection were 16 full cases of 1998 Lafite, bringing in US$111 000; the 12 bottles of 1982 Lafite went for US$38 000. When the hammer fell in our room on an Imperial of 1996 Lafite-Rothschild, the under bidder, Tai Kor, threw his paddle at me and said, with a smile on his face: “Mark my words, I will win the rest of the lots I want!”  He took another swirl of the 1990 Latour I had just poured him, and we were on good terms again. Sure enough, Tai Kor ended up taking a considerable chunk of the greatest lots, including the majority of the own wooden case and large format Pétrus. 

Another gentleman took on gem-cut precise positions of own wooden case Mouton-Rothschild and Léoville-Las Cases across his favourite vintages. The 2000 Mouton-Rothschild was really hot at the sale. A total of 16 lots, in cases, jeroboam and imperial format were adorned with those iconic golden rams. One of our most successful winning phone bidders had called in from his mobile while driving his sports car out near the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Sha Tin Racecourse. He was running down lots of 2000 Cheval Blanc by furlongs, like he was the white racehorse, beating out his competitors in our Hong Kong and California rooms.

I was really impressed by how much activity we were getting from our Mainland Chinese and Hong Kong-based Internet bidders. Because of the live video feed and simple bidding interface, buyers were happy bidding privately from their homes or offices. Access, ease and privacy are important. A surprise case in point was the 12-bottle lot of 1962 DRC Romanée-Conti that went for US$109 000 to a mystery absentee bidder from Macau.

After such a long day of competing for these treasures, the auction ended strongly with all 686 lots sold, reaching a combined total of US$3,490,000. Hong Kong has truly become the new international wine hub in the past year and we were thrilled to make our own mark with this debut auction.