NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - It seems that in the world of wine, you can have too much of a good thing - even Chateau Petrus, one of the world’s most acclaimed clarets.
“I really just bought too much,” said U.S. billionaire Warren Stephens asked why he auctioned almost 5,000 bottles of wine - including at least five cases of different Chateau Petrus vintages - from his collection for nearly $4 million.
Stephens is one of a growing number of wine collectors who have started to offload some of their cellars as prices rise.
The head of Stephens Inc, a private investment bank based in Little Rock, Arkansas, he began seriously collecting wine in the 1980s, concentrating mostly on first-growth Bordeaux, home of Chateau Petrus, and some Burgundies.
Stephens, 50, who also built and owns the Alotian Golf Club in Roland, Arkansas, assured Reuters that he had not become a teetotaler or sold off his entire cellar.
“I have at least one bottle or a case of the wines (auctioned) in the same vintage or the same format,” he said, adding he also had a great many other wines, though the core of his collection is built around Bordeaux.
“I did know I was buying more wine than I could drink, but I didn’t realize how much more and there was a plan.”
The sale proceeds will benefit the Episcopal Collegiate School in Little Rock, which his children attend. He was also instrumental in having a new minor league baseball stadium built nearby for the hometown team, the Arkansas Travelers.
Of the top 10 lots sold by Stephens, four were bought by either Asian or European collectors with the weak dollar possibly having a hand in those sales and the Chateau Petrus? A 12-bottle case of 1990 fetched $47,800 as did a 1982 Jeroboam.
“But I didn’t invest in wine as if I were going to make money in it. There are a lot surer ways to invest,” said Stephens, who also serves on the boards of Dillard’s and Alltel.
Jamie Ritchie, head of Sotheby’s wine department in North America which served as Stephen’s auctioneer, said he has been seeing more private collectors, who have amassed vast holdings, selling off some of their finds.
“There are more people with more wine and the value of wine has increased,” Ritchie said.
“Over the last two years prices for the greatest wines from the greatest years have gone up two and three times ... There’s been significant appreciation if you’ve been buying wines at those levels.”
Collectors sell for all kinds of reasons, he said.
“Everyone has wines that they’re not going to consume. Sometimes one’s tastes have changed, other times you have wines that are all reaching maturity at the same time, so you have too much wine at the same time.”
And wine collectors, like other collectors, “tend to start collecting and then get over enthusiastic and collect more wine and then they reach the point where they have more wine than they can possibly drink,” Ritchie said.
“It’s a good problem to have.”
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith