Friday 3 September 2021 4:04 pm

Sotheby’s Jamie Ritchie on the future of wine auctions

If Jamie Ritchie were on Desert Island Discs, which is not beyond the realms of possibility, his luxury item would be his gavel.

“In 1994, as part of Sotheby’s 250th anniversary celebrations, I was given a wooden gavel. It has been the only gavel I have ever used. It has required some occasional re-gluing as the head has flown off into the audience a couple of times. The trend nowadays is for auctioneers to use gavels without handles, but I prefer the heft of the handle.”

Ritchie heads Sotheby’s global wine business and is the chief auctioneer at its charity auction event. He has turned the iconic auction house into a multi-channel international wine merchant, having joined Sotheby’s of London’s wine department in 1990. His first job was managing Brinkley’s Wines on Hollywood Road, SW10, after which he enrolled at Harvard Business School’s Executive Leadership Programme.

The famous auctioneer has built Sotheby’s into the pre-eminent global player in fine wine and spirits, setting up the first wine auctions in New York (1994) and Hong Kong (2009) and opening retail outlets in both cities. In 2020 Sotheby’s sold $45m worth of wine and spirits online alone.

Hammersmith-born Ritchie, who grew up in Chippenham in Wiltshire, started buying wine by the case when he was 17, with his first haul some Marques de Caceres Rioja.

He is now based in Manhattan on the Upper East Side. “I have been very lucky. There have been so many amazing experiences, like selling, in 1993, 75,000 bottles from the Princes von Thurn und Taxis in Regensburg; or the Cellar of William I Koch at $22m; or the Philanthropist’s Cellar at $16m, or selling the first barrel of En Primeur at auction from Chateau Palmer 2015.”

Sotheby's own-brand wine collection

Ritchie has been the auctioneer for the world record prices for both a bottle of wine (Romanée Conti DRC 1945 from The Cellar of Robert Drouhin for $558,000 in 2018), and for a bottle of spirits (The Macallan 1926 60 Year, in The Ultimate Whisky Collection in 2019).

“I am very proud of the launch of the range of Sotheby’s Own Label Collection in 2019 – an affordable range of very classical wines that show the typicity of the grape varieties and micro-climate from each specific region from where they are made.

“It offers quality and value for money. Our Chablis, our Sancerre, our red and white Burgundies are all exactly what you would expect from a very good producer in each region. They are produced by our friends whose wines we know, like, respect and admire. The Sotheby’s Champagne is our perennial best seller and we’ve added a classic Rose Champagne.

“Selecting our original range for the launch, we travelled for a week through France and ran out of time to visit Italy. This time we made up for it by adding a classic Pinot Grigio made by Attems and we wanted two Tuscan wines, a classic Sangiovese Chianti, which comes from Castello di Nipozzano, and an excellent everyday Tuscan red from the team at Ornellaia.” 

He believes digital is the auction platform of the future. “Last year we were 90 per cent live auctions, and this year we will be 30 per cent. Fifty percent of bidders are under 50 and 30 per cent are new millennials. We’ve been attracting a much broader, younger market across all their international markets. When I joined the company in 1990, the average age was 65.

“Long ago, I calculated that if I lived until I was 70 and drank a bottle of wine every day, I would have 20,000 great experiences. I was pretty sure I would drink those 20,000 bottles, so I decided that I had better learn something about it. There are two ways to enjoy wine: work in the business or earn enough money to buy it. I chose the former.”
• For more information visit www.sothebyswine.com or www.sothebys.com/wine

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