Sotheby's this weekend is presenting an auction of rare wines that have never left the cellars of Bollinger in France, including a rare 1914 vintage.
Photo courtesy of Champagne Bollinger
By John Kell
November 19, 2016

Bollinger this weekend will do something the champagne house hasn’t done since it was first established in 1829. It is opening the winery’s cellar in France and giving collectors a rare opportunity to buy some limited-edition wines.

The family-owned, France-based company on Saturday will partner with auction house Sotheby’s (bid) to sell a wide range of wines in New York City, including a bottle from the 1914 vintage, six lots of wines that span four decades (1973-2000), and a Bollinger “experience”—a tour and tasting at the winery followed by a dinner at a two-star Michelin restaurant which has a starting suggested bid of $10,000.

“Wealthy people want experiences,” Champagne Bollinger CEO Jérôme Philipon said. “Buying another case of fantastic wines can deliver some experiences later. But the memories [of the visit] are far stronger.”

The first-ever auction from Bollinger will give wine collectors a rare opportunity to buy wines that would never hit retail shelves. The Bollinger brand is also one of the most more well known and established among high-end champagnes, as it has close ties to the fictional spy James Bond and the very real British royal family.

Jamie Ritchie, Worldwide Head of Sotheby’s Wine, says the auction will contain 48 lots. The estimated range varies from $500 through $10,000—the high end is the tasting experience that includes a bottle of the 1914 vintage.

The auction comes at a time when interest in buying older champagnes has increased among collectors in recent years. Traditionally, most of the wine market—as much as 90% of auction sales—are of red wines. There’s been a historic perception, even in France, that champagnes should be consumed immediately rather than kept to age in a cellar.

But as wine lovers become more educated about the aging process for champagnes—the carbonation actually helps those liquids retain their flavor over the years—interest in scooping up champagnes on the auction block has increased the past several years.

“There is now a perception today that the older champagnes will also appreciate in value and that is another factor that is leading to some interest,” says Philipon.

A 1914 bottle of Bollinger is being sold with an 'experience' that has a starting bid of $10,000.
Bollinger bottles that will be auctioned by Sotheby's on Saturday.

Philipon was particularly excited about the auction of the 1914 vintage—a date that has special meaning in France and across Europe as it is the year that marks the beginning of World War I. He’s personally tried it twice and says that the champagne remains balanced despite being over 100 years old, but it also has some complex aromas and tastes that aren’t found in newer champagnes. That includes elements of cooked fruits and even truffles. Also notable: the bubbles in the beverage have disappeared.

That vintage is being offered with a unique “experience” that Bollinger is selling as part of the auction. The winery isn’t open to visitors, so it would give a group of four a rare peak into the vineyard. The evening will end with a dinner hosted by Philipon at French restaurant Le Parc Les Crayères.

That auction item is especially on trend today, as alcohol brands across the spectrum of wine, spirits and beers, are thinking more about how to market and offer consumers “experiences.” Brands, in general, are thinking more about building a relationship with consumers that isn’t just built on buying stuff.

The story has been updated to correct the spelling of Jérôme Philipon’s name.


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