Christie’s new Global Head of Wines & Spirits joins Michelle Chan of Christie’s Asia in introducing an auction of unbeatable Burgundies and Bordeaux from the Hong Kong collector Joseph Lau
Joseph Lau (born 1951) is a major figure in the auction world, with a reputation for focusing on outstanding items with immaculate provenance.
One of the world’s leading art collectors, the former Hong Kong property developer owns works by several of the most sought-after artists in contemporary and modern art, from Basquiat and Warhol to Gauguin and Picasso — whose 1938 portrait Buste de Femme (Femme à la résille), acquired at Christie’s for US$67 million in 2015, was once owned by the artist’s granddaughter Marina.
His wine collection is no less distinguished, featuring ‘only the most impeccable and rarest wines’, as the collector puts it, with an unusual focus on specific regions, including Burgundy and Bordeaux.
Given the level of demand for wines from these regions, the prospect of Iconic Wines from Joseph Lau — which takes place on 13 April at Christie’s in Hong Kong — is doubly exciting.
Kicking off Christie’s spring wine sales season — which will see five single-owner sales globally — the 89-lot live auction will feature an unprecedented number of what Lau describes as his ‘top-notch favourites’, and has a total estimated value of more than HK$24 million (US$3 million).
Among the highlights are 22 lots of DRC Romanée-Conti from 1989 to 2005 in different formats; 17 lots of Henri Jayer Cros Parantoux from 1986 to 1999, several of them in magnum; and Bordeaux vintages produced between 1982 and 2003 by leading estates such as Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Latour, Lafleur, Pétrus and Cheval Blanc.
For Michelle Chan, Head of Wine for Christie’s Asia Pacific, they represent ‘the holy grail for sophisticated wine collectors’.
The upcoming auction is a particularly exciting one for Adam Bilbey, who has played an instrumental role in sales of Lau’s wines in the past.
Bilbey joined Christie’s in January, more than 20 years after starting his career at London wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd; a favourite memory was welcoming the late Michael Broadbent MW into the shop to sign his Vintage Wine book.
‘Michael was the head — and figurehead — of the Wine Department at Christie’s and I have still have my signed copy of his book,’ recalls Bilbey. ‘My love and passion for wine comes from the likes of Michael and all the other great characters, collectors and mentors I have encountered over the years.’
For Bilbey, these friendships are one of the privileges of being a wine specialist: ‘Wine evokes so much passion and friendship, and sharing is the name of the game.’
Another bonus is that you never stop learning, says Bilbey. ‘Wine is like a time capsule. It tells you what was going on in a given vineyard at a given point in time. Its character is always changing, depending on the growing season, the soil, human intervention and other factors. Every year offers a different take on a terroir and for me that’s a very special thing.’
The attention Lau gives to provenance is one of the hallmarks of his collection, affirms Chan, adding that many of the lots in the upcoming auction were purchased from single-owner or Domaine sales. Another feature of the collection is Lau’s love of rare wines in large formats: Bilbey is particularly looking forward to the auction of a magnum of 2005 DRC Romanée-Conti.
‘It’s still a baby, but this a stunning Burgundy vintage that could become the finest vintage of what is widely regarded as the greatest wine made in the region,’ he says.
For Bilbey, Lau’s collection is notable both for its ‘depth of the most iconic producers’, and the foresight the collector showed as many as 30 years ago, when the rarest wines were still available in significant quantities.
‘Take Christie’s 2012 sale direct from the cellar of the late great Henri Jayer — the man who crafted the most fabled red of Burgundy,’ he says. ‘At a guess I’d say that Mr Lau purchased more than half of the sale. The prices looked high at the time, but now Jayer’s wines have taken on an almost mythical reputation, they look like incredible buys.’
For Chan, the single highlight of the sale is the final lot: six bottles of Henri Jayer Cros Parantoux 1999.
‘Cros Parantoux is a Premier Cru vineyard in Burgundy, but it is considered one of the best,’ she says. ‘Jayer bought his first parcel in 1951; interestingly, the land had previously been used to grow Jerusalem artichoke. When he retired in 1995, he kept about 40 percent to produce a cuvée he labelled Reserve.
1999 is an outstanding vintage and these six bottles are still in the original wooden case in which Mr Lau purchased them from Christie’s in the Private Cellar of Henri Jayer sale in 2012. They are in excellent condition and it is almost impossible to find another case with the same provenance.’
Iconic Wines from Joseph Lau takes place at 10am on 13 April at Christie’s in Hong Kong. It will be followed by Finest and Rarest Wines, when over 400 additional lots of exquisite Old and New World wines from various owners will be offered.