From luxury cars to fine wine: Burkard Bovensiepen and the Alpina story

It’s 40 years since Alpina Wine, Germany’s pre-eminent wine merchant, was established as a sibling to Alpina Automobiles, the exclusive car company. As part of Geneva Luxury Week, Christie’s will offer 675 lots from its distinguished cellars

Wine and cars are two of life’s luxuries that, on the face of it, shouldn’t be the best of bedfellows. Alpina Automobiles and its sibling company, Alpina Wines, fly in the face of such received wisdom.

The distinguished German car company was formed in 1965 by Burkard Bovensiepen to supply engine parts to BMW. Its celebrated sister business was formed in 1979 — 40 years ago. To commemorate this landmark anniversary, Christie’s is to offer 675 lots from the Alpina Wine cellars, ranging from the 1980s to the 2000s, on 10 November as part of Geneva Luxury Week.

Bovensiepen began collecting wines from the places where his cars were winning races 

Bovensiepen began collecting wines from the places where his cars were winning races 

‘From a young age I was interested in cars, and I never had the intention of going into the family business of making typewriters,’ Bovensiepen told Classic Driver magazine in 2015. BMW was so impressed by his modification of his own BMW 1500, which resulted in ‘a 0-60mph time of 13 seconds, three seconds quicker than the base model,’ that it agreed to go into business with him.

Competition success for Alpina and BMW quickly followed, with legendary drivers such as James Hunt, Jacky Ickx and Niki Lauda all racing Alpina-tuned BMWs to victory in events between 1968 and 1973. 

BMW entrusted Alpina with a project to create a lightweight, aluminium-bodied racing car called the 3.0 Gösser CSL Coupé to contest the European Touring Car Championship — which it promptly won.

Bovensiepen with one of his race drivers for Alpina, the legendary Niki Lauda 

Bovensiepen with one of his race drivers for Alpina, the legendary Niki Lauda 

In addition to its partnership with BMW, Alpina produces its own lovingly crafted luxury cars (even the leather on the steering wheels is hand-stitched). Around 1,700 of these re-engineered versions of existing BMW models, complete with different engines and transmission configurations, as well as bespoke cabin configurations, are issued each year — making the company more exclusive than Rolls-Royce.

This same commitment to excellence is reflected in Alpina Wines, which enjoys a lower global profile, but which is a major player in the German wine trade. 

Burkard Bovensiepen had begun collecting wines from the places where his cars were winning races with such regularity in the 1970s, and soon found he had a serious collection on his hands. Today Alpina Wines has a reserve of more than 1 million bottles, 40 per cent of which are from Bordeaux, with an additional quarter of its stock hailing from Italy.

Even on the race circuit, wine would never be far from Burkard Bovensiepen’s thoughts

Even on the race circuit, wine would never be far from Burkard Bovensiepen’s thoughts

‘Our customers find everything they desire in our cellar,’ says Bovensiepen, ‘also in desirable large-bottle format, some of which are particularly sought-after.’ 

The variety of bottle sizes offered by Alpina, from halves to 3-litre imperials, is one of the pillars of its business. And, with large-format bottles in keeping with anniversary celebrations, the Geneva sale will offer 994 magnums (1.5 litres), 248 double magnums (3 litres), 2 jeraboams (5 litres) and 180 imperials (6 litres).

This represents one of the largest offerings in all available sizes from any cellar presented at auction in recent years. The only cellars the wines have been kept in are those from which they originated, and the Alpina wine cellars in Buchloe, Germany.

Another of Alpina’s strengths is its vintage depth, and this is reflected in two vertical vintage collections from the 1980s and 1990s from the iconic Bordeaux First Growth, Château Latour. Offered in double magnums, the 1980s vertical features vintages from 1981/83/85/86/88 and 89, estimated at CHF 9,000-12,000, while the 1990s vertical includes 1990/91/92/93/94 and 95, with an estimate of  CHF9,500-13,000.

Château Latour
1981. Estimate CHF 9,000-12,000. Offered in Fine & Rare Wines The 40 years Jubilee of ALPINA Fine Wines on 10 November 2019 at Christie’s in Geneva

Château Latour 1981. Estimate: CHF 9,000-12,000. Offered in Fine & Rare Wines: The 40 years Jubilee of ALPINA Fine Wines on 10 November 2019 at Christie’s in Geneva

Other highlights include a double magnum of 1961 Château Lafite-Rothschild, with an estimate of CHF7,000-9,000. Examples of this vintage — definitely one to try before you die — are thin on the ground these days, with frost and spring rain having reduced the eventual yields. Although it also rained during July, the months of August and September were hot and sunny, resulting in a some now legendary wines of intense concentration.

In 2000 Mouton-Rothschild produced a stunning black and gold-engraved bottle which is a fitting tribute to the outstanding quality of the wine within. ‘The bottle just looks a million dollars,’ says Christie’s Head of Wine, Edwin Vos. ‘This is a vintage that is back to a fatter, richer style, brimming with flavours of spicy oak and ripe fruit.  For me it  just represents… Mouton.’

Château Mouton-Rothschild 2000, 1 double-magnum. Estimate CHF 10,000-15,000. This lot is offered in Fine & Rare Wines The 40 years Jubilee of ALPINA Fine Wines on 10 November 2019 at Christie’s in Geneva

Château Mouton-Rothschild 2000, 1 double-magnum. Estimate: CHF 10,000-15,000. This lot is offered in Fine & Rare Wines: The 40 years Jubilee of ALPINA Fine Wines on 10 November 2019 at Christie’s in Geneva

Of the wines from Italy, a selection of  Tuscan Sassicaia from 1979 through to 2000 compares favourably to the finest that Bordeaux has to offer. 

‘Each year only 2 per cent of the total production is bottled in large formats like magnums, double-magnums and imperials,’ says Vos. ‘This last format is extremely rare. Sassicaia is one of the classic great wines of the world, very reliable even in the in-between vintages. Therefore we are exceptionally proud to offer the 1998, 1999 and 2000 in imperial especially for this jubilee.’

The best of California is represented by Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection from the Napa Valley, with a range of vintages going back to 1992, including the great 1994. Offered in rare large formats, double magnums and even imperials, this is an exceptional opportunity to acquire well-aged Caymus Special Selection in different bottle sizes. 

Caymus, Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection 1999, 12 bottles per lot. Estimate CHF 1,600-2,000. Offered in Fine & Rare Wines The 40 years Jubilee of ALPINA Fine Wines on 10 November 2019 at Christie’s in Geneva

Caymus, Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection 1999, 12 bottles per lot. Estimate: CHF 1,600-2,000. Offered in Fine & Rare Wines: The 40 years Jubilee of ALPINA Fine Wines on 10 November 2019 at Christie’s in Geneva

Fine & Rare Wines: The 40 Years Jubilee of Alpina Fine Wines, will be held at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues in Geneva on 10 November 2019, 10am and 2pm.