The Last Treasures of The Avery Collection: ‘They always believed in these wines, and they were risk-takers in promoting them’

Established in 1793, the Avery family’s wine business has fuelled interest in wines grown all over the world, from New Zealand to Napa Valley. A landmark sale of around 6,000 bottles at Christie’s in London on 6 and 7 June represents ‘the swan song of one of the great English collections’

When Jancis Robinson, wine critic for the Financial Times and advisor to the cellars of Queen Elizabeth II, was tasked with making a documentary about luminaries of the British wine trade, it was only natural that she should visit the Avery family.

Standing in the billiard room of their Gothic manor near Bristol in the south-west of England, Robinson told BBC viewers that the Averys are not just a colourful family of connoisseurs, but ‘the most respected independent wine merchants in Britain — if not the world’.

John Avery MW, a towering figure in the vintner's trade, who practically invented the UK market for New World wines

John Avery MW, a towering figure in the vintner’s trade, who practically invented the UK market for New World wines

The star of the 1998 show — part of a series called Vintners’ Tales — was the Avery family’s patriarch John (1941-2012). He told Robinson he believed his success lay in the fact that he was ‘quite good at finding wines’. In fact, John Avery practically invented the British market for wines from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA.

John Avery’s obituary in the Daily Telegraph noted that it was during a trip to America to hunt for new customers that he discovered the brilliant wines coming from Napa Valley vineyards such as Beaulieu, Heitz and Inglenook. After becoming the first to import these Californian ‘pretenders’ to England, Avery arranged a formal tasting alongside their European counterparts. He billed the event, ‘Old World versus New World’.

Shortly afterwards, Avery visited Australia, where upon arrival in Sydney a local journalist asked for his opinion of Antipodean wines. ‘I haven’t had a good one yet,’ he responded. But within a matter of weeks his mind had been changed, and he became the first English importer of wines from Penfolds, Tyrrell’s and McWilliam’s. He then repeated the feat in New Zealand, unearthing, among others, Matawhero Wines.

John was the latest in a long line of Averys to work in the family wine business, which was established in 1793 on Park Street in Bristol, one of the British Empire’s main ports of maritime commerce. He inherited his specific talent for sniffing out new wines, though, from his father, Ronald Avery (1899-1976).

During the 1940s and 1950s, Ronald would make his research trips to Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne either by Rolls-Royce or in his converted German torpedo boat. In 1949, Ronald introduced British drinkers to his latest epiphany: an unknown wine from Pomerol called Petrus, now one of the most sought-after — and expensive — wines in the world.

In 2016, Christie’s held the sale Fine and Rare Wines from The Avery Family Cellar in memory of John. Ahead of the auction, the founder of Christie’s wine department, Michael Broadbent, said it was ‘undoubtedly one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of old and rare wine ever to appear at auction’.

Now Christie’s in London is offering the remaining contents of the family’s private cellar in A Legacy Preserved: The Last Treasures of The Avery Collection on 6 and 7 June 2024.

Located under the Averys’ Somerset home, the stone-vaulted cellar is like a library that documents changes in wine consumption over the past century, says Noah May, head of Christie’s Wine & Spirits department in London.

‘For some of these producers, this really is ground zero,’ says the specialist. ‘Whether they were unearthing rare wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy unheard of in the 1950s, or New World wines that exploded in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, the Avery family were pioneers. They always believed in these wines, and they were forward-thinking risk-takers in promoting them to what was an incredibly conservative market back then.’

The 6,000 bottles coming to auction represent a last chance to acquire a piece of this historic collection. ‘A lot of these wines most likely won’t ever be seen again. This really is the swan song of one of the great English collections,’ adds May.

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‘Most of these wines have come directly from the domain or château straight to the Averys’ classic country-house cellar. There they’ve remained, under the same ideal conditions, curated by the same renowned family, ever since. I reckon that’s about as close to perfect provenance as you can get.’

This final offering from the Avery family cellar, A Legacy Preserved: The Last Treasures of The Avery Collection, takes place at Christie’s in London on 6 and 7 June 2024

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