Stepping into Porta Via is like walking into a New York bistro that we are drawn to for the cozy, relaxing atmosphere. The bar occupying a large part of the space is the stage for tasting interesting boutique wines which is where I had the precious opportunity to taste the most amazingly delicious wines from the well regarded collection of Aubrey McClendon Part II and the historic collection of Dr. George Primbs that will be heading for auction in Orange county later this month.
Southern California wine collectors were beginning to develop an inferiority complex. Auctions of fine wines had been taking place for years in New York and even Chicago, but western oenophiles had to be content with bidding by phone or, in some cases, gassing up the private jet.
But all this is in the past since SPECTRUM WINE AUCTIONS has arrived right in the affluent heart of Orange County. Clearly wine lovers were ready for the challenge as they greeted the first scheduled auction on November 21, 2009 with unbridled enthusiasm. The auction realized $3.5 million and represented a 100% sell-through (meaning every lot was sold). This kind of performance is un-heard of by a first-time auction house – especially in an economic climate such as we are experiencing currently. Another important live auction is scheduled for April 24th.
SPECTRUM, which is headquartered in Irvine, California, is not a newcomer to the auction business. The company owns a number of auction operations and has a substantial track record in fields other than wine. They are one of the leading auctioneers of arms, armor and historical memorabilia, they frequently auction coins and currency, and they operate one of the nation’s largest stamp dealers.
Nevertheless, auctioning wine is a complicated and exacting procedure. This process has had to become doubly rigorous as a result of the concerns of many collectors about the authenticity of the fine wines they seek to acquire. Some recent incidents involving some questionable wines – thought by some to be counterfeit – have evoked some nasty accusations and have resulted in angry law suits. To avoid such unpleasantness, SPECTRUM puts consigned wines through stringent examination. Wines begin by coming from well-regarded and trusted cellars. They are then carefully examined by experts. Bottles that pass these screenings are then submitted for 360-degree bottle imaging, so that potential customers can have to opportunity to examine each bottle entirely.
For their First auction, SPECTRUM turned to Aubrey McClendon, an Oklahoma City billionaire who is co-founder and CEO of Chesapeake Energy a huge natural gas producer that was feeling some pressure from the current economic unpleasantness. McClendon is an avid collector whose vast collection is maintained under impeccable conditions. After careful examination and authentication of his wine by SPECTRUM’s Mario Scullati, Director of Sales and Consignments, an arrangement was negotiated for SPECTRUM to handle the sale of a portion of the McClendon collection. “Aubrey cuts to the core of what’s important in collecting,” Scullati points out. “He collects the best vintages in depth of cases and large format sizes, approaching his collecting seriously and methodically without being tempted by lesser vintages.”
The first auction was such a huge success that Aubrey McClendon decided to offer more of his great collection for another auction. Meanwhile, SPECTRUM had been introduced to Dr. George Primbs, Santa Barbara resident and co-founded and chairman of the board of Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE), a charitable organization that provides worldwide medical, surgical, and educational services through volunteer ophthalmic surgeons with the primary objective of restoring sight and transforming lives.
“My collection started in 1959 which was a banner year in France and I started collecting,” Dr. Primbs explains. “Then 1961 came on the scene and it was impossible not to mortgage the house to get those wines--possibly the best of the 20th century. However, there was 1962, 1966 then 1970 which has yet to come around; then 1975 and then of course 1982, then 83, 85, and 86, then 1990 and omigosh all the French wines became fabulous as they adopted modern technology, so how could a collector not get excited about those wines.”
Dr. Primbs explains what drives wine collectors: “Once you become a collector, you seek more and more. It is human nature to acquire those things you value, and now I call them my Liquid Assets! Why not collect those things you can look at and then consume years after you decided what to collect? I share with my friends and their birth years are in my collection so we have a great time looking through my cellar.”
Another SPECTRUM innovation is to hold its live auction in Southern California and, simultaneously, in Hong Kong. Because all import taxes on wines were removed recently, Hong Kong has quickly become the wine center of Asia. Crown Wine Cellars on Shouson Hill, where the auction is held, is the center of Hong Kong’s wine community.
The second SPECTRUM live auction will take place in Hong Kong and at Charlie Palmers at Bloomingdale’s in South Coast Place, Costa Mesa. In California it begins at 8:00 PM on Saturday, April 24th, and continues until all 858 lots are sold. The auction is open to all comers and will be extremely entertaining as huge sums change hands and many featured bottles are opened and consumed. Being at the auction is a great place for someone just starting to collect wine; it’s an amazing learning opportunity.
For those thinking about starting a collection but more comfortable easing into buying wine, SPECTRUM runs two online auctions every month. At these auctions the prices are less than at the live auctions but the wines are subjected to the same level of intense scrutiny.
Southern Californians who collect wines should be grateful that SPECTRUM WINE AUCTIONS has opened up shop in their neighborhood. They now have a great opportunity to buy fine wines with confidence.
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Buyers in Southern California and Hong Kong Come Together To Celebrate, Purchase Fine Wines The Spring Auction Features Several Consignors Including The Aubrey McClendon Collection Part II and The Historic Collection of Dr. George Primbs