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Billionaire Pierre Chen to Auction Multimillion-Dollar Wine Collection

The Champagnes alone are worth $1.45 million.

<p>Food & Wine / Courtesy of Sotheby

Food & Wine / Courtesy of Sotheby's

With a $6.1 billion fortune in electronic parts from the Taiwanese manufacturing and retail giant Yageo that he founded in 1977, Pierre Chen (Chen Tai-Min), turned in his quiet, studied manner quite early to collecting. He has become one of Asia’s and the world’s foremost collectors of wine, and not coincidentally, of art. For decades he put in the intense legwork, traveling repeatedly to all the great wine-producing regions of France, speaking at length with the vintners at chateaux both great and small, and buying heady amounts of the best vintages. He did what it takes to put together arguably one of the best collections in the world.

There comes a poetic moment of deaccession for every collector of fine things as they realize they would like to give their collections a different sort of life, and they move to part with some, or all, of their work so that the collections live on. Chen has approached this moment with particular care, curating with Sotheby’s experts some 25,000 bottles of his much larger collection to consign to the auctioneers. Together they have constructed five sales of this amazing number of bottles around the world under the title The Epicurean’s Atlas.


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The sales began last November 24-25 with an initial evening in Hong Kong, which rang up $16 million. The second event occurred yesterday, June 20, in Paris, where an extraordinary sale of Chen’s vintage Champagnes will take place, followed by a July 2 sale in the famous Burgundy commune of Beaune of Chen’s Burgundies. The fourth sale will be staged in New York, in September, and the fifth and final sale will return to Asia in November, to Hong Kong. In this way, the Chen sales, and along with them, pieces of his wine collection, will effectively ring the earth. It’s a fitting, elegiac year-long valediction to the wine itself, as it changes hands.

<p>Courtesy of Sotheby's</p> Pierre Chen has 1,850 bottles of Champagne in the sale, which Sotheby’s high estimate puts somewhere north of $2 million in value.

Courtesy of Sotheby's

Pierre Chen has 1,850 bottles of Champagne in the sale, which Sotheby’s high estimate puts somewhere north of $2 million in value.

Subtitled “The Ultimate Champagnes,” the most recent sale in Paris was extraordinary in two main ways. It was the first wine auction from a single seller ever to be dedicated to vintage Champagne, remarkable in that it reveals the sheer depth of the Chen collection. Put bluntly, his collection can sustain that much taken from it in Champagne alone. There were 1,850 bottles in the sale, which totaled a respectable $1.45 million by the time the last gavel rang down. Just about half the lots exceeded their estimates, the buyers were from 23 countries, and in a welcome sign for the durability of our taste for Champagne, over a fourth of the bidders were under forty.

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The top lot was three magnums of 1990 Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs, carrying a high estimate of just under $14,000, which brought almost double that, at $26,850. The second highest lot, but the lot that brought the highest price per bottle, was a beautifully kept magnum of 1966 P3 Dom Pérignon. That noble soldier from the mid-20th century rang up two-and-a-half times its high estimate of $10,000 and change, at an eye-watering $25, 508. As the new owners uncork it, it should bring a nice pop.

<p>Courtesy of Sotheby's</p> 1985 Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill - 12 bottles; Estimate: US$7,200-9,600

Courtesy of Sotheby's

1985 Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill - 12 bottles; Estimate: US$7,200-9,600

Among the lots were some fantastic buys for the wine the buyers got. Lot 355, three magnums of Pol Roger’s Cuvee Winston Churchill, vintage 2006, sold for $1269, just below its high estimate. The Cuvee was named by the vintner because it was Sir Winston’s favorite Champagne, of which he drank a pint every day at lunch for decades, including throughout the war, when imports from Nazi-controlled France were non-existent. His wartime hooch had been laid in pre-war in his enormous cellar at Chartwell, his estate in Kent. To give us the sense of the scale of his love for it, Churchill reportedly ordered 42,000 bottles of Pol Roger from one purveyor alone — and he did have many other purveyors of wine delivering Champagne to him.  

A 50- or 60-year-old bottle of Burgundy, of which Chen and Sotheby’s will have plenty on offer on July 2 in Beaune, would still be very special but hearty reds age especially well. A 50- or 60-year-old bottle of Champagne is an extraordinary thing because of its infamously delicate construction and the hermit-like demands of this magical form of wine for plenty of rest, cool temperatures and protection from light. Chen would have been the perfect collector to ensure that.

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When Chen was a boy growing up in Taiwan, his family made wine, which sparked his interest in the craft and has certainly added to the collector’s Taoistic level of care for food and drink. More than half a century on, on June 20 in Paris, these meticulously collected prizes walked out the door. Said another way, we can fairly presume that a healthy percentage of the buyers in the room on Thursday were buying to drink. Of all the Champagne sales that you could participate in, Chen’s beckons cracking a bottle or two.

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