Getting Started with Online Wine Auctions
So you’ve got a new affinity for Bordeaux and bought heavily of the classic vintages of 2009 and 2010. Now you just need to wait 10-20 years for the wines to mature before you open a bottle. So how do you go about finding bottles suitable for near-term consumption?
One route to consider is online wine auctions. I’m not talking about competing with buyers from the Far East for first growth Bordeaux in original wooden case through Sotheby’s or Christie’s. I’m talking about buying small lots of wine at fair prices from one of the many online auction sites out there.
Two sites with the current largest market share are WineBid and Wine Commune. I’ve been buying from these sites for many years, and have successfully bid on over 100 auctions. Here are some of my thoughts on their respective benefits and disadvantages.
Based in Napa, California, WineBid was founded in 1996. Sellers consign their bottles to WineBid who in turn inspects and auctions the wines. Auctions run weekly, and begin and end Sunday night.
- Bidding is not ultra competitive – your first bid on Sunday night is often the winning bid a week later.
- Bottle condition is clearly documented with a list of any flaws and a picture of the bottle.
- You are buying directly from WineBid and they have inspected the bottles.
- Steep 15% buyers premium added to the hammer price. For instance if you buy a wine for $50 you will also be charged a 15% fee ($7.50 in this example) by WineBid.
- Bidding is in $5 increments for most listings
- Set your shipping status to monthly shipping. This way your winning bids are consolidated and shipped one time each month. Weekly shipping almost quadruples your shipping charges.
Founded in 1999 in Berkeley, California, Wine Commune now includes retail arm JJ Buckley. For most auctions, Wine Commune is simply facilitating the transaction between buyer and seller, and does not have the wine in their possession.
- There’s no buyers premium, so the hammer price is your price – you don’t pay a percentage to Wine Commune.
- Bidding is in $1 increments.
- Bidding is extremely competitive and often goes until the final seconds of the auction. If you are not monitoring your lot or have not established a maximum bid price, you will be outbid.
- Most of the lots on Wine Commune are being sold by a third party. This means Wine Commune has not inspected the bottles, so you are going solely on the word of the seller.
- Auctions start and end every day of the week. Unlike WineBid, you need to track when each of your auctions ends.
- JJ Buckley the retail arm of Wine Commune is an actual seller on the site. If you bid on these wines you can be assured of provenance on the bottles.
- If you do choose to buy from a 3rd party be sure to check their seller rating. Do not buy from someone who has a history of poor transactions.
- This is personal preference, but I only buy from a third party if they have a history of satisfied buyers. I do not buy from new sellers on Wine Commune.
A couple final tips for buying wine through any auction site:
- Don’t buy bottles unless they are in pristine condition. If the bottle description includes things like “protruding cork” or “signs of seepage” move on.
- I typically will not buy a wine more than 10 years old. At that point in my opinion it just becomes to hard to be assured you are getting a bottle with impeccable provenance.
Buying wine through an online auction can feel daunting, so I suggest you start by creating an account and get your feet wet with some small bids. Over the years I have bought wines like Cayuse, Montelena and Spottswoode at a fraction of their market value.
It’s easier than you think, but I’m happy to answer any questions. Happy hunting!
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