Henri Jayer, 12 years after his death, remains an iconic winemaker.
It seems a shame then that his life was reduced to mere money yesterday, though it was quite a final payoff for the family, a number of whom were hidden in the Geneva hotel where the sale of (what is said to be) his last bottles took place: 855 bottles and 209 magnums delivering a sales result of 34.5 million swiss francs* (US$ 34.6 million) – the family had anyway drunk most of his remaining Richebourg!
A place not with the easiest of access, but the hotel was beautifully situated with views over the vines of Canton Genf (Geneva). “The sales room doors will close at 2pm for the auction” said PR Emily Drouhin – seemingly that was more in hope than expectation – at 14h05 the sales room was still only half full, though one thing was clear, the target audience for this sale, or at least the appearance of those that have taken their seats, was predominantly the Orient – maybe 80% so.
As the clock ticked to 14h10, there seemed as many people with bidding paddles keeping cool in the foyer, as had taken their allotted seats – magnums of Vincent Girardin 2012 Corton-Charlemagne helping to soothe their heated palates. I noted one Gil Lempert-Schwarz in the audience, it seems he’s bidding – that’s okay then – I wouldn’t touch anything that he’s selling with a barge-pole!
Eventually, maybe 15 minutes later than scheduled, we get underway with three bottles of 1988 Nuits St.Georges – they sell for 20k** (swiss francs), then a single bottle for 10k, then a dozen 1991s start slowly, they hover around 60k for a long time, before the hammer falls at 75k – modest after the first lots – maybe everyone just wanted to be first! No. 3 bottles of 1996 go for 22k and we are off again.
Can this go on? It’s 1997 Nuits next, a modest vintage for drinking now, but what do I know? 42k! Okay, that was for 6 bottles and it’s only double the high estimate in the catalogue! They went to a bidder in France – Thibaut Marion of Maison Segiun-Manuel fielding one of the phones on behalf of a French entrepreneur – but then a single bottle exits the door for 10k!
**These are all hammer prices, without the auctioneer’s commission of 20% – yes 20%! Plus the wines are stored in bond in Switzerland, so if I bought something I would also have to pay the Swiss tax of 7.7% – other country’s purchase tax varies, but wines returning to France will be charged almost another 20% VAT!
Now it’s time for the first of the premier crus – a single bottle of Nuits Meurgers, a 1976 – 29k. Bids are often in inconsistent increments – 9k, 10k, 11k, 15k – there’s no reason sometimes. The next 3 bottles were knocked down for only 27k – but then people wake up for a magnum of 78 Meurgers – 40k sold to someone in the room. Enthusiasm is easy to spot; “Lot 23 a single bottle of 1986 Nuits Meurgers. Where shall I start – 3,000?” says the auctioneer – “10,000” shouts someone in the room!
An auction is a long process, this auction anyway, with long pauses as bidders are pit against one another. After 3 hours I’ve had enough – and it’s not yet halfway through – but the auctioneer’s same jokes eventually start to grate. The Orient may have had the most representation at the start of the sale, but over two hours in, and not yet at lot number 70, there’s a slow trickle of western faces, clutching large cigars, back-slapping and taking selfies – the audience seems to be evolving – or maybe the vultures are just beginning to circle…
The crux of the matter, of-course, comes later in the sale and three lots will dominate the publicity, but before that was possibly the largest transaction, and it slips through almost unnoticed: Lot 44, 12 bottles of 1995 Vosne-Romanée with a hammer price of 200k, but lots 45-49 are of the same make-up – does the buyer want all six lots? It seems not, as at first as the auctioneer readies himself to move-on to lot 45 – but yes, the buyer will take them all – so 6x 200k – without commission or future taxation – 1.2 million swiss francs, making it the most expensive ‘yes’ of the day!
But the headliners are:
- Lot 135, 6 magnums Vosne-Romanée 1er Cros-Parantoux 1999 – 528k*
- Lot 160, A vertical of 15 magnums Vosne-Romanée 1er Cros-Parantoux, 1978-2001 – 1,164k*
- Lot 212, 1 bottle Richebourg 1986 – 50.4k*
My alternative headliners would be one of his brass wine faucets for 3k, an empty barrel for 6.5k and one of his (still very dirty) wine pipettes for 5.5k. The first and the last I could (almost!) understand – but an empty barrel, devoid of personalisation?
Rest in peace, Henri…