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Image: Tina Tiller

BusinessFebruary 15, 2022

Can’t afford a house? How about a bottle of wine?

wine feat
Image: Tina Tiller

Savvy investors are picking up savs, pinots and burgundies and watching prices balloon — but there’s a catch.

On a Tuesday night in a small Tāmaki Makaurau auction house, Reece Warren is ripping into it. Standing at a lecturn on a small wooden podium, Warren spends a few quick seconds introducing each lot before a flurry of bidders, both online and in the room, stake a claim.

A few moments later, that lot is sold, and he’s onto the next one. To a casual viewer, it seems like chaos. There’s barely time to think before Warren’s gavel gently tabs the wooden podium. That relentless pace has a whirlwind effect on the brain: you almost forget large sums of money is involved.

Yet, unlike most auctions taking place across the city tonight, this one is not about property. Millions of dollars aren’t at stake. Hipster gardens and breakfast bars aren’t flashing up on the screen behind Warren. Real estate agents aren’t buzzing around the room, dredging every extra dollar they can out of bidders.

Instead, Warren is selling bottles of wine. Single bottles, as well as cases, of pinots, cab savs, burgandies and shirazs are up for grabs in today’s bi-monthly auction courtesy of The Wine Auction Room, Warren’s Eden Terrace auction house and storage facility. He’s a self-confessed “wine nerd” and loves his job. Tonight, he’s in his element.

Perhaps because of Warren, tonight’s auction strikes a jovial, almost celebratory tone compared to a typical real estate auction. Or perhaps it’s because of the ballooning prices. Warren admits the industry is booming right now: “We’re seeing a real seller’s market at the moment,” says Warren. “We’re getting great prices for things.”

Reece Warren cafefully handling a bottle of the rare 1500ml 1996 Domaine de la Romanee Conti Grand Cru. Photo: The Wine Auction Room

In those two hours, Warren rips through more than 250 lots on behalf of sellers. That’s more than two a minute. Why’s he going so fast? “We’d be there all night,” he says. “It’s a weeknight, people have families. We like to be done in two hours.”

Warren’s been doing this for a few years now, and wine investing has increased slowly over that time. As with vinyl and boy racer cars, when Covid-19 lockdowns began things really picked up. “There’s a lot of people sitting at home twiddling their thumbs getting paid not being able to do anything,” he says. He believes those already into wine got into wine investing.

It’s not as simple as walking into a supermarket, grabbing a few bottles, and letting them sit on your shelf for a few years. You need to do your research. “As with any investment you need to know what you’re doing,” says Warren. Popular right now, he says, is pinot. Burgandy is probably “the hottest thing in town”.

At Warren’s auction, some rare wines fetch hundreds of dollars, others thousands. A few bottles go even higher, threatening Warren’s record of $12,000 for a single bottle of wine. But one lot will threaten to shatter that record like a wine glass hitting a concrete floor. 

Nearing 8pm, lot 248 flashes up on the screen. It’s the one everyone’s been waiting for, a rare 1500ml bottle of 1996 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grand Cru. Numbered, authenticated, with the highest classification a bottle of wine can receive, it’s believed to be just one of three left in existence worldwide.

wine auction room

Tonight, the asking price is somewhere between $65,000 and $85,000. That equates to more than $2 a drop nearly $200 a teaspoon. Even then, Warren believes it’s a bargain. “That is very well priced considering what it can get to internationally,” he says. Overseas, the most recent sale cost the buyer $200,000.

According to those who have sampled it, the owner will be blessed by “subtle aromas of black fruit, hoisin, spice, underbrush, anise and violets”. Warren hasn’t tried that particular vintage, but he speaks about it in awe. “You’re experiencing something that very few people in the world get to taste,” he says.

But there’s a catch: any new owner is unlikely to pop that particular cork. To do so would be to instantly lose your entire investment. Instead, it’s likely to go into a humidity- and temperature-controlled wine cellar just like the one Warren runs at The Wine Auction House, where owners store “millions” worth of collectible wine.

There it will sit, maturing in taste, and value, until the owner decides it’s time to sell it.

Spoiler alert: at that Tuesday night auction, despite plenty of interest, and several bids, the bottle of Domaine de la Romanee Conti didn’t sell. Warren isn’t concerned. It’s still up for grabs, available to investors on their website now. “I would be very surprised if it didn’t (sell),” he says. “It is such an opportunity.”

To see the auction for New Zealand’s most expensive bottle of wine, visit


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