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Sales of fine wines and spirits at auction have flourished during the pandemic, with new buyers driving significant growth. International auction houses are reporting strong online sales in 2020, while Toronto auctioneer Waddington’s posted its most successful year, with sell-through rates approaching 100 per cent.

More than 19,000 bids were placed on a combined 1,896 lots offered through Waddington’s quarterly wine sales. The firm’s spirits auctions also registered increased interest, with the number of lots and bids per auction growing by more than 30 per cent over 2019.

Auctions offer a rare opportunity for collectors to buy wines and spirits that aren’t available through other channels. Historically, they’ve also been a resource for restaurants looking to build impressive wine lists, but that segment has largely curtailed its purchases due to operating restrictions. Restaurants are more likely to be selling than buying at the moment. The impressive surge in sales volume comes from attracting first-time and younger consumers. The necessary shift to online sales has made the once staid and stuffy notion of a wine auction more approachable and accessible.

Production of highly collectable wines, such as those from top chateaux in Bordeaux, domaines in Burgundy or cult producers in California, is limited, and supply declines over time as the wines are consumed, which drives prices up. The market is also growing with increasing wine education and awareness taking root in Canada, creating a larger audience of prospective buyers and sellers.

Unlike the active auction schedules in cosmopolitan cities like New York, London and Hong Kong, there are limited avenues to legally sell wine in Canada. The secondary fine-wine market in Ontario has been limited to Waddington’s, which operates under the authority of the LCBO, and various charity auctions.

Next week, the landscape will change dramatically as Iron Gate Auctions conducts what it’s calling Canada’s first national fine-wine auction. An extension of the successful online charity wine auction business launched in November, 2020, Iron Gate has established a commercial division based in Calgary that aims to sell various lots of rare wines gathered from private collections across the country. (Virtual liquor auctions only became permissible in Ontario following permanent changes to existing provincial regulations.)

In advance of the sale, which runs from March 23 to 30 through irongateauctions.com, Iron Gate is hosting a free webinar, Demystifying Wine Auctions, on March 21. Presented by veteran wine auctioneer Stephen Ranger, the session will share information on how online auctions work, offer buying strategies and other information. For details, visit irongateauctions.com/webinar.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to The Globe. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Good Taste newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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