As a child growing up in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Pierre Chen often made wine at home with his family. The experience clearly made a lasting impression on the future billionaire, who is now selling what is expected to become the most valuable wine collection ever to come to market.
Five Sotheby's sales over the next year will offer 25,000 bottles from Chen’s cellars for an estimated total of $50 million. The series launches this November with an auction in Hong Kong, accompanied by panels and tasting experiences pairing wine and food, and will be followed by further auctions and events for The Epicurean’s Atlas in Paris, Burgundy, New York and London. “This is a truly Olympian wine cellar of global significance,” said Serena Sutcliffe MW, honorary chairman of Sotheby’s wine, in a statement.
Chen, the founder and chairman of electronics component maker Yageo Corporation, has an estimated net worth of $5.4 billion and has been assembling his wine collection for the past 40 years. Most of his bottles hail from vineyards or were acquired via renowned wine collectors such as William Koch, Jerry Perenchio and Henri Jayer, known as “the godfather of Burgundy.” Six magnums from Jayer’s cellars are expected to fetch $70,000 each, while an Imperial bottle of 1982 Chateau Petrus is estimated to bring in $65,000. And for two 1985 methuselahs, which contain six liters of red Burgundy each, the auction house put the high estimate at $190,000.
What is the state of the wine market?
Chen’s collection is coming to market “at a time when global interest in fine wine has arguably never been greater,” according to a statement from Nick Pegna, global head of wine and spirits at Sotheby’s. The auctioneer recorded a record $158 million in wine sales last year, a stark increase from its 2013 sales of $58 million. The skyrocketing market has not only seen a nearly 400 percent increase in bidders over the past ten years but also the emergence of younger wine collectors, with Sotheby’s reporting that 60 percent of new wine sale buyers are in their 30s and 40s. To keep up with the rapid growth, the auction house recently added two new hires: Pegna and Vanessa Conlin MW, as its respective global heads of wine and spirits and retail wine operations.
Chen has entered the business himself in recent years, having purchased a parcel of Grand Cru Musigny vineyard in 2015 to produce his own bottles. He will also soon become chief sommelier at his first restaurant, Le Restaurant Blanc, which will open in Paris later this month with a wine cellar stocked by him.
“To me, wine is the 9th art,” said Chen in a statement. “It is the only art form one can consume, using senses that other art forms don’t typically involve, such as one’s taste and smell, and it requires creativity on the part of the owner.” Despite his particular passion for wine as a creative endeavor, Chen is also a significant art collector, with works by Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and others.
The billionaire collected his first piece of art as a university student in 1976, using more than a year’s worth of savings to acquire a wooden sculpture by Cheung Yee. He’s since spent three decades building a prominent collection overseen by his nonprofit Yageo Foundation, which promotes art and culture through various events and programming. The foundation often loans pieces to museums and art institutions, with several of Chen’s works currently on display at the Tate Modern’s ongoing Capturing the Moment exhibition.