The company sells more than 150,000 bottles of wine a year, for a total of approximately 12 million euros. It has buyers and wine lovers from all over the world on its books, but strangely enough Sylvie's Wine Auctions is still relatively unknown to the general public in the Netherlands. If it is up to Aart Schutten, owner of the flourishing auction house since last year, this will change as quickly as possible. "We are comparable to Sotheby's and Christie's, but with one specialty; wine". Sylvie's Wine Auctions, located in Antwerp, has been a major player in the field of wine for 31 years. It sells wines in the higher and top sector - wines that are often so exclusive that they are no longer available via the regular trade. The contributors of the wines usually come from the region, with that region reaching as far as Spain. "Our seller is usually a private collector with a large wine cellar who, for whatever reason, wants to sell all or part of their collection," explains Aart, who caught the wine bug many years ago. "Buyers come from all over the world. Wine lovers from America to Scandinavia and from Western Europe to Asia."
The wheat and the chaff
Seven times a year on a Friday and Saturday, Sylvie's sells a fresh collection of wine, supplemented with whiskies and other drinks. "Last year we sold more than 20,000 bottles on average per auction," says Schutten enthusiastically. "There really can be anything you could imagine. Every cellar that Sylvie's is offered is exciting. What is under the dust and how good is the condition of the wine after all these years? It gives us an enormous kick when beautiful bottles turn up. For our team it is essential to separate the wheat from the chaff of the wines that are brought in. Not all wines can be auctioned and there should be no doubt about the authenticity of a bottle. The latter is one of the greatest strengths of Sylvie's. Employees are enthusiasts and experts who do everything in their power to keep fake bottles out of the auction. "Glass, label, cork, or colour of the wine - these are all factors that allow us to see whether a wine is real or not. If we have even the smallest doubt, we will not include the bottle in our auction. That costs turnover but our reputation is more important. When a buyer buys a bottle for 1,500 euros, they need to be sure that the bottle is real. We give that guarantee.
It says something about the passion that exists at the auction house, now more than thirty years old. Ask Schutten about the wines that went under his hammer and he can talk for hours. "With us you see really great wines passing through," says the expert. "Last June we sold six 3-litre bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti for 73,000 euro."
If you have your own collection of good wines, and they don't all have to be precious bottles of Petrus, you can just knock on Sylvie's door. "You can request a valuation from us free of charge. Especially with big and rare wines, wines in which buyers invest, you'll discover the power of an auction and bids regularly exceed the highest expectations. So you see, here at the auction the market is also created."
This is partly because wine is becoming an increasingly successful investment nowadays. Schutten: "The interest rate on savings is low, so people are looking for alternatives. You can achieve a nice return on wine. Especially the big labels, which are increasingly forming their own investment category next to real estate or shares. We notice this trend in our buying public where the great wines such as Mouton Rothschild and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti achieve high prices.
Most wines are photographed in a special catalogue and all wines can be viewed in Antwerp before the auction. If you win a lot at the auction, you can pay for the wines and take them home immediately. If not, you can also store the wines on the premises or have them delivered. Dutch clients may collect or receive their wines in The Hague.
Sylvie's has a physical auction in which you can bid online in advance, making the customer base more international than ever. The Asian continent particularly is growing rapidly due to increasing prosperity. Of all the lots sold, the large majority goes to online buyers and Asia has the largest share.
Besides the use of online bidding, Sylvie's also remains faithful to its own physical auction. "The function of Sylvie's' auction room can be compared to that of the flagship store of many online companies; people are looking for the dynamics of the auction" says Schutten. "At Sylvie's, you smell the wood of the wine crates as soon as you enter. All team members of Sylvie's speak the language of wine and our clients and sellers appreciate that enormously. There are customers who have been coming here to almost every auction for 31 years. However, if every buyer came personally to the auction every time, our old sailors' church would not be big enough," laughs Schutten.