US economy

US wine buyers turn to auctions to dodge Trump tariffs

American collectors of fine wines have emerged as unlikely winners from President Donald Trump’s trade wars as buyers seek out bottles that are already in the US instead of shipping them from France and risking tariffs.

Auctioneers and brokers are predicting a run on high-end vintages if Washington follows through on a threat issued last week to impose a new round of charges on French imports, including 100 per cent tariffs on champagne.

Jamie Ritchie, chairman of Sotheby’s Wine, said: “We’re going to see retailers and restaurants wanting to secure supply of French wine at pre-tariff prices, and they’re going to look at every avenue.”

Jeff Zacharia, president of wine auctioneer Zachys said there were early signs that tariffs on wine that the US had already introduced were having an effect on the so-called secondary market. Flat wines were subjected to a 25 per cent import charge in mid-October.

Mr Zacharia said the number of bids at a Manhattan wine auction he organised on Friday — Zachys’s first since the tariffs were introduced — were about 10 per cent higher than usual. “Some of it is attributable to tariffs already in place, and also the threat of higher tariffs on champagne.”

The Trump administration made its latest tariff threat in response to a technology tax from President Emmanuel Macron’s government that targets Silicon Valley companies operating in France.

Champagne is among $2.4bn worth of goods that France exports to the US annually that it has proposed subjecting to the 100 per cent tariffs.

Wine buyers and producers are concerned that the administration could also increase the existing tariffs on other wines, especially given there are few signs that relations between Paris and Washington are improving.

“It could be a boon for private collectors,” said Justin Gibbs, co-founder of Liv-ex, an online marketplace. “If the [French wine] gateway to America becomes 100 per cent more expensive, then all sorts of people will begin to source locally. One would expect a price adjustment.”

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Jason Boland, president of Spectrum Wine, a California-based auction house, said that tariffs at 100 per cent would be a “game changer”.

Speaking at the Zachys auction, Everett Love, managing partner at wine brokerage RL Liquid Assets, said that import charges at that level would trigger a “run on champagne that’s already here”.

Some collectors are expected to resist the temptation to cash in, however.

Charles Curtis, a former head of wine for Christie’s auction house who now advises collectors, said tariffs could present an opportunity for short-term “flippers”.

But he added that his clients, who include billionaires with multimillion-dollar wine portfolios, tended to hold for the long term. He also noted that buyers had to pay considerable fees at auction.


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