China’s Booze Collectors To Duke It Out For $160K Vintage Moutai

Auction Houses & Collectors Scour Country For Valuable Baijiu

Moutai from the 1950s is particularly sought-after by Chinese collectors

The emergence of Chinese collectors as a major force in the wine auction market may be pushing prices for top Bordeaux and Burgundy higher and higher, but in China, their appetite for new investments has also caused prices for vintage Moutai (茅台, máotái) to skyrocket. At auctions throughout China, well-heeled lovers of high-end baijiu (traditional distilled Chinese spirits) regularly bid hundreds of thousands of dollars for rare vintage bottles, prices that only a few years ago would have seemed outlandish. In response to the swelling demand for 1950s and ’60s Moutai, domestic Chinese auction houses are now scouring the country, “Antiques Roadshow“-style, searching for old bottles. As Liu Yuan, general secretary of the National Association for Liquor and Spirits Circulation, recently said, this  Moutai fever partly boils down to the pedigree, price and long history of the top baijiu brands, particularly Maotai. Said Liu, “Moutai has become China’s Louis Vuitton…Given the limited output and steep price, it’s a good way for officials to curry favor and for the rich to show off their wealth.”

The boom-times for vintage Moutai shows no sign of stopping any time soon. At a Xiling auction house sale in December 2010 in Hangzhou, a bottle of 1958 Moutai sold for 1.4 million yuan (US$229,453), while China Guardian sold another bottle from 1958 for 910,000 yuan (US$143,410) just a few days later. At a Beijing Poly auction last June, an extremely rare 1930s vintage from the distiller Nai Mao (赖茅), the company that eventually evolved into Moutai, sold for a whopping 2.6 million yuan (US$409,152) in a sale of more than 1,000 bottles. In addition to the 2.6 million yuan Nai Mao, highlights of the auction included a bottle of 1967 Moutai that sold for 253,000 yuan ($39,136), a 1966 Moutai that went for 701,500 yuan ($108,514 ), and a rare bottle of 1960 Five Star Moutai (五星茅台) that sold for 1.3 million yuan ($204,576).

There are fewer than 20 bottles of 1958 Moutai in existence

Next month, Beijing’s Googut Auction Co. (北京歌德拍卖公司) is set to test collector demand for rare baijiu with a massive auction of 4,000 bottles as part of its spring auction series. Based on the results of Googut’s autumn auction series last year, at which a bottle of 1950s Five Star Moutai sold for 1.03 million yuan ($162,014) and 100 percent of lots sold for a total of 150 million yuan ($24 million), the company appears to be pretty confident. Googut’s spring Moutai auction, taking place June 3 in Beijing, includes 202 multi-bottle lots of vintage baijiu ranging from the 1950s to the 1980s. As with other recent Moutai auctions in China, collectors are expected to bid aggressively for the five lots of Five Star Moutai from the 1950s, particularly those from the famine-stricken later years of the decade (during which time Moutai production dropped to a trickle).

Buyers will likely be attracted to other rare lots like a box of seven bottles from the late 1950s, all of which remain in near-mint condition still within their paper wrappers, and a box of Moutai from the late 1960s that had been exported to Italy in the 1970s and which retains its original export seals and customs tags. In all, lot estimates for the sale range from around 20,000 yuan to well over 1 million yuan, though some — those from the 1950s, for example — will likely go for well over that.

Googut’s spring baijiu auction series will take place at the Kunlun Hotel in Beijing on June 3 at 7:00 PM, with the hotel holding a preview through June 2.

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