In Conversation With Charlie Foley, Christie’s and Cape Fine & Rare Wine Auction Auctioneer

In this Q&A we meet lively young Christie’s auctioneer Charlie Foley. Here Charlie offers tips and advice on how to start and grow a wine collection, the best wines to buy for all budgets and how to spot a wine that’s a good investment and why the profile of wine collectors is changing. So pour yourself a glass and read on to discover more.

Hello. I’m Charlie. Lover of fruity wines. Owner of many floral jackets. Collector of magnums and old books and auctioneer at Christie’s, which is in association with the Cape Fine and Rare Auction. Wine collecting has always been big business, Christie’s of course has been selling it since 1966! But what is changing is the diversity of wines people are collecting. The Big B’s are famous, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Barolo and some can set you back a small house. But collectable wines are now all across the world, the New World is full of iconic wines on allocation lists and auction catalogues that excite and inspire. The Old World is being nipped at the heels.

Why do you think that people have taken up wine collecting during the pandemic?

The need to separate the day from the evening with a glass of wine has fuelled buying habits. Folk want tasty bottles, crafted with passion and delivered to their door. From my side, I have saved £2.50 from bus journeys every day – that’s an extra bottle at the weekend! Everyone also wants to learn more. It’s brilliant. The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) course subscriptions are up, people are more inquisitive and looking to turn a passive hobby into a serious habit.

Are collectors getting younger and how do their habits differ from the old guard

For sure! I go clubbing with clients now instead of having lunch with them! There is a maturation of client buying habits, the first is a heady rush towards the big names before a dawning realisation that diversity and knowledge wins the day. Younger collectors are open to the new frontiers in wine, low-intervention winemaking, biodynamic wines, whole bunch, concrete ferments and short ageing. Look at the super wines of Commando G in Spain, fetching huge prices in the wine bars of Madrid, London, New York and Tokyo. Winemakers across the world are taking note, young collectors don’t need big ticket, blue chip wines to get excited, they will thrill off the new and the quirky. In this vein look out for the wines of Luddite at the Cape Fine and Rare, I am marking their card now.

Do you think online media has influenced the spark in interest in a younger audience?

Absolutely. The wine industry used to be a huge, unwieldy thing dominated by a few big beast voices. The sway of a critics score, the downturn of a journalists mouth, this was make or break for wines. Social media though, blissfully, is a forum of opinion, helping you inform your own. It is of course curated opinion, but Insta allows you to sit on your sofa and instantly connect with a winemaker in Napa, a sommelier in Jakarta or an auctioneer in Stellenbosch!

What advice would you give to someone starting a wine collection?

Seek out voices you trust and take baby steps from there. Follow interesting winemakers or retailers on Insta and see what is on offer. Try and get yourself on allocation lists for wines from agents, visit wineries and ask for auction catalogues. The big glittery names are fantastic, but just alongside them are producers making beautiful wines at a few clicks less. Take Kanonkop for example, sensational wines to revel in. And just over the hedge is Delheim Estate, making lovely Cabernet Sauvignon of depth and richness.

Is South Africa the place to look for wine collecting at present? Tell me about the country’s wines – why are they so inexpensive for their quality?

Yes, yes and yes! South Africa is the step between the New World and the Old World in terms of its style. You get fruited warmth but in a restrained structure. Cabernet with cassis to sink into, but tannins that are svelte and sleek. Chenin with apple rind richness but soaring acidity. SA has been a volume producer and will continue to be so, but the Cape Fine and Rare proves that a wee dash of premiumisation is just the ticket for the Cape Winelands. Inexpensive now, yes, but let me get my megaphone and sandwich board and they won’t be. Get in now, before we change this.

What are your predictions for the auction?

Do you know, in 2019 I was knocked off my feet by Chenin Blanc? The versatility of the variety knows no bounds, from bone dry to super sweet, and our South African friends are nailing it every single time in every single style. You could pair Chenin from South Africa to every dish in an eight-course banquet. In fact, let’s do this! Last week I was lucky to taste a rarer Cape red, Cabernet Franc, in a pure, crunchy, graphite-chiselled style. I expect Chenin will soar, Cabernet will climb the board and glorious ripe rarities will set paddles aflutter.

If you could pick one lot to go after – and win no matter what – which one will get your paddle waving?

One lot? How cruel! I am a hedonist and can’t count, so here are my faves. David & Nadia’s Hoë-Steen 2015 has sent shivers up my spine – I might ferret the lot behind the rostrum and forget to sell it! I also live on an IV drip of Chardonnay, so The Single Tree 2015 from Uva Mira Mountain Vineyards can be funnelled into my life support machine. And just to show a bit of butch, I want some Cab, and Le Riche’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 is my choice. It is aflame, full of flickering life and luminosity. Sock it to me in magnums!

How can bidders benefit from the 2021 hybrid format?

It’s fantastic that the Cape Fine & Rare Auction is online. This means we can take the buzz of the room and spread it around the world. You can tune in from a Scottish bolthole, a Malibu beach house, a Hong Kong skyscraper or Cape Point. Bidders and buyers can take part, try and get their hands on some fab-u-lous wines and experience the thrum and theatre of this very special auction.

How do UK-based wine collectors feel about South Africa’s fine wines?

South Africa has a special place in the hearts of the British. I often think of it as just below Gibraltar, like a sunnier and infinitely more beautiful shire of the UK. Our hearts bleed for the wine industry with its various restrictions. A shout-out to some fab initiatives from the UK merchants – Waitrose, in particular, has led a charge to help. South African wine can be equal parts gorgeous, golden, glittering and glorious, and who doesn’t want a big chunk of that in their lives right now.

Charlie, your passion for wine has led you to enjoy many overseas adventures, which destination has been your most memorable and why?

I was lucky to live in Argentina for a short time working in the vines of Mendoza. I will never forget a night sitting with a winemaker turning meat on an asado and of glass of purple Malbec at the foot of the snow-capped Andes. Do you know the moment of any meal I love is the long preparation of it, the smells and aromas, the chatter as things sizzle, the first taste of a new wine and the anticipation of things to come. If that can all happen with mountains towering over you, then it is foodie Shangri-La.

What does luxury mean to you?

To want something, to desire it fervently, with utter conviction. But beyond that, to cherish it, appreciate and understand it and to know its true value. I want an Aston Martin DB6 in gun metal grey, but I value a glass of something crisp and delicious in the company of friends.

Finally, what is your life motto? If you have one.

I live by Julia Child’s words ‘People who love to eat are always the best people’. On the other hand, my Mother says of me ‘If you ran like your mouth, you would be in good shape’. Ouch, but true!

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