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Tru Takes Advantage of Off-hours to Fortify its Cellar and Impress Guests with Wine Auctions

By Jim Scarpa

July 28, 2008


Since early 2007, Tru has hosted live wine auctions conducted by Hart Davis Hart Wine Co., a retail wine company and auction house also based in Chicago. The events, running on seven Saturday afternoons this year, are filling the dining room at a slack time, making new friends for Tru and spelling record wine sales.

Tru’s art-filled, 80-seat dining room typically is packed to capacity with spirited bidders vying for rarities like 1961 Château Latour in magnum and a three-liter double magnum of 2000 Château Pétrus. An internet hookup allows absentee bidders around the world to take part in real time...

Top lots at Hart Davis Hart’s May wine auction

6 magnums of 1961 Chateau LaTour
Pre-Sale Estimate: $32,000-$48,000
Sold: $57,360

6 bottles of 1943 La Tache
Pre-Sale Estimate: $26,000-$38,000
Sold: $41,825

6 bottles of 2003 Romanée-Conti
Pre-Sale Estimate: $24,000-$36,000
Sold: $40,630

9 bottles of 1990 La Tache
Pre-Sale Estimate: $22,000-$32,000
Sold: $33,460



...The idea of staging wine auctions there came to Scott Tyree a few years ago, when he was the wine director of Tru.

“I thought it would be a great venue because a lot of their clients are our clients,” says Tyree, who joined Hart Davis Hart as a buyer last year. Tyree surmised that the modernistic, clean design of Tru’s dining room and its attentive service would appeal to the auction crowd.

“For many years, people have associated fine-wine auctions with staid, clubby atmospheres,” Tyree says. “It turns out that the room is really perfect for an auction.”

Hart Davis Hart president Paul Hart concurs. “It’s our goal to make the experience as comfortable as possible for our clients,”
he says. Of course, it’s also good for the auctioneers to keep attendees engaged longer and bidding on more items.

The relationship between restaurant and auction house “has turned out better than any of us expected, for both sides,” says Tyree. “It’s been excellent,” agrees Hart.

Indeed, the auction house has been on a hot streak at Tru. At seven of eight auctions held through May, 100 percent of the lots were sold. The April auction tallied more than $2.9 million, well over the presale estimate of $1.7 million to $2.5 million. The May auction brought $4.7 million.

Tru’s wine program is benefiting as well.

“We’re able to see the market first hand,” says Chad Ellegood, Tru’s current wine director, who often bids on gems to burnish his list. In addition, seeing what wines sell for at auction helps him “protect” his rare wines, or adjust the markups so they are not too rapidly depleted. He estimates that about 60 percent of Tru’s wines were bought at auction.

Although wines with stratospheric sale prices make the headlines, there are also relative buys that appeal to restaurant buyers. For example, the May catalog includes two cases of 2000 Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia, estimated at $650-$950 per case.

“It’s a popular restaurant wine often seen on lists,” Hart says. “Many restaurants like something that is seven years old and available in multiple-case quantities at reasonable prices.”