Things in Germany evolved, however, and as domaine bottling (growers of grapes bottling their own wines rather than selling to larger concerns) became standard practice, the auctions shifted from barrel to bottle sales. Rather than all of the year’s produce being sold in barrel at auction, the average to good wines were sold by the grower directly to retailers with special late harvest bottles in limited quantity being reserved for the auctions. Unlike an English auction that many of us are used to seeing in the movies, where everyone has their own paddles, only auction commissioners are allowed to bid directly with the auctioneer. These commissioners sit at the end of a long picnic style table closest to the auctioneer where they are able to give the auctioneer discreet signals that they are bidding as well as take bids from their clients sitting at their table. The commissioners then huddle up like football officials as the price settles while continuing to bid, conferring with one another on their price and quantity needs. Then one commissioner takes the entire parcel with the winning bid giving out shares to other commissioners who had a minority interest in the sale who go onto divide it among their customers: a sight to be seen of confusing organization working precisely. Clearly best to have an idea of what you are buying before the auction and have a little chat with the commissioner about your Riesling needs before the sale starts, but there is a healthy chunk of time between each lot with the time it takes to retaste each wine before it is auctioned to change one’s strategy.
The wines are tastefully poured by German youth in traditional frocks. The wet auctions are quite long due to the tasting and commentary about the winemakers by the auctioneer, but I make it to the end, ultimately playing darts with winemakers at the local Local. I let them win of course, sharing a repair beer to soothe the tested palate.