RIP David Elswood

Christie's auctioneer David Elswood at Premiere Napa Valley auction

Christie's extremely popular and energetic wine auctioneer David Elswood has been felled by cancer of the throat. I have appended Christie's official tribute with all positions held.

Several days ago Michael Broadbent's son Bartholomew was in touch. He thought I should be gathering memories of his father, founder of Christie's wine department, because he was so weak (he has since rallied, I'm delighted to say). I turned to his successor David Elswood for dates and so on and late on Sunday night received this uncharacteristically gloomy message from David: 'We may be looking at a follow-up with me for similar events as my 2018 treatments have not worked out as hoped. Be in touch.'

Poor David, just 61, discovered a small lump on his neck a couple of years ago. He leaves behind two sons, one of whom, Daniel, he very effectively introduced to the wine trade. After studying at Plumpton Daniel has become ... a wine auctioneer, at Catawiki.

Paul Bowker of Wilkinson Vintners used to work in Christie's wine department and was a particularly close friend of David's. He writes:

'I am embarrassed to say that I do not recall what he did before Christie's. He joined around the same time as I did (1984) with me at King Street, he at South Kensington, very successfully building up the extremely popular monthly Monday-evening auctions of wines such as cru bourgeois clarets, considered too 'lowly' for King Street, but which attracted a great deal of demand among the almost entirely private consumers bidding at CSK. Although the two departments were very autonomous I always hugely enjoyed any time spent with David whose humour and he had an outstanding sense of humour and was extremely funny could brighten the shortest of meetings, or the longest of car journeys. I got to know him best when we regularly drove down to Bordeaux (always stopping en route in the Loire Valley for a dinner) for Vinexpo at which, since 1987, Christie's held an auction. 

'David was an exceptionally talented specialist  an excellent taster and an outstanding auctioneer. One of that extremely rare breed who are able to combine technical excellence with enormous flair and, above all, humour. His intermittent and very funny asides during the most serious of wine auctions were legendary and it was this flair and humour that saw him carve out a long-standing niche as a much-sought-after charity auctioneer  notably at the Naples Wine Auction in Florida and also in Napa Valley. I witnessed him many times at UK charity auctions, coaxing that one extra bid out of an unsuspecting audience, and I have to admit to having fallen prey to his skills myself. If I, a relatively experienced auctioneer, was not immune to his charms, there was no hope for others. I still have in my house a piece of  as it turned out, rather expensive street art by Pure Evil purchased at a dinner and auction for Back Up Trust. Certainly not something I set out to buy that evening, but I will always remember David very fondly when I look at it now. 

'Since I left Christie's I tried to lunch with David reasonably regularly. These lunches were invariably fun, interesting and enlightening … and long. He had a remarkably perceptive view of the wine market, but was interesting on so much more than that. He was passionately interested in and knowledgeable about many things, but notably cars and motorbikes (of both of which he had a seemingly ever-growing collection). Invariably, I would leave lunch with a smile on my face, feeling that we could have continued chatting well into dinner and beyond. 

'Immensely popular in the trade, he will be missed enormously. His modesty, kindness, charm and above all his super-fast sense of humour brightened up any tasting, lunch or dinner that he was at and the UK wine trade will be a poorer place without his beaming smile.' 

David of course rose steadily up the ranks of Christie's wine department to become their International Director of Wine and the public face of the department, known and loved around the world. 

According to Charles Curtis MW of New York, 'It is a terrible loss for the world of fine wine. Not only was he a superb auctioneer, but he was a keen observer of the market, a true connoisseur, and an indefatigable worker who really made Christie’s a leader not only in the UK, but in Europe, North America and Asia. Far from “all work”, however, David knew how to relax. I remember after one particularly long and successful sale in Hong Kong back in 2011 one of our administrators suggested unwinding at a local karaoke bar. Not only was David up for the proposal, he commanded the stage, belting it out like the rock star that he dreamed of being. Little did I know that he was also an accomplished musician in what he had of spare time.'

Stephen Browett, owner of Farr Vintners for whom David's ex-colleague Tom Hudson now works, said 'I always thought that he was a decent guy. Very solid and reliable and a good auctioneer too. Not flamboyant like Michael [Broadbent] but a hard worker and he ran the wine department very well. Very sad indeed.'

Fritz Hatton, a long-time auctioneer now making Arietta wine in the Napa Valley, agrees. 'Very sad, way too soon. He worked his tail off for Christie’s, and had no time to enjoy retirement.'

My fondest memories of David will be as an indefatigable auctioneer at Room to Read wine galas, certainly in London and Hong Kong but also possibly even further afield. My blurry picture was taken of him at the Napa Valley Premiere auction one February in which, most unusually, he is not smiling broadly. He is clearly working hard however, and will be very, very much missed.

Christie's add:

It is with great sadness that we learn of the passing of our longstanding and much admired colleague David Elswood. David joined Christie’s Wine Department in 1985 and was appointed as Director and Auctioneer for Christie’s in 1989. In his nearly 35-year-long career at Christie’s, he held the roles of Deputy Head of Department, Head of European Sales, Head of the Wine Department for London, and led the department as International Head of Wine Sales and Principal Auctioneer until 2017, when he took the position of Senior International Consultant.

Presiding over wine sales throughout Europe, Asia and the United States, David connected collectors across the world through his charisma, passion and knowledge. Pivotal in developing the international profile of Christie’s Wine Department over the last three decades, David managed some of the greatest sales in our history, including Grand Crus and Grand Crus Part II, The Collection of Alex Ferguson CBE and the Harewood House Collection. David was also instrumental in the success of the annual Hospices de Beaune auction, and to Christie’s growth of wine sales in Asia from 2008 onwards.

In 1987 David was awarded the Spanish Scholarship in the Wine Education Trust Diploma exams, and in 2003 received the rare double distinction of being appointed both as a Commandeur du Bontemps de Médoc at the Fête de la Fleur held at Château Mouton Rothschild and as a Chevalier du Tastevin at the Clos de Vougeot ceremonies in Burgundy.

David was an exceptional man in all respects. He was a superb auctioneer, a caring colleague, inspiring leader, a great friend and a beloved member of the fine wine and auction community. He will be missed enormously by those who knew him and worked with him.

Their official portrait of David in happier days is below.

The late David Elswood at Christie's