How the collection was
Klaus Umek is the Managing Partner of Petrus Advisers. He founded the firm in 2009. Prior to founding Petrus Advisers, Klaus was a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs where he was Head of Investment Banking of Austria and CEE. He is a serial entrepreneur and investor in real estate, real estate development and start-up businesses. An evangelical Christian and firm believer in charitable work of the lucky and rich, Klaus is the founder and sole source of funding of the Austrian Youth Education Institution Juhu! Jugendhilfswerk der Familie Umek.
Klaus Umek is the Managing Partner and Founder of Petrus Advisers, a London-based hedge fund and alternative asset management firm. Klaus is self-made. His family´s background is in medicine, the arts, education and the civil service and military. Klaus is a serial entrepreneur and investor in real estate, real estate development and start-up businesses as well as the sole source of funding and founder of ‘Juhu!’, Jugendhilfswerk der Familie Umek, an educational institution, dedicated to improving the academic results and personal development potentials of kids, aged 6-10 and 10-14 from underprivileged families in the Vienna region in Austria.
Klaus´ first venture into entrepreneurship was the opening of doors to investors´ money of Petrus Advisers, an FCA regulated financial institution, in late 2009 with active support from key UHNWI investors and family offices from the Germany/Austria CEE region (assisted by Klaus´ own money). Amused by the idea that he would have called his active capitalist venture after the famous Chateau Pétrus, Klaus will direct this rumour to his investment banking work for Cerberus Management, a famous NYC distressed fund. Klaus selected the name of Petrus Advisers for his 2009 jumpstart into active long-short and event driven capitalism on a more colourful idea: St. Peter/Petrus is the first apostle and founder of the Church and in Christian mythology sits at heaven´s gate and decides who gets to be admitted to heaven and who to goes to hell. Klaus felt it would be an honour to be Petrus´(Saint Peter´s) adviser – and that it would be vastly more rewarding than to guard hell as a dog with multiple heads (Cerberus).
Prior to founding Petrus Advisers, Klaus was a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs where he was Head of Investment Banking of Austria and CEE. During his years at Goldman Sachs from 1996-2009, Klaus participated in some of the major deals in the European arena of bank capital markets and mergers including Allianz/AGF, Swiss Life/Lloyd Continental, Bank Austria/Creditanstalt, HVB/Bank Austria, Erste Bank/BCR, Cerberus/BAWAG, the Vienna Insurance Public listing, as well as in major private equity transactions such as Blackstone/Celanese, GS/Allianz Capital Partners/Messer Griesheim and privatisation work such as Telekom Austria, Post.at, Austria Tabak. Klaus´ IPO and capital market work included the listings of New World Ressources, Strabag, Post.at, Head NV, Bank Austria, two capital increases of Erste Bank and Eurobond issuance for Alfa Bank. In M&A Klaus worked for Daimler, Polaris, FCC, Swiss Life, NRG Energy, MOL, OMV, JC Decaux, Porr, Wienerberger, ÖIAG, Continental, CVC Capital Partners, KKR, Blackstone, Elliott Advisors et al. Klaus holds a Masters Degree in Management of Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU Wien) and a Masters in Finance (CEMS) from the London School of Economics and HEC Paris. Klaus participated in the PhD program of University of Chicago and WU Wien.
Klaus started collecting wine in 2006 with the 2005 Bordeaux campaign, while an employee of Goldman Sachs in Frankfurt, Germany. While not a very frequent or big drinker, other than Vodka (but never beer) in his student days, and from an almost entirely teetotaller family of medical doctors and creative arts agents, he has focussed on the highest rated wines by Robert Parker (Wine Advocate) and Allen Meadows (Burghound), as well as recently listening to the advice of Neal Martin. He originally started collecting through the German, Swiss and Austrian as well as recently the UK wine trade – who appear to have been net sellers of the finest wine libraries to date. In 2007, Klaus extended his collection into Burgundy as well as the finest Napa Valley, Italian (both Barolo and Super Tuscan), Australian, Spanish and Austrian wines. That same year, Klaus moved back to London to work for Goldman Sachs International and subsequently founded his hedge fund and asset management firm, Petrus Advisers. His gardening leave was one weekend. When choosing Petrus Advisers as the name for his entrepreneurial start, Klaus was involved in discussions with Chateau Petrus and KKR´s Petrus Insurance about a co-existence agreement for European name rights and patent purposes.
Interview with Zachys
Can you tell us a bit about what it was like growing up in your family? Did your parents have any interest in wine?
No, there was nobody interested in wine in my family, in fact neither my mother nor my father would drink – with vary rare exceptions – so that was not something that was passed on.
Can you tell us about how and where your real passion and knowledge in fine wine originated?
It was around 2003/2004, I was working at Goldman Sachs, running large transactions in the region and every time we would celebrate the closure of a big deal, we would have to entertain very important people of very diverse backgrounds. We quickly realized that if you do a wine tasting or you share some good bottles then the atmosphere is immediately more positive and relaxed. So, it was through those events that I started to think seriously about what it is – what wine represents. It was a real change as I had not drunk wine before, so it was in my early/mid-30s that I started.
What were you drinking before?
I was only really drinking liquors and things that I would now call, “student-y” beverages.
Do you remember what your first epiphany wine was? Can you tell us about the memory?
I remember going to a Bordeaux 2003 tasting with René Gabriel, a Swiss wine writer, in 2006.That evening I had a Lafite 2003 which I still remember and is amongst the best wines I’ve ever had. It was an enormously impressive moment, especially because we were drinking the bottle very young, contrary to what people normally recommend. It was to prove that these wines can be great young and old. I also vividly remember a 100-point Parker dinner I hosted in 2008 while still at Goldman Sachs and the best wine I had there, which stuck out from all the Burgundy and Bordeaux was a Sine Qua Non. It was “Just for the Love of It” and I was totally blown away, it is to date one of the best wines, I think, I’ve ever drunk.
What has been your goal or driving force in building your extraordinary collection?
I think that it’s about really knowing what you do; knowing the facts, figures and the connections, while also appreciating the scarcity of stock and the amount of work that goes into collecting. Another part is ensuring access to these wines and for me it’s about the hard and detailed work of sourcing the best. And this is key because, and people might not believe me on this, it’s not that difficult to identify the best of the best, it’s just extremely tedious and work-intensive to source them, to not pay a ridiculous price, to be sure about provenance, and to store them correctly. That’s 90% of the task.
Have you found that your taste in what you love to drink, and collect, has changed over time? If yes, how so?
I started out with the Napa, Austrian reds and whites, and older Bordeaux and I have not left any of those behind – I still love them. I think I’ve become a lot more snobbish and I’m prepared to pay a much higher price per bottle. The moment you spend thought on whether it’s 95, 97 or 100 points and you are willing and able to afford bottles in that range then you enter into an upper echelon and this naturally sent me into the rarest Burgundies and Bordeaux and occasionally very highly rated Australians and Italians – the best Barolos are very important to me. Of course, if I’m just meeting casually with friends then I still believe that great, crisp, Austrian white is amazing. I think that a wine from just about anywhere in the world can give pleasure. But I don’t drink a lot, I don’t drink very frequently and so when I do open a bottle, I don’t mind splashing out on a good one. In short, my taste has broadened and refined but not changed.
What is your favorite restaurant in Austria?
Steirereck im Stadtpark in Vienna. Best place.
What is your favorite wine pairing with classic Austrian food?
I love the Austrian whites, in particular, the Chardonnays that are often overlooked. There’s a Chardonnay that is actually grown in my hometown, Vienna. It’s the only wine that originates in a city of 3 million people, it’s by Wieninger and it is enormously powerful, potent, high quality, fragile…all the superlatives of what a Chardonnay can offer. In combination with traditional Austrian food it’s amazing. There are also a number of super strong Chardonnays from southern Styria and from Burgenland that I love, and I think they go extremely well with the simplest, most classic Austrian dish, Schnitzel, which has an enormous pairing ability with Chardonnays, so that’s really good stuff.
If you were stranded on a deserted island, what one wine would you take with you to drink for the rest of your life?
You and your collection were featured in an episode “The World’s Most Expensive Food” – how did this come about?
I was approached by my friend Charles Curtis, who has assisted us over the years in working with the collection and also determining to some extent what we buy, sell, and focus on, as a consultant and friend. He’s an enormously powerful resource as he’s so knowledgeable as a Master of Wine and as someone who’s been in the business for decades. He approached me about whether I was willing to go on the program as he was eagerly looking for someone ready to speak publicly about their collection and. At the time, I debated a lot with my wife and decided that it would be good fun and it was great, good fun and we’ve raised the profile of what we do from in-the-dark-private to a semi-public circle that, at the least to the wine connoisseurs and wine buffs in London, has been appreciated.
The episode talked a lot about the impeccable provenance and storage of your collection – is that something you have found important to focus on in building your collection? What steps have you taken to ensure that the bottles in your collection come with great provenance?
Well, I buy originally from source and I spend a lot of time speaking with the different traders firmly based in the Germany-speaking region so Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The French love that region so there’s quite an allocation of the best stuff into those countries and there’s an art in how you are able to source a bottle here, a case there from the various traders locally. I of course have a firm footing in the London market where the same rule applies.
We keep receipts for each and every purchase and we’ve avoided anything that looks too old and “trophy.” I would say that the most important is not to venture too deep into the past so the collection is quite light on anything that is older that ‘82 because provenance checks will be more difficult to execute.
We’ve also used experts to regularly check provenance on material that we bought at auction. We’ve never had a single real complaint, so when we took forgery experts into the collection, they didn’t find anything in the thousands of bottles. Everything is stored in a professional and secure wine warehouse outside of London, except some treasures I keep at home!
As a financier and wine lover, what would be your best advice for someone just starting to collect fine wine?
I think the wine journals and trade are not necessarily honest with newcomers because they often assume that he or she doesn’t yet fully understand what’s going on and they will tend to push stuff that is drinkable. And you don’t necessarily need those wines (unless you want to drink) because drinkability doesn’t automatically mean price appreciation. So, I would focus on the great wine writers and I would follow them closely. I would occasionally taste what they suggest, to see if it concurs with my personal tastes. I think there’s a lot of truth and a lot of honesty in Jancis Robinson, Robert Parker, Neil Martin and Allen Meadows. I would stick slavishly to their views of the world and let them work the magic of taking wine from super to the rarest of the world and owning those and focusing on those. I think that is the best strategy to begin with and also in continuing to run a collection.
And how have you found new wines that you didn’t know before, how have they been introduced to you?
I have spent a considerable amount of my leisure time, much to the chagrin of my wife and kids, in the wine-growing regions. There’s nothing more boring than being a kid when your dad is in a cellar in Burgundy where everything is grey — as you usually go when they have down time, so it’s not the summer. You usually go in the spring when there’s not yet any greenery or you go in the fall or winter when it’s cold and deserted, so my family hates it, I love it, and I always have to negotiate time to fit in a trip.
I go to Bordeaux and Burgundy at least once a year and am very happy to be involved in the London wine circuit as I think it’s the most professional, most thorough and most authentic group of people; some of them very scientific and smart. I mean, they created the Master of Wine as a more scientific and broad-based approach to wine education. Everywhere I go I try to keep an open mind.
What are the oldest wines in your cellar? Do you ever drink them?
The oldest wines I have are from the 1940s because those are the birth years of my parents, my uncle and my aunt and so I have the ‘41s, ‘47s and ‘45s. But I’m extremely careful with those, both in terms of their fragility if not stored correctly and in terms of checking provenance 10 times before I choose to buy. I do drink them from time to time, as my parents aren’t big into wine, it’s more my pleasure and they’re quite shocked that something as old as them still exists. They don’t really have an understanding of wine despite my efforts to educate them, so have not been able to impart my level of excitement to them.
I don’t have any older vintages although I’ve been to many tastings where we’ve drunk bottles like 1921 La Tache as well as Vega Sicilias, Bordeaux and Yquem into the 19th century but I don’t think that’s for me. It’s good, but I’m too much of a scientific, numbers, factual guy to have this brown cloud of “Does it really have provenance, can it really be excluded that we’re just drinking a Syrah from California and it’s just been done by someone strange like Rudy Kurniawan.” And since no one knows what the taste is comparable to, I have to take myself out of that world. That’s not me.
What is your favorite wine region to visit and why?
Bordeaux, because it’s developed over hundreds of years and also become touristic quite early, so you have great amenities. Bordeaux itself isn’t a beautiful landscape because wine growing regions tend not to be interesting as they’re farms and plants and neither are worth getting any romantic feelings about even though we, as wine lovers, tend to fall into the trap of saying how romantic agrarian landscapes are… But what’s nice about Bordeaux is that the surrounding area, Arcachon, for example, is scenic and has quality restaurants, hotels and spas. The French luxury groups that have a strong presence has added to this transformation, and think of even cosmetics, like Caudalie at Smith Haut Lafitte. It’s one of a kind quality in tourism, so I think Bordeaux is very inviting as it offers a lot more than just wine.
You live in London now, home to one of the oldest and greatest fine wine markets in the world, as well as a culinary hot spot. What is your favorite low-end and high-end dining in London if you’re looking for a great bottle of wine?
I have to admit that I’m a member of both 67 Pall Mall and Oswald’s, two wine-dedicated clubs that I think bring together the best of gastronomy and an enormous celebration of wine as a good to enjoy — as a moment to share with friends, as an accelerator of friendship and fun. I mean these places are very vibrant. People laugh and it’s kind of like your best experiences in pubs and bars. It gets very vivid and funny in the evenings, in particular.
I think in terms of high-end there are a number of top restaurants in London that all have enormous wine culture. So, if you’re thinking of going Japanese, I have very high regard for the German who’s created Roka. It’s amazing quality food, they have a few locations in London and the wine menu is great and includes everything from high-end to the basics. They used to have Leflaive “Pucelles” as a drinking wine and now I would say it’s been replaced by Bonneau du Martray’s Corton Charlemagne. And I know you’re thinking £300 for a drinking wine but that’s just the calibre we’re looking for.
I think the Greenhouse is very strong, I do love Petrus restaurant and Five Fields. I used to go to Heston Blumenthal and Joel Robuchon quite a bit. There’s a wide range of super restaurants and even the quality Asian places like China Tang and Hakkasan all have a great focus on wine so you’re never at a loss.
At the entry-level I really can’t opine because if out on a normal night and offered something that I don’t know, and I don’t feel I need now then I would rather say let’s drink Diet Coke and water and wait to get the well-priced bottle of Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey or Cos d’Estournel – something I really believe in. I would tend to skip alcoholic beverage consumption totally unless it’s really something I want and desire and it’s going to add to my upper range tastes.
This offering includes an incredibly diverse selection, ranging from some of the greatest white Burgundies in the world (Leflaive, DRC and Sauzet) to the finest Claret (Petrus, Lafleur and Lafite). What was your thought in curating this selection for sale?
I think it goes back to a question you asked me before, what’s a good place to start, what is the entry point? And as arrogant as this may sound, this is a great entry point into the Klaus Umek Collection, so you’re going to find an enormous depth and availability and range of wines that I would whole-heartedly want to drink if I were to be put on a desert island. If I were to have what’s offered in this sale, I would certainly enjoy it! It’s some of the finest and the best and all I need is a Zalto glass and a fridge and I could live happily.
This selection is a glimpse and it gives an impression of what we’re doing. These are mostly wines that are rated 95 and above, so, by definition, the finest wines over the past 10 years. It’s an enormously potent starting point for anyone wanting bottles that are ready immediately for consumption with the assurance of provenance and correct storage and also a starting point or continuation for collection. I also hope, it gives people an impression of what’s to come should we open up the cellar in the future for additional offerings.
There are a great deal of rare large formats in this offering – magnums and double-magnums of Petrus, Imperials of Lafleur, Lafite, Cheval Blanc, and much more..! Have you always had a partiality for big bottles? What is your favorite occasion to open one?
As I started out explaining, I really ventured into the world of wine through completing a series of successful transactions in my career at Goldman Sachs and you’re talking crowds of 20 plus people, which is the perfect moment to open a big bottle. I recommend that everyone do it. I would also recommend that you give the bottle more time because the aging potential in these large-format wines is tremendously better due to less oxygen for more wine. So, if you were to open a 2000 Petrus single bottle, you could open an ‘82 Petrus 6 litre and it will be similar, so we’re talking 10-15 years difference. The hurrah and the Gaudium and the fun of opening one of these big bottles is unrivalled. I don’t know any restaurant in the world where you come with a 6 litre and everyone is not happier. So, it’s an amazing way to celebrate a wedding, a rare birthday or to have a party with your team as they always work out. They are a gift that keeps on giving and I recommend to everyone.
Is there any specific bottle or wine in this offering that is particularly special or meaningful to you.. and if so, why?
Both Sauzet and Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey are extremely important to me because those were real discoveries. I remember buying them in 2008, ‘09, ‘10 when prices were much lower, and I was surprised that this amazing delicacy and quality of wine was available at that price range. I still think they’re a relatively cheap entry into the top segment of Burgundy and I would be of the view that white Burgundy generally is the Olympia of quality so those are extremely stable. I’ve never had any problems with them, and I think that people will love just about every single one of their wines we’re offering.
I also personally like the American wines a lot because they achieve incomparable stability across vintages. It’s ultimately taking the whole game of chance out of wine drinking efforts. If you have friends over want to host a memorable evening it’s a real shame if a bottle is corked or not showing well. The US wines have stability and consistency in quality and they age very linearly which makes them enormous treasures to open and enjoy. And they’re drinkable from a young age, which can’t be said for most European wines, particularly Bordeaux and Borolo, where they need to be stored for at least 10 or 15 years. This is one of the reasons we’re offering mostly relatively old Barolos and Bordeaux with a few years on them.
Can collectors look forward to a Part II one day?
We are certainly thinking of it, but for the moment we are completely in love with the collection as it currently stands. There’s a big focus on DRC, Rousseau, Liger-Belair, Petrus, Lafite and more and we’ll continue to add wines from these producers in hopefully vast quantities. I think that we’re not going to sit on these forever, so when they become drinkable, we’re going to drink one or two but if there’s twenty there’ll be more to offer.