The Lyric Opera of Chicago and its Women’s Board are preparing for another dazzling event on April 14. The Lyric Opera Wine Auction 2018 is a most elegant affair with proceeds going directly to the Lyric Opera’s annual campaign which supports its extensive philanthropic activities. Previously named one of the “Top 10 Charity Auctions” by Wine Spectator, the April evening will begin with a ball-gown-worthy champagne reception and an extensive silent auction. Guests will then enter the stunning Ardis Krainik Theatre where the main stage will have been transformed into a beautiful dinner and live auction setting for more than 500 guests. There, they’ll be able to bid on an array of carefully curated wines, visits to renowned restaurants and unique luxury items and experiences.

Wine Auction
 The Lots offered this year in our auction are very special indeed and represent the donations of many generous individuals, companies and vintners. We are proud to have their support for this 30th Anniversary celebration. The Lyric Opera Wine Auction has raised over $9 million for the Lyric Opera across the last thirty years. These funds have been utilized to support the artistic expression of the Lyric performances, education of future generations of opera singers and opera attendees and outreach programs to over 20,000 school children in Chicago annually.  We pride ourselves on presenting spectacular wines, experiences and travel Lots.  We work hard to ensure that each Lot represents an extraordinary wine or experience not generally available to the bidding audience.  Nancy Searle and Keith Kiley Goldstein, Co-chairs, Lyric Opera Wine Auction 2018
Wine Auction

Nancy Searle and Keith Kiley Goldstein – Photo Credit:

Indeed, the Lyric Opera Wine Auction is one of the best charity auctions in the United States and if you can score a ticket, go! Yet, just the thought of attending any wine auction of this magnitude is daunting, to say the least. How do we negotiate a roomful of silent and live auction guests that include the “I’m just here to look” attendees, the casual bidders, and the seasoned professionals who raise their paddle with vim and vigor (and who know exactly what they’re doing!)? How can we ensure that our bid is for something that we actually want? Can we even afford to attend?

In a valiant attempt to address these conundrums, I asked Nancy Searle and Keith Kiley Goldstein, Co-chairs of this year’s Lyric Opera Wine Auction, for their expert advice. Although their incredibly helpful tips are specific to the Lyric’s event, I’ve added a general tip in bold after each response.

Grape Experiences (GE): First, why should someone go to a wine auction?

Nancy and Keith (N&K): For the excitement! All of our wine Lots will be on display in the David F. and Ada L. Rice Grand Foyer prior to the live auction. It will give everyone a chance to see some very special vintages in person and inspect their condition and presentation. You’ll find plenty of wine not available in your local wine shop – this makes the evening even more exciting! This is your chance to bid on items not normally for sale. The intensity and excitement that comes from a live auction, paired with the outstanding minute-by-minute competition for special items makes the night truly outstanding.

TIP: Attend a wine auction for an unforgettable experience!

GE: How should someone research recent auction results to help set cost limits?

 N&K: This is a tough question to answer, because each attendee seems to set their own budget before the night begins. We try and be as helpful as we can by giving a fair market value for each Lot, which should help guide you as you set up your wine budget for the night.

TIP: Come to the auction with your budget in mind.

GE: What are some intimidating elements of a silent or live auction when it comes to wine?

N&K: The most intimidating element would be having no knowledge of what you are purchasing.  This is a serious Wine Auction with wide range of exciting high-end wine to bid on, and we know that a dedicated collector will be most drawn to our exciting live Lots, as well as wonderful opportunities in the Silent Auction.  That being said, our Auction Catalog will be your best friend and provide you with a perfect roadmap for finding your personal “must-have” Lot. Our Catalog becomes available online in late March. It represents the work product of a dedicated Women’s Board and is a testament of their dedication to preserving the Lyric Opera of Chicago for future generations!

TIP: Before you go to a wine auction, do your best to read its catalog (if available) so that you’ll know the offerings. And bring your smart phone to the auction for more research if necessary.

GE: How should someone tackle wine selections from a silent auction? Is there a strategy?

N&K: We think every guest attending the Wine Auction has their own personal strategy.  What one purchases depends largely on one’s likes and dislikes, current cellar, and desire to participate. If you know you like Chardonnays, you’ll have a list of Chardonnay heavy Lots that you’re interested in; you may not pay as much attention to red-heavy Lots. Our auction is very Bordeaux focused, so many of our French wine fanatics will have a list of certain Châteaux that are of great interest to them. With about 65 items in the Live Auction and more than 100 items in the Silent Auction, there’s really something for every wine-lover to choose from!

TIP: Know which varietals you prefer and look for those. But, be flexible and explore others!

Wine Auction
GE: What should guests look for in a wine in terms of condition, vintage year, winemaker, etc.?
How can they find that information (websites, apps, etc)?

N&K: We try and make sure that each of the exciting wines in our auction is perfectly described for our guests! In addition to tasting notes and information about grape varietals in blends, we aim to tell the story of each winemaker, winery and exciting Lot.

 TIP: When you’re at a wine auction, look for and carefully read the information about each wine, whether it’s on the wine label or the notes written by the auction providers.

GE: What are a few insider tips with regards to looking at the condition of the label, the mixed lots of wines (verticals, for example)?

N&K: We make this as helpful as we can by displaying the bottles the night of the auction so you can see them in real life. We’ve got some really exciting large formats and rare bottles that speak for themselves when you get to see them up-close and in person!

 TIP: Look carefully at those bottles for information…but don’t pick them up and drop them! 


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GE: How do you find out if you’re an early-action or late-entry bidder?

N&K: Every Lot has a beginning price and a bid increment, so the current bid price will allow you to see immediately if you are an early action bidder or a late entry bidder.

 TIP: Keep checking the current bid price of a Lot on which you’re bidding. You don’t want to miss any chances to get exactly what you want!

GE: Once guests enter the Ardis Krainik Theatre for the live auction, is there an optimal place to sit so they don’t miss any action?

N&K: All of our auction guests will be seated on the iconic Ken Pigott stage of the Ardis Kranik theatre; the stage provides a very exciting and intimate setting for an auction. With about 500 attendees, our expert auctioneers, Michael Davis and Ben Ferdinand of Hart-Davis-Hart will be on a raised platform, which offers them a great vantage point to survey the room. In addition, spotters will be peppered throughout to insure all bidders are recognized and acknowledged on a timely basis.

 TIP: If the venue isn’t as auction-friendly as the Ardis Krainik theatre, make sure that the spotters are nearby. 


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GE: Not everyone can attend the event and others may want to bid early. Is there a way to bid online from home or vacation with the help of the internet?

N&K: All Live and Silent Auction Lots may easily be bid online via the Lyric Opera Wine Auction website. Online bidding will open on March 26th through April 13 so make sure to check the Lyric Opera Wine Auction site (click here) to enroll and get started with your research and pre-bidding.

TIP: Check to see if the wine auction you’re attending offers the ability to research the wines and begin the bidding process early. If so, take advantage of this perk.

GE: After the wines are purchased either in real life or online, what is the process of “checking out” and obtaining your wines?

N&K: All Lots (sold “as is”) are paid for prior to the guests’ departure from the Opera House the evening of the Auction.  We have a large team of cashiers and Lyric staff who will have ensured all wine is packaged and ready for you to easily take home at the end of the night. This means you can toast your win with that special bottle the next day! If you’ve won an exciting trip, wine experience, dinner, or other luxury adventure, the team at Lyric will help you set up your winning experience in the days and weeks following the auction.

TIP: Make sure your credit card is updated prior to obtaining your wines at the end of the auction.

At this year’s Lyric Opera Wine Auction, Honoree Shirley W. Ryan will be celebrated for her extraordinary vision in creating the first wine auction thirty years ago and for her ongoing dedication to Lyric and musicality throughout Chicago. Additionally, the Women’s Board is excited to announce its Honored Guest, the incomparable Château Margaux, owned by Corinne Mentzelopoulos alongside her daughter, Alexandra Petit-Mentzelopoulos.


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The Lyric Opera Wine Auction 2018 is a not-to-be-missed event. Thanks to these savvy tips (to use when you attend any wine auction) from Co-chairs Nancy Searle and Keith Kiley Goldstein, each fortunate guest will have the opportunity to not only purchase stellar wines and stunning experiences, but also to make a generous contribution towards an exceptional charitable endeavor. Score!

Cheers! ~ Cindy

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    • Cindy Rynning


      Happy you enjoyed the article, David! I hope you go to a wine auction and find the perfect bottle of wine! Soon!

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