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Wine: Selling “The Cellar”

Brett Anderson

There exists in the world a wine collection so rare and extensive that, in oenophilic circles, it is known simply as “The Cellar.” Despite his cellar’s importance, however, the young owner of this fabled trove regards it less as a collection than as an opportunity to share with others his passion for wine. At a recent “casual” dinner, he served a 2001 Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne, a magnum of 1959 Roumier Bonnes Mares, and a magnum of 1947 Château Lafleur. As one guest that evening, Acker Merrall & Condit president and auction director John Kapon, remarks, “He’s kind enough to open $50,000 bottles for people. He can’t help himself. And that night, his generosity was way beyond the call of duty.”

Kapon, a friend of the owner, has further cause for appreciation. In January, Acker Merrall conducted a single-cellar auction on the owner’s behalf, selling more than 1,700 lots from The Cellar and grossing $10.6 million—the third largest sum ever taken in at a wine auction. “The owner had gotten to the point where he said, ‘I have to thin out my collection,’ ” Kapon says. “The logistics of managing that quantity of wine had become a full-time job. He was also running out of room in his warehouse and his home.”

The Cellar contains unprecedented quantities of the greatest vintages of the last century in a variety of extremely rare formats. The provenance of these wines is impeccable, since they were purchased on release and did not change hands until The Cellar’s owner acquired them. “I buy very aggressively,” he explains, “and I’m very passionate about things. Whenever I’m interested in something the retailers or dealers offer, I never say, ‘Give me two bottles.’ I say, ‘How many cases have you got? Ten? I’ll take them. Twenty? I’ll take them.’ ”

Despite its success, the January sale did not thin out The Cellar as much as the owner had hoped. “I never stopped buying,” he concedes. “Even up to the sale, I bought even more.” And so, in another attempt to reduce and refine The Cellar’s contents, the owner will conduct another sale this October 20 and 21 in New York. Entitled “The Cellar, Part II,” this auction is expected to break the record currently held by Norwegian industrialist Christian Sveaas, whose single-cellar auction brought in $14.4 million in 1999.

The lots will be truly stunning, notes Kapon. “The owner is kind of like an artist painting a picture,” he says. “If he has a case of ’90, ’89, ’85, ’86, and ’79 Lafleur, he feels obligated to add a case of ’82 also. He has this artistic side to what he’s offering.”

Among the two days’ prizes will be a selection of 1947 Cheval Blanc in every available format: half bottles, magnums, double magnums, and jeroboams. “The great thing about this wine,” says the owner, “is that its concentration is so ridiculously high. It’s like a dry port. It’s so thick that, even from a half bottle, it’s magnificently delicious and still has a lot of life.”

A magnum of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1929 will also catch the eager eyes of collectors. “It’s just supreme,” notes the owner. “It has the sweetness, the ripeness, the fat, but it also has the elegance, the etherealness that differentiates Romanée-Conti from other red Burgundies.” Though a more recent vintage, the DRC La Tâche 1990 in jeroboam will likely attract newer buyers. “This is going to be a legendary wine,” he predicts, “the epitome of La Tâche.”

A bottle of 1900 Margaux, however, will doubtless be the auction’s holy grail. In 1900, the château classified two different categories of wine, a premier and a second, distinguishable only by minute markings on the labels. An example of the former category, this bottle contains “probably the best Margaux ever,” the owner says. “To me, the only ones to come close are the 1990 and 2000 vintages.”

The owner of The Cellar, of course, would know, having gained most of his knowledge of rare wine the old-fashioned way: by tasting it. And though he says he will be sorry to see some of these wines go, he is more passionate about drinking than collecting. “In the beginning, you just want the rarest stuff in the world,” he admits. “But to have a $100 million or $200 million cellar when I’m 50 years old doesn’t make sense. It’s more about sharing and drinking. And I’m really a drinker.”

Nicknamed Mr. 47, the owner of The Cellar has acquired such significant Bordeaux from that vintage as these rare magnums of Cheval Blanc.

Acker Merrall & Condit
877.225.3747
www.ackerwines.com

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