The extraordinary wine cellar of Doris Duke, a time capsule of vintage treasures from the 1920s and 1930s, sold for $3,775,711 -- more than triple the pre-sale high estimate -- at NYWinesChristie's on June 4. The 245-lot sale was 100 percent sold and realized the highest total ever for a private American wine collection at auction. Proceeds benefited the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
Pristine provenance (the wines had never been moved from Duke's cellar since their purchase in 1937 and '38), extreme rarity and impeccable condition propelled an army of collectors into bidding wars not seen since the first days of New York wine auctions a decade ago. The salesroom was completely packed, and as one collector quipped, it seemed like there were more people in attendance than there were lots on the block.
The sale's showstopper was a case of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 1934 that sold for $111,625 (126 percent above the wine's average price in the first quarter 2004 Wine Spectator Auction Index). But it was a now-defunct Domaine de la Romanée-Conti label called DRC Vosne-Romanée Les Gaudichots, which has since been absorbed into La Tâche, that stole the stage. Twenty-three lots from the 1929 vintage were offered, ranging from a single bottle that sold for $8,813 to a complete case that commanded $88,125 (more than five times the pre-sale high estimate of $14,000).
Several wine records were shattered as the evening progressed. A case of Château d'Yquem 1929 brought $72,850 (up 291 percent from its Auction Index average), and three bottles of Moët & Chandon Dom Pérignon 1921 -- the first commercial release of the Champagne -- fetched $24,675 (up 1,067 percent). Nine bottles of Château Cheval-Blanc 1929 were snapped up for $35,250 (up 156 percent) and six bottles of Château La Mission-Haut-Brion 1929 fetched $16,450 (up 157 percent).
Bidding was fairly evenly divided between the salesroom, the telephone and the absentee order book. However, one buyer on the floor, who was rumored to be from Montreal and one of Christie's biggest clients, went on a major shopping spree, loading up on about $500,000 worth of La Mission, Musigny, Les Gaudichots and Yquem, out-duking a slate of underbidders in the process.
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