The Grapes of Grief and Gratitude charity wine auction -- organized to benefit the families of firefighters, police officers and emergency response professionals who lost their lives in the World Trade Center disaster -- raised $956,385 with the sale of more than 1,400 donated lots on Dec. 8 in New York.
The event, held at the Union League Club (which donated the space), was sponsored by Roberta and Peter Morrell of Manhattan-based Morrell & Co. wine merchants. One hundred percent of the funds raised were allocated to the New York Police & Fire Widows and Children's Benefit Fund, which is chaired by former New York Mets baseball player and long-time enophile Rusty Staub.
At its peak, the day-long affair drew a crowd of 250, more than triple the number who usually attend commercial auctions in Manhattan. But because of the vast number of lots contributed, the sale had little time for the theatrics normally associated with a philanthropic event, and many lots sold at the low estimate.
"Given the nature of the cause, we didn't want to turn a single donation down," said Peter Morrell, chairman of Morrell & Co.
The otherwise routine auction was enlivened, however, by the surprise appearance of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who after a two-minute round of applause, auctioned off $7,150 of New York state wines.
Guest auctioneers Jamie Ritchie, senior vice president of the wine department at Sotheby's, and Richard Brierley, vice president of the wine department at Christie's, both took turns on the podium. The auction was presided over by Morrell's customary auctioneer, David Molyneux-Berry, who flew in from London for the event.
This auction boasted consignments from virtually all the world's major wine-producing regions. It offered something for everyone, ranging from two dozen bottles of Turkish winery Kavaklidere's 1999 Cankaya (white) and Yakut (red) at $100 to six magnums of Château Phélan-Ségur 1995 at $450 to a case of Henri Jayer Echézeaux 1999 that soared above estimate to command $15,000.
The day's showstopper, bringing in $42,000, was a super-lot of 100 signed magnums from Bordeaux's celebrated 2000 vintage. Bordeaux first-growth Château Haut-Brion (owned by an American family) donated 28 lots, which raised nearly $75,000. Savvy collectors vied for cases of Château La Mission-Haut-Brion 1998, which averaged $1,200, below their retail price.
Apart from hard-to-come-by collectible wines, special dinners and private tours generated equally heated bidding. Dinner for 10 with prominent Rhône vintner Jean-Louis Chave sold for $9,500, more than triple the low estimate. A helicopter tour for four and lunch with Gallo of Sonoma winemaker Gina Gallo fetched $1,900. And the longstanding rivalry between Sotheby's and Christie's came down to the wire on the block: Lunch for 12 with Michael Broadbent, who founded Christie's London wine department, went for $3,800, whereas dinner for 12 with Serena Sutcliffe, head of Sotheby's London wine department, finished at $4,000.