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Nashville's 20th L'Ete du Vin Sets New Record

Bruce Sanderson
Posted: July 29, 1999

At Nashville's annual L'Ete du Vin charity auction, co-chair Mike Richardson experienced some tense moments early in the bidding. He was determined to set a new high for the auction, celebrating its 20th anniversary. By midnight, Richardson wore a huge smile, as the week's overall results emerged: $1.5 million, a record amount, surpassing last year's total of $1.1 million.

The auction and its related events, held July 21 through 24, benefit the American Cancer Society's programs in Nashville, including a summer camp for children with cancer. Earlier that evening, Richardson commented on his goals: "I've got a number in mind, but I'm not going to tell anyone. What I've tried to do is take a great event and make it better."

The 133 live auction lots earned $920,000, preceded by 469 silent auction lots bringing in an additional $111,000. The previous weekend, an auction designed to encourage younger supporters of L'Ete du Vin garnered $130,000. Patrons and tickets to the various events made up the balance.

L'Ete du Vin has grown into one of the country's premier charity wine auctions, due to the generosity and commitment of a group of Nashville wine collectors who donate lots from their own cellars. The original event -- which saw 120 people gathered in a backyard -- grossed $6,000 and raised $3,000, according to Tom Milam, one of the founders. With the help of ADT Automotive, which has been underwriting the expenses of the auction since 1989, the event has outgrown several venues. This year's proceeds raise the event's total contribution to the American Cancer Society to $7.7 million.

This year's L'Ete du Vin began with a Port seminar and tasting, followed by a dinner prepared by Loews Vanderbilt Hotel chef Josh Weekly. All the past chairs of the auction supplied the wine for their respective tables, each trying to outdo the others. A quick glance of the bottles consumed included 1982 Cheval-Blanc, 1982 Mouton-Rothschild, 1990 Comte Georges de Vogue Musigny Blanc, 1970 Ducru-Beaucaillou and 1961 Yquem.

Nashville's Wild Boar restaurant set the scene for the patrons' dinner on Friday. Guests sipped Taittinger Brut Comtes de Champagne 1994, then sat down to chef Guillaume Burlion's five-course extravaganza, accompanied by Louis Jadot Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot 1996, Sassicaia 1989, Phelps Insignia 1996, Cos-d'Estournel 1971 and Fonseca vintage Port 1963.

On Saturday, 800 attendees enjoyed the glamorous black-tie auction at the Opryland Hotel's Delta Ballroom. This year's event, whose theme was "The Vintage Years," honored Alistair Robertson of Taylor Fladgate and Bruce Guimaraens of Fonseca. Unfortunately, Guimaraens' health prevented him from travelling to Nashville.

Auctioneers Kelly Conger and Kenny Osborn of ADT kept a brisk pace, while seven ringmen encouraged bidders to offer higher prices. Joining the auctioneers as guest commentators were Dennis Foley of Christie's and Michael Davis of Sotheby's. Even Marvin Overton, a longtime supporter of L'Ete du Vin and formerly a prodigious wine collector, got into the action as guest auctioneer for a Port lot.

The top individual lot, a 1999 Mercedes-Benz CLK320 Cabriolet, sold for $53,000. Twelve lucky bidders paid a total of $42,000 for a luncheon and dinner at Nashville's Loews Vanderbilt Hotel and the Wild Boar respectively, featuring all the vintages of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars fabled Cask 23, with commentary and additional wines provided by Warren Winiarski, proprietor of Stag's Leap.

Luxury trips featured prominently at the event, with a two-week cruise for four from Southampton, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, selling for $40,000.

Wine lots included a case of 1982 Bordeaux ($10,250), donated by Nashville collector Tom Black and his wife, Colleen. Lot 100, consisting of 20 bottles, each of which were rated a perfect 100 points by either Wine Spectator or Robert Parker, went for $10,000. A rare jeroboam of Louis Roederer Cristal 1989 represented the highest single-bottle lot, snagging $5,000.

"I'm very happy with the results," said Richardson. "The trips didn't make as much money as expected, but the wine lots made all the money in the world."

To read about last year's event:

  • Sept. 30, 1998
    Nashville's Ete du Vin Inspires Bidders to Spend a Million Dollars at Auction

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