The Trump wedding wine, how to get 10,000 cases of wine for $100 and a California bankruptcy
Posted: January 26, 2005
The Dior-designed wedding gown was a gift to the bride. Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten created the hors d'oeuvres without the thought of being paid. So did billionaire Donald Trump and new wife Melania Knauss score celebrity freebies when it came to the wines they chose to toast their Palm Beach wedding? Apparently not. Even The Donald had difficulty securing the magnums of 1983 Cristal Champagne that came directly from Louis Roederer's wine library. The recently released Marquis de Laguiche 2002, however, was just a matter of money. The 97-point Burgundy, which was served with a Champagne vinaigrette-topped steamed shrimp salad, sells for around $365 per bottle. By contrast, the Château Lynch-Bages 1999 (87 points) that accompanied the roasted beef tenderloin and potato gallette was more wallet-friendly. It can be found for less than $65. Look into that for your third wedding.
Ken Jacques made a killing of sorts at a recent wine auction: He took home 10,000 cases for $100. But it wasn't just a lucky bid. The 46-year-old San Luis Obispo wine distributor had a conflict with an Australian winery, James Estate, which failed to pay him for his services and spread claims that he had been accused of stealing money. The matter went to court in California, and a judge ordered the Australian firm to pay $399,000 for libel and breach of contract. When the winery said it didn't have the money, the judge ruled that 10,000 cases of its wine sitting in a Sonoma warehouse could be auctioned off to pay the settlement. Jacques showed up and found only one other bidder, a well-known multimillionaire in the wine industry (who Jacques politely declined to name). The big guy, like a gentleman poker player, backed out on the bidding when he heard Jacques' story, leaving Jacques to pick up the whole lot. There's only one problem: That means he's still out the $399,000. But he hopes to recoup some of that by selling the wines.
With France's reputation as a nation of wine drinkers, you might expect that when it comes to advertising alcohol there, anything goes. But since the passage of strict limitation on ads in 1991, vintners have been unable to do much more than show a picture of the bottle and the brand name. Now, with the French wine industry struggling through a downturn in sales, the upper house of the legislature has decided to let TV and print ads describe the smell, taste and color of wine. The new law, which is expected to pass without difficulty, is a compromise between the demands of financially strapped vintners and the country's efforts to reduce drunk driving. So if you happen to visit, you still won't see American beer-style ads with beautiful women cavorting with bottles of wine. But you might hear a rosé being described--in a familiar tone of voice, though in French of course--as showing "citrus, strawberry, the faintest soupçon of asparagus and just a flutter of nutty Edam cheese."
After a few years on the skids, the California wine industry is seeing good times on the horizon, but that doesn't mean we've heard the last of wineries going bankrupt. Roche Winery, started by the Roche family in Sonoma's Carneros region in 1989, has filed for Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Rosa, citing $52 million in assets and a debt of almost $13 million. The cause is familiar by now--too much debt from overexpansion in the late 1990s. The Roche family, which owns about 2,600 acres, had sought to pay off its debt with a $15.25 million sale of 1,650 acres of undeveloped land, but the deal recently fell through. The family hopes that Chapter 11 will give them time to reorganize, sell off certain assets and reemerge with their winery and vineyards intact.
Meanwhile, Napa's Long Vineyards will be going up for sale, and in real-estate circles the word is that the owners are apparently hoping for upward of $10 million. The estate was founded in 1979 by Bob and Zelma Long, when they were married; for a long time, they made excellent Chardonnay, and later on, they added Cabernet. Although the couple split, they continued to run Long Vineyards, which is actually owned by Bob's parents. Now the estate is in need of renovations and an infusion of capital that the elderly Longs don't want to make. But Zelma is busy with a winery in South Africa, and Bob, who turns 65 in March, doesn't have the desire to replant and wait for the new vineyards to become profitable.
Even though his winery has been sold off and he's well past retirement age, Robert Mondavi apparently has no intention of keeping a low profile. He and his brother, Peter, have revealed that they will be making wine together, their first collaboration since the famous dispute that prompted Robert to leave his family's Charles Krug Winery and start his own venture 40 years ago. (Peter, whose ambitions were never as grand, still owns his winery.) Admittedly, the project is small--just a single barrel to be sold at the 25th anniversary of the Napa Valley Wine Auction, an event that Robert was instrumental in making successful. He's probably hoping the publicity will help boost sagging sales at the charity fundraiser, which is being revamped this year. Don't expect the two nonagenarians to be tinkering about in the cellars; according to the New York Times, sons Peter Jr. and Tim will actually craft the wines.