Champlain Charest, owner of Bistro à Champlain, the first Canadian restaurant to earn a Wine Spectator Grand Award for its wine list, has put the restaurant's 35,000-bottle cellar up for sale. Its estimated value is about $7 million.
The 71-year-old restaurateur said his vision is going and he can no longer handle all the work of running the restaurant and keeping the cellar. "It took me 40 years to put the cellar together," said Charest when contacted by cell phone during a fishing expedition in the Gaspé Peninsula. "It's becoming too much."
Charest will keep Bistro à Champlain open, though operations will be scaled back. The restaurant, which has held a Grand Award since 1988, is located in the province of Quebec, in the quaint village of Ste.-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson, about an hour's drive north of Montreal.
Bistro à Champlain's hefty wine list boasts more than 2,000 labels, with prices ranging from as little as $15 per bottle to more than $10,000.
The cellar counts among its treasures great vintages of Burgundy and verticals of top Bordeaux châteaus, including Lafite back to 1928, Latour to 1921 and Pétrus to 1945. Charest has also amassed Château d'Yquem vintages back to 1928, as well as mini-verticals of Sassicaia, Caymus, Dominus, Turley and other top estates from around the world.
As soon as Charest announced he would sell the wines, some of the biggest buyers in the province of Quebec started to line up.
"I've already had offers from various agencies of the government of Quebec [where the provincial government controls alcohol sales]," Charest said. "I won't send the wines to auction. I don't want to break up the collection."
Charest also claims to own the world's largest collection of imperial and methuselah bottles, including more than 250 from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti alone.
However, a pair of 5-liter bottles of 1978 Mouton-Rothschild have special meaning to Charest. Jean-Paul Riopelle, the Canadian artist who painted the labels for the 1978 vintage, was a close friend. He helped Charest open the restaurant in 1974, and many of his paintings grace the walls.
"Champlain selling his cellar?" said a surprised Tony Amaro, owner of Opus in Toronto, the most recent Canadian restaurant to receive the Grand Award, which was announced in the Aug. 31, 2002 issue of Wine Spectator. "Financial freedom is a good thing. I wish him well."