Thomas Jefferson and Me

Aug 29, 2007

A fascinating reminder of the famed and controversial Thomas Jefferson 1787 Lafite that sold at Christie's in London in 1985 surfaced this week, in an exhaustive article called “The Jefferson Bottles” in the Sept. 3, 2007, issue of the New Yorker.

You may remember that Christopher Forbes was the winning bidder, at $156,000, a record price for a single bottle that still stands. He bought it for his father, the late publisher Malcolm Forbes. (For more information, see James Suckling's blog and our news analysis.)

Less well known is the fact that I was the under-bidder, due to a sudden attack of dementia. I was in the room, expecting to buy the wine for about $25,000 when Chris Forbes' associate told me that they flew over in a private jet to "pick up the bottle." That incensed me. I was planning to put the bottle on display at the New York Wine Experience, to share a piece of wine history with fellow wine lovers.

Fast forward to 1987 at Vinexpo, the wine trade fair in Bordeaux. During the event, Michael Broadbent, who had auctioned the famous bottle for Christie's, let me know that another Jefferson bottle was being auctioned off the next day. This one was a half-bottle of 1784 Château Margaux.

Wine Spectator had reported extensively on the possibility that the bottles may not have had a Jefferson connection. But I was still interested. It was still a very old bottle of wine from a great château.

This was a classic example of caveat emptor ... let the buyer beware.

I gave Michael the authority to bid up to $30,000. I was not going to take any chances by being in the room. An unidentified telephone bidder pushed the price right to my limit, then gave up. After the auction, Michael came up to me to tell me I was the lucky winning bidder.

Was the bottle truly connected to Jefferson? I’ll probably never know for sure. To tell the truth, it doesn’t really matter. I have a piece of wine history. Even if it’s simply a famous fake.

But I know one thing. I saved $126,000. That’s a good feeling, no matter who owned the bottle before I did.

Collecting Auctions France Bordeaux

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