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Bids and Bubbly Flow Freely at Wine & Food Benefit

Peter D. Meltzer
Posted: October 30, 1999

Auction house Morrell & Co. offered an impressive selection of old and rare Champagne at an Oct. 25 event to benefit the American Institute of Wine & Food. The 68 lots -- there were originally 69, but three superb magnums of Lanson from the 1976, 1979 and 1981 vintages were "sacrificed" at a presale tasting, to everyone's delight -- raised $48,555.

Morrell donated its customary 15 percent buyer's fee directly to the American Institute of Wine & Food. All proceeds from the auction went to support scholarships for students pursuing careers in the food and beverage industry.

Event hosts Don Gatterdam, director of custom publishing for M. Shanken Communications (parent company of Wine Spectator), and Nikos Antonakeas, Morrell & Co.'s managing director, secured donations directly from the various Champagne houses. "Older vintage Champagnes in pristine condition rarely show up at auction," said Morrell & Co. president Roberta Morrell in a panel discussion preceding the auction. "The impeccable provenance of these offerings presents a great buying opportunity for the serious collector."

"New Yorkers are no strangers to fine Champagne," said panel moderator Michael Batterberry, founding editor of Food Arts magazine (also an M. Shanken publication) and coauthor of "On The Town in New York." "But sometimes quantity took precedence over quality. In the 19th century, a legendary Manhattan ball honoring Japanese dignitaries was attended by 3,000 guests who feted the visitors with an incredible 10,000 bottles of Champagne!"

Auctioneer David Molyneux-Berry abandoned his trademark staccato clip in favor of a more mellifluous style, and he alternated his bid-steps with amusing Champagne asides. But he also struck a serious note. "Unlike a commercial auction, tonight there are two beneficiaries: One is you -- provided you get something -- and the other is the AIWF." The paddles kept on bobbing.

Although charity auction participants aren't usually obsessed with bargains, some excellent values abounded. Three bottles of the famed Pol Roger 1921 fetched $2,070 (about one-third less than the auction average) and three bottles of Pol Roger 1949 commanded $1,150 (about half the going rate).

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