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Can somebody lend me $199,000? I can come up with the rest

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Somebody missed out on a real bargain last week: A case of ‘45 Mouton-Rothschild they could have snagged for a mere $200,000.

“This vinous legend — in original wood from the cellars of Bordeaux negociant house Mahler-Besse, no less — failed to reach its reserve, or confidential minimum price, and didn’t sell,” in the words of this article by Elin McCoy, published in yesterday’s Bloomberg.com. (I suppose Hizzoner, Mayor Bloomberg, could have afforded the Mouton, but that wouldn’t look good at a time when he’s slashing New York’s work force and raising taxes.)

It wasn’t just the Mouton that failed to stir bidders’ hearts and minds at the Zachys’s auction, and it wasn’t just the Zachys’s auction that was hurting. At a recent Sotheby’s auction, four cases of DRC’s Romanée-Conti — not Echézeaux, not Romanée-St.-Vivant, but Romanée-Conti itself — failed to reach the minimum price of $750,000.

OMG, WTF is going on when no one can afford Romanée-Conti anymore? Forget General Motors and AIG, the financial crisis has hit Main Street! (Well, Park Avenue, anyway.) I remember when I used to write the Collecting Page for Wine Spectator, all the famous American collectors would pay whatever it took to get their hands on such stellar bottles. They didn’t care. Flush with money from whatever source, they scoured the auctions of the world, nabbing First Growths, Grand Crus and Têtes de Cuvées that gave them endless boasting rights. But that was then; this is now, and “The air is getting thinner for $2,000 bottles,” the Bloomberg article quotes auctioneer John Kapon  as saying.

I couldn’t help but think about this when I read the sad, but inevitable, news that COPIA is going to sell its beautiful building. (The news was reported in Wines & Vines.)

Something very serious and disconcerting is happening, and while no one quite knows what it is, the signs are everywhere. Or maybe we should call them the canaries in the coal mine. There’s irony, too, in the fact that the artist label on that ’45 Mouton reads Année de la Victoire. It celebrated the end of World War II, and was designed by Philippe Jullian, a gay artist who committed suicide in 1977. There was certainly something to celebrate in 1945. Not so now, or so it would seem — Barack Obama’s election notwithstanding.

  1. Morton Leslie says:

    Regarding Copia, I’m not sad. I never developed an fondness for the place. It felt cold and empty to me. There are things that attract people to the wine country, but Copia either was missing or had an inferior version of them. It’s competition was the CIA at Greystone with its Rudd Center, the shopping on Main Street Saint Helena, a dozen fine restaurants and dozens of wineries within a 2 mile radius. Why settle for “pretend” when you can drive 20 more miles and experience the real thing. (Or our somewhat jaded version of the real thing.)

    Regarding the ’45…If I am not mistaken a well stored bottle of the ’45 can be had at the Ritz in Paris for about $2k as can a nice selection of ’61s. So, maybe auction bidders have discovered they can pay for an airfare, a nice meal, the ’45, and an overnight stay at the world’s finest (and maybe stuffiest) hotel in the world’s most beautiful city for the same price as a single bottle at auction. Like all of us, maybe today’s collector is looking for “value”. Or maybe for a while until the bailout checks arrive and make them whole.

    Seriously, I have suffered tremendously in the stock market, but I welcome what is going on today. I think everyone needs to get a dose of what our parents went through in the 30′s. Their values are what our prosperity is built upon. We all need to learn to live within our means and maybe clean our own houses and mow our own lawns and maybe repair rather than replace the family car. God forbid, we might even share a family phone and fore go the latest gadget. Maybe we could even question why we are paying such silly, unnecessary prices for wine when there are millions who could really use our help and who go without dinner. Rather than admire a collection of $15,000 bottles of wine, we should look at it with disgust.

  2. But isn’t this just another sign that some of these iconic wines are priced out of the market? It is very hard for me to feel sorry for someone who doesn’t have enough money to drop three-quarters of a million dollars on a few cases of Romanee-Conti. Perhaps that was the point of your post and I missed it.

  3. Morton, I checked online and yes, ’45 Mouton is readily available for $3000-$4000 a bottle. I guess it was that ‘original wood” (Norweigen?) that kicked up the price! And when I read your comment about COPIA, I realized I’d always felt the same way. It was a rather cold place, and the quality of the art never interested me.

    Rob: My sense of humor sometimes is so dry, it’s easy to miss! I was being ironic.

  4. Lisa Mattson says:

    Steve,
    On Friday evening, I met some friends at barvino in Calistoga for drinks. The conversation quickly landed, of course, on the economy. There were maybe four people in this usually bustling bar. Sure, it was only 6:30 p.m. Sure, it is almost Thanksgiving and maybe the tourists have gone home. But this was the record-heat Friday. Everyone should have been outside in these types of open-air bars enjoying what should be the last warm day before the holidays. I do realize that many Americans are suffering from the financial crisis. But there are many of us who are doing just fine. And we should be out spending our money. Honestly, I believe significant drops in spending — whether it be at a Christy’s wine auction or at the sushi counter at Whole Foods — are a direct result of 1) scary gloom-and-doom media coverage, which influences consumer psychology, and more importantly, 2) deflation. Analysts are saying the we should fear the possibility of deflation, as consumers will stop spending because they feel they can hold out and get a better deal when prices drop — then all spending haults. I think we’re already there. Those who aren’t waiting for prices to drop further are more cautious about spending because of what they are hearing on the news every day — DOW plunges, bankruptcy rumors, more job loses, etc. Someone in our government should be addressing the nation as they did after 9/11 when consumer spending abruptly ceased due to fear and sadness over the terrorist attacks. Go shopping. Go enjoy a nice dinner. Live your lives again — for those of you not directly affected by the tragedies. Sure, it’s not the same situation, but consumer spending is the engine of our economy, and it’s sputtering again. We’ve got to give her a jump-start — restaurants, wineries, retail shops, auctioneers.

  5. I talked to two auction houses last week and what we are seeing are auction reserves set several months (economic light years) ago. I was told the reserves are now moving down by a vague 20%-returning to levels of 24 to 36 months ago- but you won’t start seeing this with print catalogues for another month or so.
    I agree with Morton on living within means but am with Lisa on those who are making drinks or dinner with friends into a hairshirt exercise. Good times, good budgeting and good works are not mutually exclusive. I went to a Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans exhibit in Paris on Sunday. Evans shot for the Farm Security Admin during the Depression and that is not who we are now as an economy or country.
    Copia…in September it was still advertising for another education director…in Napa. Was this zig-zag pattern the result of board infighting?

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