One of the greatest wine collections in the world is for sale in Quebec – and a trio of local government agencies is after it.

Champlain Charest, owner of Quebec’s Bistro à Champlain, has put his 32,000-bottle collection on the market. The restaurant was Canada’s first to win Wine Spectator’s Grand Award – the wine list was described as ‘long and classic’ and a ‘dazzling lineup’.

The collection is reckoned to be worth some CAN$10m (€6.44m). It consists of Château d’Yquem dating from 1928 to the present day, Pétrus from 1945 to the present, a unique collection of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, and a collection of Hermitage from Gerard Chave – who happens to be a friend of Charest’s. Many of the wines are in rare large-format bottles.

There are three local government agencies bidding for the wine – the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Canada’s biggest pension fund, Loto-Quebec, which runs a chain of official casinos, and the Société des alcools du Québec, the official liquor licensing board. Charest has opened negotiations with all three of them and it is thought they will share the cellar between them.

According to Canadian newspaper National Post, none of the agencies will give much away as to why they are after the collection. The Caisse – whose CAN$140bn assets have suffered under the downturn in the stock market – apparently wants it for a new restaurant in its headquarters in Montreal. The Loto will sell it to the more successful gamblers in its casinos, and the liquor board will keep it to possibly auction at a later date.

Charest, 71, says he is selling his wine because of problems with his eyes, which makes it harder for him to run the restaurant. At the same time, the cost of storing and insuring the wine has increased. ‘It is my life’s work,’ he said, adding he was very sad to have to part with the collection.

Written by Adam Lechmere, and agencies30 July 2002