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NY wine auction salutes 11 September victims

The wine world, revised statistics show, raised more than $1 million at auction for victims of the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11.

Morrell & Company, sponsor of the December 8 auction, which was called Grapes of Grief and Gratitude, on Friday (14 December) put the grand total at US$1,022,553 (£730,400), up from US$957,585.

The sum includes US$54,968 in donations not generated at the sale but funneled to the philanthropy through Morrell. Every penny of the grand total from the 1,385 lots sold is being donated directly to the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, said Roberta Morrell, the president. Morrell & Company owns a retail wine store and a wine bar and cafe in Rockefeller Center, and is also an independent auction house. The fund was created by Rusty Staub, a former New York Mets baseball player and longtime wine collector.

Unlike the glitzy Napa Valley Auction, the sale was not celebrity-focused. A decorous, conservatively dressed crowd of aficionados, collectors, distributors and restaurateurs filled a half-block-long wood-paneled salon in the elegant Union League Club for philanthropic buying.

The mood seemed captured by Stephen A Falango, the sommelier at Tierra Mar, a restaurant in Westhampton Beach on Long Island’s South Fork gold coast. He said, ‘This is the saddest auction I’ve ever attended.’

Much of Grapes of Grief seemed depressed, with many lots selling for low bids or, after prodding, under the high ones. Business even seemed slow at the bar, where at midday Morrell offered free glasses of Laurent-Perrier brut Champagne.

In the morning, New York mayor Rudolph W Giuliani took the gavel and sold eight lots of New York State wines that realised US$7,150 (£4,767).

Peter J Morrell, the company’s chairman, lightened the mood. ‘Being of Italian extraction,’ he told the mayor, ‘it should be easy for you to sell wine.’ When Edward Lauber, a prominent wholesaler, paid US$900 (£600) for two magnums of 1994 Estate Selection Chardonnay from Long Island’s Wölffer Estate, rated at US$300 (£200), David Molyneux-Berry of London, Morrell’s auctioneer, told Giuliani, ‘I’m going to be out of a job soon.’

A New York family – the owners of Domaine Clarence Dillon – provided the centerpiece. The 29 lots from Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion, Laville Haut-Brion and La Tour Haut-Brion that they donated raised US$73,670 (£49,113).

The biggest earner was a lot of 100 magnums of 2000 Bordeaux signed by château owners, which was valued at US$50,000 (£33,000) and sold for US$42,000 (£28,000). A nine-liter bottle of 1997 Shafer Vineyard Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, valued at US$3,500 (£2,333), fetched US$4,200 (£2,800).

New York now rivals London for the title of the wine world’s principal secondary market. But intra-Manhattan competition disappeared as Jamie Ritchie and Richard Brierley of Sotheby’s and Christie’s wine departments, respectively, also peddled some of the world’s greatest wines from the rostrum.

Auction diary dates and contact information

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York10 December 2001 [updated 17 December]

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