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Top US restaurants sell rare Burgundy and Napa wines to boost revenue

Some of Burgundy's greatest names and rare library wines from California have been among those sold by celebrated US restaurants, as they and their counterparts in other countries try to adapt during the coronavirus crisis.

A bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s Romanée St-Vivant grand cru Burgundy from the highly rated 2015 vintage has been among the prized wines sold by three-star Michelin restaurant SingleThread in Healdsburg, California, this week.

On the same day, chef and co-owner Kyle Connaughton said the restaurant also sold a magnum of Domaine Roulot’s ‘Charmes’ premier cru Meursault from the 1992 vintage, plus a bottle of Domaine Francois Raveneau’s Valmur grand cru Chablis from 1996.

SingleThread, described as a ‘jewel’ by Michelin inspectors in 2019, is just one of many restaurants across the US and elsewhere that have sought to adapt their business for take-out and online orders in the coronavirus crisis.

For those with the stock, the sale of fine and rare wines has provided much-needed revenue, including funds to help pay staff.

Another three-starred Michelin restaurant in California, Manresa, had sold approximately $50,000 of wine by Tuesday this week.

Manresa began by selling ‘trophy’ names, such as wines from Burgundy’s Roulot and Liger-Belair, as well as German estate Weingut Keller.

‘Now that the most obvious “trophies” have been sold, I have seen people broaden their tastes a bit,’ said Jim Rollston MS, wine director at Manresa, located at Los Gatos south of San Francisco.

‘In the last week, we sold a few vintages of Montée de Tonnerre [premier cru Chablis] from Raveneau, Produttori di Barbaresco Montestefano 2007, [Domaine Marcel] Lapierre Morgon 2011, and Arnot Roberts “Clary Ranch” Syrah 2014 [Sonoma Coast]. All beautiful wines that had no inquiries from the initial wave of collectors.’

He said the sales were generating funds to ‘keep the lights on, pay what staff remain, and pay bills’, alongside the restaurant’s takeaway meals operation.

‘It has been very difficult to sell these wines,’ said Rollston. ‘But the times are unprecedented, we are trying to survive.’

In Napa Valley, celebrated restaurant Press has delved into its vast cellar to offer library wines online.

A restaurant spokesperson said that rare California vintages sold so far include:

  • Ravenswood Winery’s Dickerson Vineyard Zinfandel from 1989
  • Rutherford Hill Wines’ Zinfandel from the 1980 vintage
  • Heitz Cellar’s Bella Oaks Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from 1981

Other library vintages being offered included the legendary Joseph Phelps Insignia 1997. While some wines were not necessarily cheaper than retail prices, many were from hard-to-find years.

On the US East Coast, Atrium restaurant in the Dumbo area of Brooklyn, New York, has been running an online auction of rare wines and spirits.

One lot featured bottles Joseph Phelps Insignia from 1989 and 1990. Bidding had hit $700 on Thursday morning (9 April), with a little more than a day to go. Another lot was a bottle Jean Cavé Bas Armagnac 1972, with bids running at $150 with around a day-and-a-half left.

Alex LaPratt MS, sommelier-owner of Atrium Dumbo, told Decanter.com that he planned to offer more lots in the coming weeks, after setting up the system himself.

‘We are doing everything we can think of just to have a place that our employees can come back to,’ he said, adding that it made sense to sell the wines. ‘I’m thankful that I have them. I hope they are going to good homes,’ he said.

LaPratt and staff have also been making cocktails in Champagne bottles for takeaway orders.

Restaurants beyond the US have faced similar predicaments amid Covid-related lockdowns, albeit no one disputes the need to prioritise health by preventing the spread of the virus.

In the UK, as in the US, many restaurants were going direct to customers with online wine and food menus and delivery offers.

Some in the UK have gained custom from retailers and merchants, many of whom have reported a rush of orders from house-bound wine lovers.

Dawn Mannis, co-founder at The Sampler wine merchant in London, told Decanter.com that sales were on a par with Christmas, ‘but without any festive cheer’.

She has bought wines from a few restaurants to help give them a source of revenue.

She also bought 14,000 bottles from a supplier that would normally sell to high-end restaurants.

‘It’s very sad that there will probably be more people in the industry going under in the future, but retail is definitely doing its bit at the minute to help, and [that] is one positive side,’ Mannis said.


See also: 

Christie’s reports record online auction interest


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