Aspen Times Weekly: How a billionaire cleans house

by Kelly J. Hayes
Billionaire Bill Koch will sell off close to 20,000 bottles of wine from his private collection at a Sotheby's auction that begins Thursday, May 19.
Special to the Daily |



I have never tasted this wine and likely never will. But Serena Sutcliffe, MW from Sotheby’s, has. She says: “Incredibly haunting bouquet of flavoured coffee, cloves and cinnamon. Raspberries (utterly surprising), gingerbread, blackcurrants and mint all battle on the palate with coffee and chocolate lining up to get in on the act. It finishes in such elegant fashion — ­ so silky and so seamless. This is not a banal, huge wine, it is just a totally complete Claret, perhaps the greatest ever.”

So there.

It’s that time of year. Spring is here and everybody needs to do a little spring cleaning, maybe get rid of some stuff in the basement. Even billionaires.

William I. Koch, often called Bill by those who know him (and by those who don’t), has decided it’s time to part with a few things below his house(s) and clean out the cellar. On May 19, on New York’s Upper East Side at the Sotheby’s Auction House, Koch will rid himself of close to 20,000 bottles of wine from his private collection.

The three-day event is expected to bring in anywhere from $10 million to $15 million dollars for the total haul, but things have a way of going north of the wildest estimates. Koch is one of the world’s most significant collectors and the bottles on offer include some of the most collectable and desirable wines in the world.

Beats a trip to the thrift shop to drop off stuff.


As would be expected from a sale of this sort, the most impressive lots (as each sale block is called) consist of wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. According to a Sotheby’s Magazine article on the sale, a case of 1945 Château Mouton Rothschild, the “Victory Vintage” from the final year of World War II, one of the most perfect growing seasons on record, will be sold and is expected to collect a sale price of between $80,000 and $120,000, or around $10,000 a bottle.

Now that may seem like a lot, and there is no dispute here. But considering the scarcity of that particular wine, the fact that it is a historic bottle (its label was the first in the ongoing tradition of Château Mouton Rothschild bottles to feature different artists each year), and the fact that the wine may continue to age well for another, I don’t know, 20 years, maybe it’s a steal? For the right buyer of course.

There is also a 3-liter Jeroboam (four bottles) of 1959 Romanée-Conti, the epic Burgundy, and around 19,980 other bottles, including all the First Growths; the California Cult Classics from Harlan, Bryant Family and Colgin; Italian wines from Gaja and Giacosa; Rhone Wines from Jean-Louis Chave and Guigal. You get the picture.


No doubt the name Koch rings bells in an election year. But Bill Koch is not one of the famed “Koch brothers,” known for their contributions to conservative political causes. Rather, he is the “other” brother. The one who won the America’s Cup in 1992. He is also a major industrialist and the founder and president of the Oxbow Corp., which is ranked as No. 155 on the Forbes list of America’s largest private companies.

In wine circles, Bill is perhaps as well known for his crusade against wine fraud and forgery as he is for his personal collection. In 2009, he appeared on the cover of the Wine Spectator after announcing that he had been hoodwinked by a shyster, Rudy Kurniawan, who had sold him more than $2 million of fake wines. He spent over $25 million investigating fraudulent wine schemes.

But fear not for Bill. After the auction he will still have somewhere in the vicinity of 23,000 more bottles left in his collection to consume in his golden years. If ever invited to dinner by Bill at one his homes in Palm Beach, Cape Cod or Aspen, be sure to bring something other than wine.


To prepare for the auction, Sotheby’s sent a team that spent six weeks in the three cellars at the Koch homes getting the bottles ready for shipping. They have produced an amazing 460-page “program” that not only lays out the various lots and provides detailed descriptions of the wines, but also includes photos of the homes, art and America’s Cup memories.

There is a breakdown by vintage that shows the youngest bottles to be sold are a 2005 Mazis Chambertin, by Louis Jadot, and the oldest, a 1869 Mouton Rothschild. That index of wines takes 12 pages…and the type is very small.

As a special bonus to collectors in Asia, the auction guide notes that there will be free shipping to Hong Kong. For those who have paid in full, the shipments will leave the U.S. in June and arrive in Hong Kong in August.

Seems like a long time for a billionaire to wait for their wine.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at

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