WineInk: A Gift of Wine
If I had a $1,000,000 ...
A few years back (OK, it was nearly three decades ago) the Canadian musical group Barenaked Ladies released a tune titled, “If I had a $1000000” that riffed on the things the band might indulge themselves in if they, in fact, had a mil. These included the remains of the Elephant Man, Kraft Dinners and a monkey (“Haven’t you always wanted a monkey?”). But nowhere in the goofy listing was there mention of a bottle of wine. After all, who would spend a million on a bottle of wine?
Well, it turns out that Don Steiner would. And did.
Last month at a charity auction in New Orleans, Steiner, who is the CEO and founder of a company called Profit Recovery Partners, made a bid for a cool $1,000,000 on a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon called “The Setting” that is believed to be the record for the most money, by far, ever paid for a single bottle of wine. Take that, Barenaked Ladies.
Now, there are a few things to know about this historic purchase, which is still being reviewed by the Guinness Book of World Records organization for official verification. The first is the purchase, made at the 19th annual Carnivale du Vin, was a charitable endeavor benefiting The Emeril Lagasse Foundation. Founded, of course, by the renowned New Orleans culinary icon Emeril Lagasse (you know … BAM!!!), the foundation’s stated goal is “to create opportunities to inspire, mentor, and enable youth to reach their full potential through culinary, nutrition, and arts education, with a focus on life skills development.” A cause that is certainly worth seven figures. This year the Carnivale du Vin registered $3.75 million for their work.
And the bottle sold was not just any bottle of wine. It was a six-liter offering, which means it is the liquid equivalent of eight 750 ml bottles of wine. In Bordeaux they call a bottle of such size an “Imperial.” A similar sized, but slightly different shaped (slope shouldered), six-liter bottle of Burgundy or Champagne goes by the biblical name of “Methuselah.” Call it what you will, that is a big bottle of wine — 203 ounces to be exact. Or, if you are using a standard 5-ounce pour per glass, we’ll call it 40 glasses with a skosh left over. That works out to a tidy $25k per glass. Sip it slowly.
Of course, you are likely wondering more about the wine than just the bottle, and that too has a story. Inside the Imperial of the 2019 vintage of “The Setting” was a wine sourced from the Glass Slipper Vineyard, a relatively young vineyard located in the Coombsville appellation of the Napa Valley that is owned by Paul and Suzie Frank. The Franks have had a long association with the Emeril Lagasse Foundation. This 2019 100% Cabernet Sauvignon was the first ever release from the vineyard and there were just 75 cases, or 900 bottles, produced of the wine along with the one six-liter bottle that Steiner spent his million dollars for.
“We are humbled to be able to offer $1 million to the Emeril Lagasse Foundation and its efforts to support youth,” Don Steiner, purchaser of the world record-breaking lot, said in a press statement.
The record-setting wine was made by one of the most acclaimed and accomplished young makers on the scene today, Jesse Katz, who partnered with friends Jeff Cova and Noah McMahon to establish The Setting Wines in 2014. Katz has a Colorado connection, having been raised in Boulder as son of the talented wine and art photographer Andy Katz, a frequent visitor to Aspen at Food & Wine Classics through the years. Katz senior traveled the wine world for decades, chronicling and documenting the beauty of many global wine regions and passed his appreciation for wine on to young Jessie.
The younger Katz (he is still in his mid 30s) has a resume that includes stints on the winemaking teams at Screaming Eagle Winery, Robert Foley Winery in Napa Valley, and Viña Cobos and Bodega Noemia in Argentina. But he is best known for his own endeavors as winemaker and founder of Aperture Cellars and Devil Proof Vineyards. Aperture is a collaboration with his photographer father, hence the name. Over the past decade, wines that Jesse Katz has made have become collector items, cult wines if you will, receiving not just high prices but also high rankings from the world’s wine press.
The Setting brand has been a pioneer in the use of wine to help support philanthropic activities by producing limited edition private label wines in association with a number of well-known entities for gifts and auctions. They have made wines in collaboration with Ellen DeGeneres to support The Ellen Fund and which were sold in a charity auction to help fund the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in northern Rwanda in support of endangered mountain gorillas.
Tony Hawk, the skateboarder, has also been a collaborator with a bottling of The Setting produced to support his eponymous foundation, which focuses on supporting and empowering youth through the creation of public skateboard parks in low-income communities. And Shep Gordon, the manager of musicians who was the focus of actor Mike Myers’s documentary “Supermensch,” commissioned Katz to create a wine inspired by Gordon’s love of French Bordeaux that he could gift to his friends. Gordon also donated a bottle of that wine to the same Emeril Lagasse Foundation and it was sold at the 2017 auction for $350,000. That for a regular sized 750ml bottle.
In the past, most records for wine prices have been set in auctions that are held for collectors and investors at establishments like Sotheby’s and Christies for wines, almost always French, that have a history and a provenance. Think the 1945 Domaine de La Romanée-Conti that fetched $558,000 in 2018 at Sotheby’s or the 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc that went for just over $300,000 in 2010 at Christie’s. The prices of these wines are driven by market forces that include limited supply, a history of increased valuation and the desire to make a buck.
But clearly the intent of those who purchased The Setting wines mentioned above are driven more by their interest in making donations to causes that they believe in. A wine so young, even in a big bottle, even if made by a noted winemaker, even if sourced from the first vintage of a hoped-to-be epic vineyard, is not worth a record price. That is, unless it represents something bigger. And that something bigger is the desire to make a gift out of the purchase to support, in this case, the work of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation.
Using wine as mechanism to fund good causes is hardly new. There are charity wine auctions around the world, perhaps the most enduring being Burgundy’s Hospice du Beaune in the Burgundy region of France, which just last month held its 161st edition. Then there is the famed Napa Valley Wine Auction, which is currently in hiatus. But “The Setting” has, in a short time, used wine as a way to help provide those with needs with support from those with means.
It is an undertaking of giving that even the Barenaked Ladies could appreciate.
Emeril Lagasse Foundation’s Carnivale du Vin breaks record with million-dollar wine auction, celebrating with the Boogie Wonder band at the Fillmore.
2019 The Setting Glass Slipper Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
While it is likely that this wine is sold out (remember, just 75 cases were made) the irony is that those who were members of The Setting Society, the winery’s club, could have purchased a traditional sized bottle of the $1,000,000 wine for just $185 a bottle. That was the price the wine was originally offered for on The Setting website. This is a great way to get involved with the brand and get regular allocations of The Setting wines in the future. As a member of The Setting Society, you will receive guaranteed allocation and the first opportunity to purchase The Setting Wines during each release. Oh, and membership would make for a great gift.
Go to thesettingwines.com or email email@example.com.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TACAW celebrates its nascent success via its very first anniversary this weekend. This means hosting an all-day Saturday bash made up of live performances, cocktails and locally sourced fare.
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