Benjamin Epstein

Buying Spirit Evades Museum Auction

December 10, 1985|Benjamin Epstein

The only thing missing at the second annual Newport Harbor Art Museum wine auction was buying spirit.

Maybe the Grinch stole it.

"It was disappointing," admitted Patrick Grubb, master of wine and Christy's auctioneer, after the sale, which took place Thursday night in the South Coast Village Mercantile Building in Costa Mesa. "It may be too late in the year; that's what the organizers reckon, anyway."

During the auction, Grubb, who'd flown in from London for the event, admonished the crowd for its reticence.

"You're being very shy tonight," he chided. "You're going to be sorry tomorrow when you sober up." He put Lot 3, three bottles of 1955 Chateau Latour, aside when it failed to inspire a minimum bid.

Reticence notwithstanding, the sale generated $35,000 for the museum. "After all, there were some good buys," commented steering committee member Chuck Hanson, whose Hi-Time Cellars was co-sponsor of the event with South Coast Plaza.

The mood during the auction stood in marked contrast to that during the splendid buffet that preceded: 250 guests sampled wines from 25 California wineries and cuisine from nine Orange County restaurants including Vintages and Antoine, both of Newport Beach, Morell's of Irvine, and Diedrich Coffee of Costa Mesa.

In addition to salmon mousseline and spicy pasta, Panache of Fullerton offered a fantasy in Mylar.

"Just think of me as a living hors d'oeuvres table," explained Deborah DuShane, owner of Panache.

DuShane, a former model, cooking-school teacher, journalist and "food stylist," created a food station at which the table doubled as the server, the server's dress doubled as the tablecloth.

"It's called statement making," explained DuShane. "The only thing I had to worry about was going to the restroom before I got into this thing."

Auction steering committee director Robert Lawrence Balzer had some difficulty wooing guests away from the buffet.

"I do not envy (auctioneer) Patrick Grubb's assignment tonight," Balzer, speaking in a rather theatrical manner, began his pre-auction remarks. "Earlier in the evening I said to him, 'You're not going to be out of here till 5 o'clock in the morning.' He said, 'Robert, we will be finished by 10:30.'

"But I wonder--there are still all too many people downstairs--alas, downstairs-- please come upstairs, the show is about to begin. . . . Mr. Grubb is going to have to move rapidly, or you will be seeing the dawn over the Segerstrom bean fields. . . . Once this show moves, it's going to be like a plane taking off on the runway. . . . " The show did not quite take off like a plane on the runway, of course. But Lot 75, a collection of wines representing (legendary wine expert) Andre Tchelistcheff's 25 years at Beaulieu Vineyards and the centerpiece offering of the 194-lot event, elicited a bid of $1,600 from Gerald Musial.

High bid of the evening, however, was not for rare wines at all: Museum trustee Pam Goldstein and her husband Sam offered $4,000 for a barge cruise through the Burgundy region of France.

Wine aficionados gathered the previous night at Hi-Time Cellars for a pre-sale tasting reception, where auction chairman Doug Neff lauded committee member Geoff Labitzke for his work on the catalogue.

Five cliff-top hugging Laguna Beach homes featuring spectacularly dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean provided the focus for "Christmas by the Sea," a home tour sponsored by the Chopin chapter of the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Proceeds from the tour and Christmas boutique, which attracted nearly 1,200 over the weekend, amounted to more than $10,000, according to tour chairwoman Janice Johnson.

Because Nancy Snyder loves to cook, decorator Clifford Fulkerson followed a fruit and vegetable motif for the Snyder home. Kent Snyder's wine cellar indicates his favorite fruit is the grape.

Paul Ecke of Black Iris chose a nautical theme for the chateau-like home of Jay and Margit Hilgren. The Christmas tree, for instance, featured shells. Floating candles graced the reflecting pool at the entry; the table featured $60,000 worth of crystal from L'ippe/Waren.

A blue neon "Noel" and reindeer peering down from the roof greeted tour goers at Earl and Barbara Rippe's eclectic contemporary home, built 12 years ago. "It kind of looks Art Nouveau-ish, but it isn't, really," noted Barbara Rippe. "I call it my mosque." Laguna Tradition decorated with unusual blossoms.

Kim Habid of Panage in Dana Point enlivened the home of Tom and Betty Kemp with topiary trees; aromatic fresh greens, spices and nuts spilled from a basket in the kitchen.

A life-size Santa on the exercise cycle was the highlight of the final home, the residence of Dick and Debbie Gebhard, which Flower Visions decked with quantities of poinsettias. The Gebhards opened their home for the preview party Thursday night.

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