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Quake Takes a Toll on Southland Cellars : Many top restaurants' wine collections were hit hard by Monday's temblor; Valentino may have sustained the most damage

January 23, 1994|DAN BERGER | Dan Berger is The Times wine writer.

The fact that wine, from the most humble to the most exalted, is packaged in breakable containers becomes a critical issue in earthquakes. And when Monday's temblor hit, Southern California lost some of the greatest wine in the world.

Many restaurant wine cellars throughout the Southland were hard hit, but the largest loss, reported in Wednesday's Times, occurred at Valentino, the Santa Monica Italian restaurant that had one of the world's finest restaurant wine collections. Owner Piero Selvaggio had acquired hundreds of selections over the years, including many irreplaceable older wines from great vintages.

"What's next, locusts?" asked owner Selvaggio's wife, Stacy. The couple lost their home in the Malibu fire three months ago.

Included in the losses at Valentino were wines such as multiple bottles of 1969 Romanee-Conti, three cases of 1978 Sassicaia, untold numbers of bottles of La Tache from vintages like 1969, 1971 and 1972, three cases of 1990 Leroy Burgundies, and collections of rare and expensive ports and grappas.

About 30,000 bottles of wine were jolted from the wine bins in one of his two second-floor wine storage rooms and broken; wine in his other storage room was mostly boxed in cases and sustained less damage. With a collection of some 80,000 bottles of wine, Selvaggio says he lost more than 40% of his collection.

"When I got upstairs, I couldn't open the door for a while because the broken glass was waist high," he said.

Selvaggio said the loss was hard to calculate in dollars, but in wholesale cost, he said, it was at least a quarter of a million dollars--the equivalent, he estimates, of 20 years of profits. He had no insurance.

Other restaurants that didn't have as much money tied up in wine inventory were far luckier, though many lost glassware.

Joachim Splichal at Patina, who stores his wine in individual wine racks that are attached to walls (not in free-standing bins) lost just two bottles of wine at his Patina Restaurant on Melrose.

However, his impressive glass-faced wine case in the front of his Pinot restaurant in Studio City tipped over and $18,000 in wine was lost.

At Campanile, wine manager Manfred Krankel said the restaurant was "pretty lucky" to lose only $4,000 in wine. Among the bottles: some El Molino Pinot Noir, Grace Family Cabernet, Chateau d'Yquem, a few bottles of First Growth Bordeaux, 1990 Chateau Rayas, Williams and Selyem Pinot Noirs and other odds and ends.

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At the Daily Grill in Encino, manager Michael Hill said he lost "lots of wine, including a dozen bottles of Silver Oak Cabernet and a case of Jordan Cabernet," a total of about $5,000 in all.

"The earthquake gods didn't favor any one label," said Joshua Armstrong, wine manager forI Cugini in Santa Monica. "We lost all the grappa and about 15 cases of wines including a six-pack of 1989 Solaia. Overall, it was pretty evenly distributed in terms of breakage."

Ronald Knoll at Knoll's Black Forest in Santa Monica had a significant amount of glassware and stein breakage. He also lost many collectible German wines. Among domestic wines, he lost bottles of 1975 and 1978 Mondavi Reserve Cabernet.

His family-owned restaurant was not insured: "For a commercial operation, earthquake insurance is extremely expensive, if available," he said.

Eddie Kerkhofs at Le Dome said, "I'm fortunate I didn't lose more. The irony is that I prepared for an earthquake by putting all of my good bottles as low as possible on the racks. Unfortunately an imperial of 1985 Lynch-Bages was broken when a cheap bottle of Beaujolais that I had stored on top of the rack fell on it."

He said Le Dome on Sunset Boulevard lost a lot of Champagne, but three bottles of 1985 Petrus fell to the floor yet did not break. In all, he estimated his wine loss to be about $3,000.

At Il Mito in Studio City and at Monty's on Topanga Canyon Blvd., owners were so busy cleaning up the mess and taking a rough inventory they couldn't estimate their losses. At Il Mito, a spokesman said, "We lost all the wine," and said it would be a week before a full inventory was done.

At I Cugini Monday night, Armstrong said that people were ordering wine at the restaurant as if they were celebrating--celebrating surviving yet another natural disaster.

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