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The Collectors : Tales From The Cellar

July 14, 1994|DAN BERGER

Andre L. Simon, the French expatriate who wrote more than 100 books on wine and the wine industry from London, amassed a marvelous collection of rare wines. As he reached his mid-70s, however, Simon reportedly believed he would never drink all the wine he had collected unless he began drinking it immediately. He set to the task with determination.

As the story goes, Simon died at 93 with only one bottle remaining in his cellar.

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In 1985, for a dinner to celebrate Napa Valley wine collector Bernard Rhodes' 65th birthday, San Diego collector Tawfiq Khoury promised an imperial (equal to eight standard-size bottles) of the very rare 1920 Chateau Margaux that he had purchased from a London auction house a couple of months before the dinner.

Unfortunately, on arrival in this country, the bottle broke. "I accidentally kicked it," says Dennis Foley, who now works for the San Francisco auction house Butterfield and Butterfield. "It was packed in a wooden box, which I had set down on the pavement as I opened the door. I kicked it only enough to move it an inch, but wine started leaking out of it.

"It was really strange. One side of the bottle was very thick, and the other side was as thin as a sheet of paper. Bottles were all hand-made back then, and the mold must have been off-center."

Undeterred, Khoury called the auction house, which located another imperial of 1920 Margaux, and the bottle was served on schedule at the dinner.

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Larry Seibel, then a San Francisco wine merchant, was at his in-laws' house one Sunday in 1966 when the phone rang.

"My wife said it was Dr. (Benjamin) Ichinose. He was calling to say he wanted to buy some wine. I got on the phone and he said, 'Meet me at the store immediately. I just sold an orange grove and I want to buy some wine.' "

"I met him at the store and he bought $30,000 worth of 1959 Trockenbeerenauslesen ," says Seibel.

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Marvin Overton, a Ft. Worth neurosurgeon, amassed one of the world's top collections of wine. Included were dozens of cases of rare Bordeaux and Burgundies, and one of the world's best collections of vintage Port.

Moreover, Overton was an omnipresent force at major wine tastings and auctions, and even acted as auctioneer at a few events.

In 1993, however, Overton announced that he had found religion. He sold off his entire collection of wine, netting more than a million dollars.

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Andy Lawlor and Linda Lutz of Dexter, Mich., have collected some of the greatest wines in the world and often taste them with friends in very casual settings.

One day in 1985, a number of wine collector friends came over to their house for a pool party. On the spur of the moment, Lawlor decided it would be nice to taste all the First Growth Bordeaux--chateaux Lafite-Rothschild, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild--from one of the greatest vintages of all time, 1945.

The five wines were served in that order on a patio table. All the tasters agreed that the Mouton was best.

When all but a scant ounce remained in Lawlor's five glasses, the couple's then 3-year-old son, Jarrad, toddled out.

"He grabbed the Lafite glass and took a sip," says Lawlor. "Then he took a sip of the Margaux and so forth. And when he got to the Mouton, he gulped the whole thing down and he turned to Andy and said, 'This is pretty good stuff, papa.' "

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