The Extraordinary Private Cellar of Doris Duke
The private cellar of Doris Duke is without question one of the most superlative collections of Fine and Rare Wines to come to market in the nearly forty years of dedicated Fine Wine auctions at Christie's. This sale ranks as the most unique offering of pre-war vintages ever sold in North America; both in its impeccable provenance and its depth of some of the best wines of the twentieth century.
The cellar highlights a period of wine-making and vintages whose like will never be repeated and is a true "time capsule" of bottlings spanning 1904 to 1934 and encompassing the great châteaux and domaines of France from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne as well as ports and madeiras.
The quantities here speak to an era of grand entertaining long-since passed, the vintages to yields and wine-making techniques changed by technological advancement and in one case to a vineyard now included in another by the appelation controlée laws.
Not only are the wines themselves remarkable, but the quality of the archival material associated with them is equally astonishing. No collection of this era can have been so meticulously catalogued by its owners, so that today's collector can be assured of the provenance. Researching this collection has brought this cellar to life; tracing the wine's journey from initial invoices (in old French francs) and shipping dockets, through cellar inventories, entertaining records and through to NYWinesChristie's recent cataloguing and inspection.
The cellar set out in these pages may represent only a third of its initial magnitude.
It was with great pleasure that I along with my colleagues from Christie's in New York and NYWines spent memorable days cataloguing this historic collection of wines. It is truly a "once in a lifetime" experience to see such quantities of Romanée Conti 1934, La Mission Haut Brion 1929 and Yquem 1929, amongst many others, in one place. It is incredible to see such wines as Les Gaudichots 1929 from DRC and Armand Rousseau's 1934 Chambertin at all, let alone in the quantities represented here. It is difficult to draw out highlights from this collection, one so full of exciting wines and true rarities.
Each of the wines has been researched allowing us to include vintage notes and history of the châteaux and domaines.
The wines in this collection were removed from two of Miss Duke's former homes; at Duke Farms in Somerville, New Jersey and Shangri La, Honolulu, Hawaii.
Built by James Buchanan Duke, Doris Duke's father at the turn of the twentieth century, the estate amounts to some 2700 acres and is amongst the state's largest privately owned estates.
The cellar in the basement of the original part of the main house was originally designed as a meat-locker with sealed door and was converted into the wine cellar during the 1930s. It is understood that refrigeration was installed during the second half of the 1930s.
The majority of the wines in this collection were removed from the cellar at Duke Farms which had a temperature of between 55-57 degrees during our visit.
Many of the bottles bear slip labels from Bellows and Company, one of America's foremost importers and wine merchants since 1830. Indeed it was Frederick S. Wildman a Connecticut-born wine connoisseur, who bought the century-old Bellows and Co., in 1934 following the repeal of Prohibition. The company now bears his name.
The Honolulu home of Doris Duke was commissioned by her and built from 1936 to 1938 on a five-acre waterfront property in an Islamic style.
The cellar was part of the original house and it is believed that refrigeration was installed at the outset, witnessed by the presence of the original compressor (now unused) at the property.
Christie's staff removed the wines from this cellar in 2001 at which time notes were made regarding the conditions of the cellar. The cellar temperature was recorded at between 53 and 55 degrees during the cataloguing and whilst humidity could not be accurately determined, local climate would suggest relatively high humidity.
Many of the bottles have slip labels from the "Island Wine Company, Territory of Hawaii" and appear to have been shipped directly there.
Wines that were removed from Miss Duke's Hawaii home, Shangri La have been indicated in the catalogue.
The conditions of the bottles in this collection have been carefully detailed for each lot and in many cases are exceptional for age. The colour of all wines is extremely healthy and the levels are in all instances usual for age in most cases excellent.
As a seal of provenance each bottle will bear a back label stating that it was consigned from the Private Collection of Doris Duke and sold at NYWinesChristie's.
The exceptional wines in this collection are matched only by their impeccable provenance.
Head of North American Wine Sales
THE EXTRAORDINARY PRIVSTE CELLAR OF DORIS DUKE
AN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVER
Some thoughts from Michael Broadbent, MW.
The Extraordinary Cellar of Doris Duke will go down in the annals of Christie's as one of the great 'pristine' cellars. By 'pristine', I mean a cellar or collection of wines which have never moved since originally purchased and laid down, remaining correctly binned , in ideal temperature and humidity conditions, untouched until removal to Christie's for sale.
Since the inauguration of the new wine department in 1966, Christie's have had the privilege of handling some - most - of the great private cellars, almost invariably being sold by the elderly grandsons of the gentleman who had originally purchased the wine.
One of the most renowned was that of Glamis Castle, wines purchased by the 13th Earl of Strathmore and binned in the mid 1870s. The contents of the cellar were sold by the present Queen's cousin in 1971. The list goes on: in 1969 from the three great estates of the Duke of Buccleuch; the amazing cellar uncovered by Sir William Gladstone when he inherited the Fasque estate - the cellar had been padlocked and never opened since the 3rd baronet died in 1927; dozens of bottles of 1865 Lafite and other rare wines from Sir George Mayrick's two great houses, sold in 1970.
The earliest and probably the finest of all, the unprecedented range of pre-phylloxera Lafite from the cellars of the Earl of Roseberry sold at Christie's first "Finest and Rarest" sale in May 1967.
Pristine. Unmoved. Doris Duke's cellar is in the same league.
A chance to taste history
A remarkable pre-sale tasting of selected wines from Doris Duke's cellar was held at Christie's in London on February 14th. Senior Christie's staff were assembled to judge the quality and condition of the wines sent over well in advance to give plenty of time to settle. Richard Brierley had flown over specially from New York; he was joined by David Elswood, Anthony Hanson MW and myself.
All of us were impressed by the good levels for their age and overall condition.
Anthony's and my brief tasting notes made on the spot follow. My summary: all the old vintages were correct, in the sense that they were in the best possible condition for their age and vintage, commensurate with 'pristine cellar conditions'.
Michael Broadbent, MW.
Senior Consultant and Director of Christie's London
DOM PERIGNON--VINTAGE 1921
This collection opens with a remarkable cache of Dom Pérignon 1921 - the first vintage of the prestige cuvée from Moët et Chandon; although the story of this wine is somewhat special...
In 1935 Moët were asked to supply a special bottling