The private cellar of Doris Duke 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 20th century.

The cellar highlights a period of wine-making and vintages the like of which will never be repeated; it 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 a few well-chosen ports and madeiras.

The quantities here speak of 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 established in France in the latter half of the 1930s.

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 has been so meticulously catalogued by its owners, so that today's collector can be assured of the provenance.

Tracing the wine's journey through initial invoices (in old French francs) and shipping dockets, cellar inventories, entertaining records and finally to our recent cataloguing and inspection, has brought this cellar to life.

So much information is available that we are able to estimate that the cellar set out in our catalogue pages may represent only a third of its initial magnitude—an incredible thought.

It was with great pleasure that I 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 Vosne Romanée, les Gaudichots 1929 from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 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.

The wines in this collection were removed by Christie's from two of Doris Duke's homes; Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey and Shangri La in Honolulu, Hawaii. The majority were removed from the cellar at Duke Farms which had a temperature of between 55 and 57 degrees during our visit.

The cellar in the basement of the original part of the main house was initially designed as a meat-locker with a 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.

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.

In the Honolulu home the cellar was part of the original house and it is believed that refrigeration was installed at the outset, evidenced 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 cellar conditions. The cellar temperature was recorded at between 53 and 55 degrees during the cataloguing.

The conditions of the bottles in this collection have been carefully detailed for each lot and in many cases are exceptional for their age. The color of all wines is extremely healthy and the levels are in all instances usual for their age; in most cases they are excellent.

As a seal of provenance each bottle will bear a special back label stating that it was consigned from the Private Collection of Doris Duke and sold at NYWinesChristie's; in the belief that the enduring provenance of these bottles will live on in the cellars of collectors around the globe.

These exceptional wines in this collection are matched only by their impeccable provenance.

Richard Brierley, Head of Christie's North American Wine Sales

Also read:
Doris Duke: An American Original >
East meets West in the many spectacular homes of the glamorous heiress >
Western treasures, Eastern inspiration >

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