NEW YORK - All great wine collectors have stories about their “conversion” and the pursuit of their passion. The routes to an extremely full cellar are many and diverse, sometimes involving a real coup de foudre, while others develop over decades. For Don Stott, the starting point was during his junior year at Princeton. While everyone else was drinking beer, Don was going to wine stores to learn, buy and taste different wines, primarily white Burgundies then. He had his first wine refrigerator in a dorm room as a graduate student.
A trip to France in 1963, with his best friend, Bill Burrow, was a milestone in Don’s wine life – he had embarked on a great journey. Don says that he went over to Europe on the great ocean liner France drinking Bordeaux, but came back drinking Burgundy. This visit to France must have been a real eye-opener for someone who had hitherto served Liebfraumilch, cream cheese and caviar to a date! Although I think this might have worked for me, Don would probably serve a different combination today. An illustrious Frenchman with a taste for the good life had told Don to look out for Domaine de la Romanée Conti and de Vogüé, so he did start at the top.
This appreciation of quality has stood him in good stead throughout his wine-loving life and it is the leitmotif of his extraordinary wine collection.
12 BOTTLES, 1971 BONNES MARES, DOMAINE GEORGES ROUMIER ($32,500–42,500).
Right from this point, a flame had been ignited. Don was advised to buy the 1961 Bordeaux, which he duly did, and he began buying wine futures. Pétrus was a favourite, from the outset. He fell in love with white Burgundy and, throughout the 1980s, closely followed DRC’s Le Montrachet. Raveneau was recommended to him and he never looked back. New York’s most fabled restaurants, where wine is key, became homes-away-from-home, starting with the legendary 21 Club. Don ate upstairs there as a child and later graduated to “colluding” with their head sommelier, Mario, planning memorable meals and landmark bottles. Montrachet, Chanterelle and Veritas all feature in this story of a wine lover, but it is perhaps Le Bernardin that has been the restaurant of his heart. My theory is that Don Stott’s other passion is fishing and the fish at Le Bernardin is unrivalled.
Don Stott’s Park Avenue apartment was, for 45 years, a scene of great hospitality. The cellar in Summit housed 12,000 bottles from the collection which, at its peak, contained an additional 100,000 bottles in storage. In the late 1980s, Don went to France with John Gilman, the well-known Burgundy merchant and writer. The visits to Burgundy multiplied and the Hôtel de Beaune was Don’s headquarters from where he made his sorties to the growers he admires and respects. Johan Björklund cooked great meals there and Don eventually bought a share of the ownership in the hotel. Now, he had put down roots and was “part of the scenery” in Burgundy, visiting several times a year for weeks at a time and building strong relationships with the very best growers.
Don Stott loves the Burgundians. They are as highly individual as their wines – this is not a corporate wine region. He speaks with real affection for many of Burgundy’s finest producers such as Christophe Roumier, Jean-Marc Roulot, Dominique Lafon, Eric Rousseau, Véronique Drouhin and Louis-Michel Liger Belair. No doubt, their mutual appreciation of fine food with these unique wines has forged strong links and endless memories.
The superb wines in this fabulous collection are a reflection of the preferences of the owner. The Burgundy
is mouthwatering, absolutely sensational, the German wines are revelatory, the vins d’Alsace are a rare treat, the Rhônes and Champagnes are mythical in their scope and beauty, the Bordeaux are majestic and the Californians and the Italians are the best. Maybe the most exciting element of all is the fact that you can drink everything from now, if you so wish – and I do.
This really is The Unforgettable Collection.
Sotheby’s international wine specialist Serena Sutcliffe, MW is one of the world’s leading authorities on wine.