NEW YORK – Silicon Valley pioneer James H. Clark is parting with the best of the best from his peerless cellar. And this is great news for wine connoisseurs.
With his launch of the company behind Netscape Navigator in the 1990s, James Clark helped invent our early experience of the Internet. When in 1998 Clark sold the company, founded with Marc Andreessen, he reaped a significant sum (some $2 billion), and he was able to ramp up his pursuit of a hobby that he had already begun in earnest: buying fine wine. “I may have gotten overly enthusiastic about it,” says the no-nonsense Clark with a chuckle. “I hired a guy to purchase a bunch of wines. I kind of let him go.”
Clark, 70, has decided to sell a significant part of his collection with Sotheby’s. Last month, Sotheby’s Hong Kong sold a group of 67 rare and sought-after magnums from the great Burgundy producer Henri Jayer – the kind of offering collectors will be talking about for a while, as large formats from that house are few.
And now, on 15 November Sotheby’s New York holds the second sale, which focuses on Clark’s Italian and Rhône wines. “It’s the best collection of Italian and Rhône wine we have ever sold,” says Jamie Ritchie, Sotheby’s Wine CEO and President, Americas & Asia. “James Clark has been very focused on buying the best of the best – the top vintages from the top producers,” Ritchie continues. “Every one is a great bottle to drink.”
He singles out case quantities of Côte Rôtie from Guigal, the great Rhône specialist; multiple cases and magnums from Hermitage La Chapelle, from the hands of the very best producers, going back to the historic 1961 vintage; and Barolo and Barbaresco from Bruno Giacosa, one of the masters of Piedmontese wine.
“Name a great producer and he’s got it – in case quantity,” says Duncan Sterling, head of Sotheby’s New York wine auctions. Super Tuscan wines are also well represented, such as cases of the legendary 1985 vintage of Sassicaia. These landmark red wines are complemented by white Burgundies from the raved-about producers Coche-Dury, Lafon and Ramonet.
Clark is a Texas native who spent much of his life in California. He taught engineering at the University of California at Santa Cruz and then Stanford before getting into the tech industry. After selling Netscape, he moved to an entirely new field: health care, co-founding the company Healtheon, which became WebMD.
His Netscape years were chronicled in Michael Lewis’s 1999 book The New New Thing, making him a hero of the first Internet era. It was a heady time for wine appreciation in Silicon Valley, and many in the tech business discovered the pleasures of the grape. But Clark was too busy to pay attention to what others were doing. “Marc Andreessen and I drank wine together,” he says, “but I have no clue what anyone else was doing.”
Despite his strong ties to California, Clark’s taste in wine has always been decidedly European. Burgundy is his great love. “I became interested in Burgundy in the late 1980s,” he says. “Sometime in the early 1990s, Bill Koch” – also one of the world’s top wine collectors and a fellow billionaire – “introduced me to really fine old Burgundy. When I was able to, later on, I just started buying. I like the lightness, the character and the complexity, and they have a deep expression of terroir.”
Clark expanded his taste to include the most heralded achievements from the Rhône and Piedmont, but, with an 18,000-bottle cellar remaining, he has found that he may have gotten ahead of himself. “I have more wine than I can ever drink,” he says.
Still, he is doing his best to work through the supply. “I drink wine every day,” says Clark, noting that with the help of family and friends, he goes through about 1,000 bottles a year. “I drink the really good things,” he adds. “You never know what will happen tomorrow. You might as well enjoy the day.”
That is also good advice for anyone eyeing the amazing contents of the November sale.
Ted Loos writes about art and wine for Vogue and Vanity Fair.
A Magnificent Selection from the Exceptional Cellar of James H. Clark will be on offer at Sotheby’s New York on 15 November. Enquiries: +1 212 606 7050. Visit sothebys.com/wine to learn more about our upcoming wine auctions worldwide.