There are very few internationally recognized wine collectors whose cellars are considered legendary. So, what makes Park B. Smith a part of this small group of greatly revered collectors? Wine collections reflect the characteristics of their owners, which in Park’s case have the following traits: pioneer, visionary, leader, risk-taker, single-minded focus, self-belief, determination, dedication, loyalty and generosity. We see this throughout both Park’s life and his wine collection.
P ark started collecting wine over 45 years ago, when he converted his root cellar into a wine cellar in the 1970s. This room still exists today, much as it did then, but the cellar expanded to three rooms in the 1980s and to seven rooms in the 1990s, totaling 8,000 sq ft, which, of course, includes a dining room and kitchen. This illustrates a healthy appetite for enjoying wine, as Park never bought for investment, intending to drink every bottle. At one time, the collection exceeded the equivalent of 85,000 bottles – enough to last 233 years if he drank a bottle a day. I say equivalent, because Park probably has the highest ratio of magnums and large format bottles from any collection I have seen. And, while the scale of the cellar is extraordinarily impressive to any visitor, it is even more so when you realize that the racks are double-deep, even for the double magnums, so there is twice as much wine as first appears. With this quantity of wine to keep track of, it will not surprise you that it is all immaculately organized with an impeccable temperature-controlled system, maintained at 53 degrees, fitted with alarms for any variation in temperature.
At one time, the collection exceeded the equivalent of 85,000 bottles – enough to last 233 years if he drank a bottle a day.
Park has a voracious appetite for wines from two regions: California and the Rhône. As a result of his very close friendship with Robert Parker, he was an early supporter and collector of the new wave of wines coming from the Napa Valley in the early 1990s. As for the Rhône, he is known as “Mr. Châteauneuf-du-Pape” with a truly astonishing collection of nearly 12,000 bottles from the likes of Pégau, Rayas and Bonneau, to name only a few. References to Châteauneuf-du-Pape are everywhere in his home and office, including his car number plate, and in 2004, he was made an Honorary Vigneron by the producers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
"Perhaps nobody has realized the vision (of a wine cellar) in details so glorious as Park ... a textile entrepreneur who is also one of the world’s great wine collectors."
Park’s enjoyment of Châteauneuf is what he is best known for as he generously opens and shares his wines so others can enjoy the same appreciation for them as he does. Arriving at his house at 10 AM, you would invariably be greeted by a glass of Cuvée Capo 2003 – for Park, being an early riser, 10 AM was the equivalent of lunchtime. At a memorable tasting with Eric Asimov of The New York Times, five of us tasted fourteen bottles over a long lunch, which included all the most legendary wines: Rayas ‘78, ‘89, ‘90; Bonneau’s Celestins ‘89, ’90; Pégau’s Cuvée Capo ’98, ’00, ‘03; Beaucastel ’66; as well as some Chave Hermitage just for comparison.
As with most great wine collections, there comes a time when the realization dawns that it will be physically impossible to drink the full contents of the cellar, so Park has once again decided to let others enjoy the wines that he is unlikely to drink. In the meantime, he will continue to do what makes him happiest, which is to be sitting outside, in his garden in Connecticut, with a glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Park was in the textile business, owning and operating Park B. Smith, Ltd., a privately held New York-based home furnishings business that designed and provided hand- and machine-woven home fashion products, supplying many of the retailers who are household names across the United States. The Park B. Smith Company was founded on the belief that the definition of fashion is constant change and the company offered an ever-changing mix of stylish home textiles for the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and dining room, along with hostess gifts and accessories. Over the years, Park traveled to Asia well over 300 times and always took this opportunity to make wine an important part of these trips, frequently visiting vineyards on the way there or in return.
Park’s appetite for buying wine, and the realization of how many bottles he would need to consume, led him to partner with Steve Verlin and open Veritas restaurant in 1998. This wine-centric restaurant was ground-breaking, even for New York City. Park’s cellar focusing on Bordeaux, Rhône and California was a perfect fit with Steve’s Burgundy and Champagne, and when this was combined with Scott Bryan’s excellent food, it became a “must-go” for any wine lover visiting NYC, let alone those of us who lived here. Veritas led the way for American restaurants to be heavily focused on wine and for sommeliers to be as important as the chef – the ingredients of the cellar matching those in the kitchen. Over the 15 years that Veritas was open, countless thousands of great bottles were opened and enjoyed by wine lovers from all over the world.
"Unquestionably, drawing from Park’s magnificent and deep cellar was instrumental in the creating of Veritas, the wine destination restaurant that New York City and the wine world had not seen before."
Park attended College of the Holy Cross, graduating in 1954. His experience there had a profound impact on the rest of his life and he took the Jesuit credo “men and women for others” as an important principle. He has never forgotten what he gained from those years and over a period of ten years became the largest donor in their history.
Park built four buildings at Holy Cross. First, in 1997, he contributed $1.5 million for the construction of the Carol and Park B. Smith Wellness Center which included a state-of-the-art fitness and training facility. In 2000, he donated $10 million for the construction of a new building, the Carol and Park B. Smith Hall, which houses the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture. This gift was the largest ever in the history of Holy Cross at the time and the first eight-figure gift, dwarfing other previous contributions. In 2006, he launched a $10 million challenge that helped vault the Lift High the Cross Campaign far beyond its original $175 million goal, all the way to $216 million.
This contribution went towards the construction of a new state-of-the-art science complex, called Smith Labs and Integrated Science Complex, as well as a new soccer stadium named after his wife, the Linda Johnson Smith Soccer Stadium. The entire $5 million proceeds from Sotheby’s single-owner auction in November 2006, titled The Magnificent Cellar of Park B. Smith sold to benefit The College of the Holy Cross, were donated, going towards construction and restoration of the College’s athletic facilities. Park not only supported his alma mater, he has also been very active over many years with the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation (MC-LEF) giving them a significant gift in 1999. Due to generous donors like Park, MC-LEF currently provides a $30,000 scholarship account for every child who loses a parent serving in the United State Marine Corps or any Federal Law Enforcement Agency.
"His generosity and leadership have changed the landscape of the campus… He and Linda are dedicated to the Jesuit ideal of developing the whole person – spiritual, intellectual and physical. They have helped turn dreams into realities."
Asked why he supported this organization, the reply was simple: “I like to help the kids”. But there is a similarity with his relationship with Holy Cross: giving back and being loyal has always been important to Park. Interestingly, Park served in the Marine Corps, stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where he first discovered his passion and love for wine, finding that a heavily discounted Beaujolais tasted pretty good. Park B. Smith has had a profound effect on the lives of numerous people, many of whom he knew and many he did not. When the wines from this auction are delivered to the new owners, some of whom he would know and many he would not, they can each toast his life and generosity and appreciate the impeccable condition of his wines.