Grapes of Worth - The Spring Quarterly Auction, March 2017

Mark Solomon got the idea to propose a Fine Wine and Whiskey department to Leland Little Auctions after bidding in an unlikely local auction that we participated in conducting. In late November of 2009, a court-ordered auction of a fugitive banker’s possessions included bottles of the famed Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Burgundy. Speculating that bidders’ attention might be focused on the bankers’ other luxuries, Solomon hoped he might come away with a relative bargain on one of the world’s most sought-after wines.

Instead, he was amazed to see the bidding escalate well above the bottles’ actual value. He won no wine that day, but Solomon gained an insight: there was an active and lively interest in fine wine in North Carolina. Yet the nearest wine auction houses were in New York City and Chicago, where Solomon had acquired some of his own bottles. We ought to have one here, he thought.

His wife’s family members were our clients, and they encouraged Solomon to approach us with his idea. Within two years, with the Fine Wine department burgeoning, and already adding whiskey to the portfolio, Solomon left his line of work in neuropsychology to pursue his passion for the grape.

Solomon’s background in the research sciences, he discovered, was more than a handy accessory for his new job—it was indispensable. For evaluating a bottle of wine’s authenticity, value, and storage quality, “there is no comprehensive source,” he says, and no courses that teach the necessary skills. Solomon began consulting any books and articles he could find that imparted knowledge about the complexities of wine bottle identification, provenance and soundness. Mostly, he says, “you learn from other people’s mistakes.”

Meanwhile, his exhaustive research has led him to collaborate with colleague Joe Waddell, Leland Little Auctions’ IT Director, to found True Bottle (www.truebottle.com), an online resource for researching, analyzing and forecasting wine auction prices as well as authenticating bottles when counterfeits are suspected. In maintaining True Bottle, Solomon has built not only a valuation resource but also a formidable archive of high-resolution images of authentic bottles of the world’s foremost wines—a boon to collectors.

Since 2010, under his direction, we have offered the finest wines in the world, from the greatest vintages, carefully sourced from consignors with excellent cellaring. The Spring Quarterly Auction features a bounty of these great wines, including a magnum of the rare and extraordinary Château de Beaucastel Hommage a Jacques Perrin 1990, which received a perfect 100-point score from the preeminent wine critic Robert Parker, and which True Bottle values at over $900 for the standard 750 milliliter bottle (the magnum should sell for more than twice that amount). The 1990 is just the second vintage of the Hommage (the honoree is the vignerons’ father), and it is produced only in years when growing conditions are favorable for a parcel of very old Mourvedre grapevines, which produce an intense, rich, powerful and complex “wine to be kept for your retirement,” in the words of the Perrin brothers.

For the historic 1990 vintage, that retirement is now. This is a wine at the glorious peak of its late maturity. No mistakes to learn from here—only perfection.