The most impressive auction of Château Haut-Brion wines to date has its roots in two parents trying to care for their son. In 2016, Prince Robert de Luxembourg and his wife, Princess Julie, were devastated to find that their youngest son, Frederik, was gravely ill with a mysterious disease. Frederik was eventually diagnosed with a mitochondrial disease, a genetic disorder that robs the body’s cells of energy, in turn causing multiple organ dysfunction and failure. His particular illness is due to a mutation in the PolG gene, but multiple mitochondrial diseases have now been discovered, believed to afflict one in every 5,000 people.
After five years working to find effective treatments for their own child, Prince Robert and Princess Julie are focusing on helping other families. Last year they founded the PolG Foundation, dedicated to funding research into treatments for mitochondrial diseases. And to raise money for the cause, they have partnered with Sotheby's to auction an impressive collection straight from Prince Robert's wine cellar at Haut-Brion.
"We have enjoyed a long relationship with Prince Robert over many years and he proposed that we work together on this very personal and meaningful sale," Jamie Ritchie, Sotheby's worldwide chairman of wine & spirits, told Wine Spectator.
"I never had any intention of selling these bottles," said Prince Robert, the fourth generation of the Dillon family to oversee its growing wine company, which now includes Haut-Brion, its neighbor La Mission Haut-Brion and Château Quintus in St.-Emilion. As he explained in the catalog, "Whatever would not have been enjoyed with family and friends, I would have left for the young generation to enjoy. When I first entertained the idea of emptying out my cellar in this rather public fashion, I of course started by approaching my wife and children, to ask them if they agreed with this proposition. There was not a minute of hesitation."
The sale, which will be conducted May 21 at Sotheby's New York offices and online, includes more than 800 lots, a treasure trove of wines, most of which have spent their entire lives in the cellars at Haut-Brion. Numerous cases of the classic-rated 1990 and 1989 vintages are available, as well as magnums. One lot includes four balthazars (12-liter bottles) of the 2009 vintage of Haut-Brion, Haut-Brion Blanc, La Mission and La Mission Blanc.
Wines collected by Prince Robert are also up for grabs, with wines from fellow first-growths, as well as châteaus Ausone and Palmer and even imperials (6-liter bottles) of Pétrus from various vintages in original wood cases. What's more, the Dillons are members of Primum Familiae Vini, an alliance of family-owned wineries that includes names like Italy’s Antinoris, the Symingtons of Portugal and the Perrins of France’s Rhône Valley. They have donated rarities for the sale as well.
For Ritchie and his team, there is rarely a sale with such ideal provenance. "The direct-from-the-winery provenance is perfect, so we did not face some of the usual challenges," he said. "This really came down to the logistics of inspecting the wines at Château Haut-Brion, collating the wines from the other generous donors and working with Prince Robert to ensure that we told the story in the right way, so that it does justice to the rarity and provenance of the wines and informs every one of the purpose of the sale, which is to raise awareness and maximize the funds for the PolG Foundation."
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