January 7, 2010 / 5:46 PM / 9 years ago

Large life, large wine bottles up for grabs at Sotheby's

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Prominent wine collector Lloyd Flatt was a man who lived life large and had a passion for large bottles of wine. About 1,500 bottles from his collection will be auctioned in March at Sotheby’s.

The collection, which includes a Jeroboam, or double magnum, of 1959 Lafite Rothschild that could fetch up to $30,000 and a case of 1989 Haut Brion Blanc estimated to sell for up to $15,000, could total more than $600,000 at the March 20 sale.

“Flatt was lean and tall, with a neatly trimmed beard,” said Benjamin Wallace in his description of the former aerospace engineer and one or America’s premier wine collectors, in his book “The Billionaire’s Vinegar”.

“His customary outfit of a tailored suit dapperly offset the triangular black patch he had worn over his right eye since a childhood accident,” he added.

Flatt died in January 2008 after amassing a collection of wine that became almost as famous in wine circles as he was. He began collecting in the 1960s, long before there were wine critics and the Wine Spectator magazine.

“Collectors had nothing to go by other than their own palettes,” Flatt once said.

His collection was so vast that he moved from one New Orleans home in the French Quarter to another nearby and turned the first into a giant wine cellar, complete with temperature controls and special lighting.

At one point, he reportedly had about 30,000 bottles of first-growth Bordeaux, top Burgundies and large bottles of Champagne — more than most of the finest French restaurants.

Following a divorce in 1990 he sold that collection, moved to Alexandria, Virginia and reassembled another of 3,000 bottles.

“There was the rebuilding of Europe, the rebuilding of Atlanta and then there was the rebuilding of Lloyd Flatt’s cellar,” his widow, Laure, said.

In addition to collecting, Flatt enjoyed drinking wine.

“He didn’t buy it to invest in it, he bought it to consume it,” Laure said of her husband, who left his family’s farm in Tennessee with $35 and a one-way bus ticket to work for General Motors. Although he never graduated from college, he became an aerospace consultant and a self-made millionaire.

Laure said Flatt taught himself about wine after his first trip to London “where they made fun of him and his bumpkin ways. He didn’t know anything about wine. He came back wanting to know everything.”

Eventually he did.

At a 1987 tasting of 60 different vintages of Chateau Ausone hosted by Flatt, then-New York Times wine reporter Frank Prial, described his host as “a special kind of wine enthusiast ... able to look at his bottle of 1879 Chateau Ausone, acknowledge that it probably isn’t very good, realize he could sell it for literally thousands of dollars more than he paid and still say, ‘Let’s try it, pull the cork.”

Serena Sutcliffe, Sotheby’s wine director and a friend of Flatt’s, said: “He was not a wine and food snob.”

He often enjoyed Dom Perignon and Dominos pizza or a Lafite with a cheeseburger, according to his widow.

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