December 1, 2009 / 11:18 AM / 8 years ago

Wine from cellars of heiress Doris Duke to be auctioned

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Wine from the cellars of a woman once dubbed the "richest little girl in the world" will be up for auction next month at Christie's in New York.

Each of the four lots of three bottles of 1929 Chateau d'Yquem, which have a pre-sale estimate of between $15,000 and $24,000, come from the collection of the late U.S. heiress Doris Duke.

The sale will be held on Dec 9.

"For collectors, it is a rare opportunity to find wine of this age that can be traced back to its release," said Charles Curtis, Christie's head of North American wine sales.

"These lots of the legendary Chateau d'Yquem were purchased on release for the private cellar of Doris Duke, whose wine collection was one of the greatest in North America."

When Duke was born in 1912 newspapers christened her the wealthiest little girl in the world. She was the only child of U.S. tobacco baron James Duke.

Her father, who founded both Duke Energy and the American Tobacco Company which is now known as Fortune Brands, died in 1925. He left the bulk of his estate, an estimated $100 million, to his 12-year-old daughter.

Her life, with two husbands, numerous lovers and a butler who was accused of killing her, inspired books and films.

Despite gaining a reputation as a philanthropist and art collector and acquiring estates in Hawaii, Rhode Island, California, New Jersey and New York, she intimated to a journalist that her fortune was in some ways an obstacle to happiness.

"All that money is a problem sometimes. It happens every time. After I've gone out with a man a few times, he starts to tell me how much he loves me. But how can I know if he really means it? How can I ever be sure?" she told an American journalist over a glass of wine at Rome's Hassler Hotel in 1945, according to her obituary in the New York Times.

But while she may not have found lasting love, she was quite a businesswoman. At the time of her death in 1993, her estate was estimated to be worth $1.2 billion.

Prosecutors decided not to charge her butler, who became a millionaire after Duke's death. The bulk of her estate went to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which funds the arts, education, environmental efforts and other causes.

Reporting by Leslie Gevirtz; Editing by Patricia Reaney

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