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A Story that Will Move You to Tears (January 9, 2009)

I have come to the point when all wine lovers begin to break out in a cold sweat. My wife and I are moving lock, stock and bottles, along with Pinot the Wonder Dog and Nancy the cat. By the time you read this my wines will have been in transit and I am dreading the thought.

We have sold our three-storey brick house in North Toronto and are down-sizing to a two-bedroom condo not far away. But I am leaving behind a climate-controlled cellar, capacity 1000 bottles, and my wines have to be braced for travel.

The last time we moved, I had Cellar Withdrawal symptoms too, made all the more painful when I learned that the new purchasers of the house were going to use my beautiful wine cellar as a cedar closet for the wife's fur coats.

It is no accident I chose the end of October as a moving date because the weather (I'm keeping my fingers crossed) will not be too hot and nor will it be too cold. Wine people have long memories and I have been haunted by the fate of a library set of Mouton Rothschild bottles – every art label from 1945 to 1994 – that occurred during the winter of 1998. The wines had been purchased as a lot at charity auction two years earlier by the Royal York Hotel in Toronto (before they became Fairmont). The idea was to display the unique set in a custom-made cabinet at their various properties across the country.

In that winter of doom the wines were on view in the company's Whistler hotel in British Columbia. Their next stop was Mont Tremblant, the ski resort in Quebec. The hotel had wisely made an inventory of the precious bottles with a description of the fill level and the condition of the label for each. As the collection left a property notes were made if there had been any deterioration. Each inventory sheet was signed and witnessed by the hotel and the shipping company. On January 8, the wines left Whistler in their polystyrene packing cases, a dozen wines in each container, standing upright, set in wooden cases.

They were transported in an unheated truck for three days across Canada in winter!

When the truck arrived in Quebec all the wines had frozen. Their corks had been forced out and most of the bottles had leaked. In some cases the corks were floating on the wine; in others, the corks had erupted through the lead capsules. Many fill levels were dramatically down and even those bottles that had no evidence of leakage showed that the hermetic seal between the cork and the bottle neck had been broken. The possibility of oxidation was obvious.

Naturally, the hotel sued the shipping company; the collection was ruined. The insurance company balked at paying $40,000 to replace the fifty-three bottles (including the two Jean-Paul Riopelle labels designed for the 1978 vintage – Baron Philippe could not make up his mind which he peferred, so he used both – and the controversial 1993 sketch of a prepubescent naked girl by the late Count Balthaszar Klossowski de Rola, better known as Balthus, a label that was banned in the US). The insurers were only prepared to pay for bottles that were obviously ruined.

Now, my collection is not worth $40,000, but I'm still concerned because, at the time of writing, there is nowhere for them to go. Orphans! I am currently negotiating with the building to purchase a space to construct a cellar or a least something large enough to accommodate two climate-controlled cabinets. Otherwise, there's going to be one hell of a moving-out party for the neighbours.




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