He styled himself “Mr Normal,” gave himself a pay cut and prefers to live in his own modest flat than the presidential palace, so it made sense when French President Francois Hollande decided to secure one more publicity coup for national belt-tightening by selling off part of the Elysee wine cellar.
Though flogging off one tenth of the presidential wine collection appalled certain French collectors, who saw it as an act of sabotage against national heritage and an affront to the palates of foreign dignitaries, the unprecedented auction has exceeded expectations.
It was hoped it would make 250,000 euros (US$325,000) over two days, but more than 300,000 euros was raised on the first night alone. The takings will partly contribute to replenishing the Elysee cellar with less extravagant vintages, perhaps favoring smaller, independent winemakers. The surplus takings will be poured back into the state coffers of a country in economic crisis and struggling to cut its debt.
Protected by an armored door, the 12,000-bottle Elysee cellar was founded in 1947 by the then-French president Vincent Auriol. Among the highest sales this week were two bottles of 1990 Petrus, which had been expected to go for about 2,200 euros each, but fetched 5,500 euros and 5,800 euros.
Among the buyers was a Shanghai-based Chinese importer of French wines who bought half the cognac on sale and the most expensive Petrus. He told journalists it was an “honor” to buy wine selected for the French president’s table.
One English buyer spent 1,100 euros on a bottle of Saint-Emilion as a birthday present for his father.
The oldest bottle on sale, a 1936 Chateau Latour, fetched 3,500 euros. The wines sold were mostly Bordeaux and Burgundy, but also champagne.
Earlier this year, the Socialist mayor of Dijon in Burgundy auctioned off half of the city hall’s wine cellar, arguing that many wines had reached maturity and had to be drunk. The sale made more than 150,000 euros to help the city’s social services.
In 2006 the Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, auctioned more than 4,000 bottles from the city hall wine cellar known as “Fort Knox,” most of them dating back to former French president Jacques Chirac’s time as mayor of Paris when the best grands crus were served at lavish receptions for international dignitaries and film stars.