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Aubrey McClendon’s Bordeaux Collection Goes Up for Auction
The shale pioneer’s wine collection contains rare giants and could fetch $7.6 million

by Kevin Helliker and Ryan Dezember
September 15, 2016

 

The collection includes some rare giants and could fetch as much as $7.6 million.
PHOTO: HART DAVIS HART WINE CO.

 

In 2001, Aubrey McClendon walked into an Oklahoma City wine shop seeking an education. His growing prominence as chief executive of Chesapeake Energy Corp increasingly placed him at formal dinners where he was handed a wine list and invited to make a selection.

“He didn’t know anything about wine, and it upset him,” recalls Stan Stack, owner of Beau’s Wine Bin & Spirit Shoppe in Oklahoma City.

In the years that followed, Mr. McClendon became America’s most prolific driller, a billionaire and a world-famous collector of Bordeaux. On Saturday, six months after Mr. McClendon died in a fiery single-vehicle crash in Oklahoma City, his wine collection will be sold at auction and is expected to fetch as much as $7.6 million.

“It’s a bittersweet thing,” says Ben Nelson, president of Hart Davis Hart Wine Co., the Chicago-based auctioneer handling the sale. “For a while, Aubrey was the most important wine buyer in America.”

The McClendon collection won’t break any financial records. A sale this May by billionaire William Koch drew nearly $22 million, according to Sotheby’s. But the McClendon collection stands apart for its share of rare giants, including 17 18-liter melchiors, each the equivalent of 24 regular bottles of wine. “Some of these large bottles, they only made a few of them in any given year,” Mr. Nelson says.

 

Aubrey McClendon in 2012 PHOTO: SEAN GARDNER/REUTERS/ZUMA PRESS
 

The same intensity that drove Mr. McClendon to try freeing America of its dependence on foreign oil propelled him to learn everything he could about wine, says Mr. Stack. He invested in a French vineyard and wine-label recognition app Delectable, which presents prices and tasting notes at the snap of a photo. When times got tough in the oil patch, he tapped his cellars for liquidity, occasionally pledging thousands of bottles as collateral for loans and auctioning off multimillion-dollar lots, according to Oklahoma public records.

After quickly exceeding the expertise of his teacher, Mr. Stack, Mr. McClendon hired the wine-shop owner to manage his growing collection.

Mr. McClendon never hesitated to break into a case of rare wine, arguing that one fewer bottle would increase the value of those remaining. His generosity with wine helped make Mr. McClendon a cult figure in his hometown, where his idea of tailgating at a football game was to share with all comers a $2,000 six-liter bottle of Bordeaux. Beneficiaries of this magnanimity soon walked into Mr. Stack’s shop asking for labels previously unknown in Oklahoma City. His dinner guests often took home with them large empty bottles signed by everyone present.

Mr. McClendon spared no expense, whether hosting business guests or friends. “I want them to remember it for the rest of their lives, just as I remember some of my very first bottles of wine,” Mr. McClendon said, according to promotional materials ahead of a 2009 auction.

The auction represents the end of a Gatsby-esque era in Oklahoma City. Many there are planning to place bids in hopes of securing a piece of McClendon memorabilia, says Mr. Stack. For wine-auction giant Hart Davis Hart, the Aug. 25 opening of online bidding “was the strongest bidding we’d ever seen on opening day,” says Mr. Nelson.

The auction will start at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at Tru restaurant in Chicago’s Gold Coast. Mr. Stack says he considered traveling to the event from Oklahoma City. “But my wife said all I would do is sit there crying.”

—Erin Ailworth contributed to this article.

 

Read this article directly from Wall Street Journal.