April 3, 2013

The elBullicellar

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A bunch of friends have been poking fun at me for the last few days, saying that I've become a stalker of Ferran Adrià…  Yes, I was most fortunate to have dined with him and his business manager Ernest Laporte 2 days ago… and yes, I also attended the presentation he gave at Sotheby's in advance of the auction, where he spoke about his vision for the elBullifoundation and its projects, including Bullipedia… and yes, my post about the dinner with Ferran made me sound like a teenage school girl gushing and going ga-ga at the sight of her idol… but I don't care.  I've been on a high for the last 2 days, and no one's gonna rain on my parade!

And so it was that, for the very first time, I took time off from work to attend a wine auction.  Not just any auction, but the first half of the sale of the elBullicellar.  As it's a mid-week auction (as opposed to Fri-Sun, which is normally the case) I had thought about bidding online from the office.  On second thought, I figured that I would be spending too little time focused on work as I stared at my browser during the auction, so I might as well be physically present in the room.  This turned out to be the right choice.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
When the auction finally got under way, it was clear that there were few bargains to be had today.  The first part of the auction comprised of wines from DRC and Leroy, and not surprisingly a few Chinese bidders were out to grab these.  A friend sitting next to me joked that we'd both be leaving very early, as we just weren't prepared to pay that kind of prices for the wines…

This auction was all about star power.  Every bottle of wine sold at this auction would carry a little sticker indicating that the wine came from elBulli.  Some of the bottles were signed by both Ferran and his business partner Juli Soler, who was responsible for putting together the cellar in the first place.  These drew the most interest from bidders, and created some anomalies which left us scratching our heads.  When signed bottles of 2000 Romanée-Conti sells for more than 80% of the price of the famed 1990 vintage of the same wine (without signatures), or when bottles of 1993 Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée - a wine I had the pleasure of drinking at Troisgros a couple of years ago for not more than a few hundred Euros - go for HKD 46,000 each, you know something's out of whack…

But of course this was all about raising money for the foundation, so while I was feeling the pain of paying more for the wines than I had hoped to, I was glad that this was money that would be put to good use, rather than simply lining some rich dude's pockets…

I focused on bidding for the Hospices de Beaune wines, which were made by Lucien Le Moine specifically for Juli and elBulli.  I have been a fan of Mounir Saouma ever since I first visited his cellar in Beaune, and after having tasted a few of these wines on Monday I had little doubt that I would enjoy them.  The only problem was that, like most of the lots sold today, they went for significantly more than the high end of the pre-sale estimates…  Ouch.

Oh, and going back to the theme of "stalking Ferran", let it be known that I chose my seat in the auction room first.  A couple of minutes after I sat down, Ferran and his team decided to sit in the row in front of me.  I was close enough to talk to him and Ernest, but of course chose to leave them alone for most of the auction.

The most interesting part of this auction for me was at the end, with the selection of "lifestyle" lots comprising of various elBulli memorabilia.  For my interview with Apple Daily, I had already said that I would be bidding on some of the items that I had used during my dinner at elBulli, for sentimental reasons.

I think the team was kinda disappointed when nobody picked up the collection of cutlery - comprising of 27 pieces of spoons, forks, tins…etc.  I honestly felt that they were priced unreasonably high, and apparently everyone else thought the same.  However, the set of 10 Laguiole knives - engraved with the words "El Bulli" - saw furious bidding into the stratosphere.  I was never gonna bid for these, as there were only 2 sets up for grabs - one for each of the Hong Kong and New York auctions - and I knew bidding would be fierce.  The Hong Kong set ended up going for HKD 73,500, which was waaaay beyond the pre-sale estimate of HKD 8,000.  The team was excited in the lead up to the hammer falling, and as an event staff had just brought them a fresh round of 2003 Dom Pérignon, Ferran and his team clinked their glasses in celebration.

I did end up picking up 2 sets of trays - paying above the pre-sale estimate - and even managed to pick up one of only 11 chocolate boxes in existence for a friend.  Close to the end of the auction, when the petit fours servingware were failing to draw bids, I heard someone calling my name.  Ferran and Ernesto were telling me that I should bid on these, as Ferran thought they were really unique and special.  I dutifully raised my paddle for one of the lots, but as my bid was still below the reserve and I wasn't really willing to go much higher, I failed to do what was suggested of me…  Sorry, Ferran!

The final lot of the auction was also the most special.  It was billed as "an evening with Ferran Adrià for 4 people in Barcelona".  However, as Ferran mentioned during our dinner as well as during his presentation yesterday, it wouldn't be right to only spend a few hours with people who have flown all the way to Barcelona.  This would be a weekend around Barcelona with him, possibly involving watching a home match of Barca…etc.  Surely this was a great opportunity for people to get "in" with him…  As with the knives, bidding was fierce on this lot, and the final price came to HKD 220,500.  Not exactly a cheap weekend, for sure, but certainly well-affordable for the rich and famous.

I was happy to have gotten my hands on a little bit of the elBulli history, and grateful to have spent some time with one of the greatest chefs in the world.  And yes, I did gush to my friends about the fact that Ferran remembered my name on the day after our dinner… as I am neither rich nor famous.  To someone like Ferran, I could totally be a nobody - just one of thousands of people he comes across.  But I will cherish these last few days for a long, long time to come.

P.S. we were served the following wines during the auction, which came from the elBullicellar:

2004 Pintia - alcoholic, with a hint of rubber?  Kinda flat on the palate.

1998 Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5° - more acidity on the palate here, with smoky notes and lots of sediment in the glass.  Second glass was more tannic on the palate.

1995 Beaucastel Rouge - classic Beaucastel nose of farmyard, manure, leather, smoke, with tenapade and soy sauce, and almost violet and floral.

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