Monday, March 16, 2009

How the other half lives

What's it like to have more money than your family could spend in a lifetime? Here's a pretty good anecdote, courtesy of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Gordon Getty, heir to the Getty Oil fortune, lives mostly in San Francisco but has an apartment in New York. For years he had a wine buyer who stocked his wine cellar there.

"The buyer bought wines he thought were appropriate for someone of Mr. Getty's means in New York. They were all French wines," said Newsom, a partner with Getty on several wine ventures, most notably PlumpJack. "Gordon didn't really enjoy many of them. He liked American wines."

One day Getty decided to clear out his New York cellar of all these bottles he didn't really want. Newsom, who ran a wine shop in San Francisco, traded him some domestic wines and reaped a bounty.

"We got 13 bottles of 1947 Cheval Blanc," Newsom said.

Some of the scores of top vintage wines sold in the shop, but others were slow movers -- now that they were the property of a shopkeeper who knew what they were worth. But eventually the collection was mostly a memory.

And then ... "Ironically, after that Gordon started developing a taste for French wines," Newsom said.

Fortunately, with a net worth of $2.5 billion, Gordon can pretty much drink whatever he wants. And you know what? He's only the 163rd richest American, according to Forbes magazine.

Moral of the story: if you want to try a 1961 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, hang out around the service exit at a luxury condo and hope that somebody up there was expecting something more fruit-forward.

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