A Neighborhood Street-Party

Nicolas' window, av Marbeuf
The Nicolas shop owner displays his own
small colection of old catalogues.

Art, Auctions, Champagne, Clothes and
Party-time in the Avenue Montaigne

Paris:- Friday, 12. September 1997:- On account of an article in yesterday's Le Parisien I am walking around the avenue Montaigne looking for the Drouot auction house. At the corner of the rue François 1er there is a marquee with what looks like the left-overs of a big party. An open, half-empty bottle of Perrier, is one of the left-overs.

I go the wrong way and pass a couple more marquees; until I arrive in front of the Salvatore Ferragamo boutique. The name on its marquee has bunches of grapes entwined with the logo. I pop a quick look at the display windows and see textiles, not glass.

I don't get it. What I do get, is the numbers are getting higher and I'm looking for number 15; so it must be the other way - back to the Seine, towards the place de l'Alma.

Down this way, past the Hotel Plaza-Athénée - gaggles of limos - past the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, there are more marquees and I still don't get it.

The lady handling browsers at the auction house sets me straight. Last night was the occasion of the 'Vendanges 1997' in the avenue Montaigne and the rue François 1er. The avenue was closed to traffic so some of the fanciest boutiques on a couple of the highest-ticket streets in the world could throw a party, awash with the choicest champagnes.

Since there are no vineyards anywhere near here, I guess 'Vendanges' refers to the new fall fashions, the new crop now in the boutiques.

This event is put together annually by the Comité Montaigne. It is not surprising I didn't get an invitation, because I never heard of it before. Last night, at the committee's tent, they served Gosset champagne, which I have also never heard of, but they claim it has been around since 1584.

Another thing the Drouot lady sets straight - is the subject of Le Parisien's article that I... mis-read. There is no auction of wine-posters.

Instead, there is an exhibition of illustrations done for the wine-dealer Nicolas' annual 'Fine Wines' catalogue. This catalogue comes out each year in early December and has been doing so since 1928. This exhibition has been mounted by Drouot and Nicolas as their contribution to the avenue Montaigne's Vendanges 1997 party, and Drouot served 'Champagne Nicolas' last night.

In France, wine is two things: big business and the pleasure associated with consuming the product. So Nicolas commissioned a variety of artists to illustrate their festive catalogues - and some of the 'names' are Van Dongen (1954), Derain, Buffet (1963) and Boisrond, who did the 'Costumes Regionaux' shown on this page.

There is even an 'L. Erickson' who did the 'La Vigne et Le Vin' illustrations in aquarelle for the 1939 catalogue; but as far as I know, no relation.

Having a collection of the entire series is extremely rare and Drouot's estimate for a good 1928 edition is from 1,500 to 2,000 francs. Most of the other years' editions are in the 150 to 400-franc design: 'Costumes' by Boisrond range, and they are occasionally offered at auctions.

'Costumes Regionaux' by Boisrond, illustrated a Nicolas 'Fine Wines' catalogue.

Some of the items listed in the catalogues are 'rare' too. The 1929 edition offered a 1904 bottle of Château Margaux for 125 francs for example. This may seem a lot for a 25-year old wine, offered in a 68 year old catalogue - but these were 'old' francs, and they are rare these days too.

The old catalogues, the prints and the original illustrations make a neat little show, and it is too bad it will only be on view here until Sunday.

The Hôtel Drouot is Paris' auction house, and its main branch is at 9. rue Drouot in Paris' 9th arrondissement. As I am poking around in the avenue Montaigne branch, I find catalogues for upcoming sales.

This coming Tuesday, 'grand' Burgundy wines will fall under the hammer, with the sale being run by Blanchet and Jeron-Derem. Alex de Clouet did the expertise, and the estimates do not look too shocking. There is a small display of this offering at Montaigne today.

However, fine and rare wines are the subject of another auction, to be held soon - on Thursday, 18. September; this time in salle 9. The auctioneer is the Etude Tajan, and the expertise is again by Alex de Clouet. Lot 268, of 12 bottles - a case - of 1959 Château Latour 1er Cru Pauillac, carries an estimate of 36,000 to 40,000 francs.

Another catalogue features the 'Bibliothèques E. Cébé-Greven at C. Genin - Livres anciens, romantiques et modernes, gastronomie et únologie.' This sale is set for Thursday, 16. October in the Drouot salle 8. The wine books have average estimates running from 500 to 5,000 francs.

The main reason I have not mentioned the auctions at Drouot in Paris before has been because Le Parisien does a weekly Thursday feature about upcoming auctions, but 'upcoming' for the paper is the weekend or for Drouot items, the following Tuesday. With this short advance notice, there is no time to go Burgundy display at Drouot to the showings, held on the days immediately before the sales.

A lot of interesting stuff goes under the hammer in Paris; some of it high-grade museum quality. For this scene, the International Herald Tribune has a super reporter, Souren Melikian. I have been reading his Saturday columns for years and they are entertaining as well as seemingly highly informative, and not without opinion.

This is a display of rare Burgundy which will be auctioned on 16. September.

When I finish taking a lot - for me - of notes about all this stuff, I bid the Drouot lady goodbye for about the sixth time. Every time I thought I was finished I thought up a new question on the way out, and went back for another look.

Finally I feel I have it all and leave to hunt up the nearest Nicolas shop. It is nearby in the rue Marbeuf, fairly close to the Champs-Elysées.

Luckily it is open - many branches close for lunch - and it has a hand-written note in the window, inviting people to go to Drouot to see the show of Nicolas' catalogue illustrations. This same window also has a little, related, display - put together by the shop's operator.

With his traditional wine-dealer's high-front smock in denim, I immediately try to talk him into doing a pose for a photo - as the Nicolas' character, 'Nectar.' He is reluctant to do this without the advice of Nicolas' press service, so I don't push it. He offers to phone them but points out they will be closed until 14:00 for lunch, so I say we should let it drop.

After admiring the giant magnum bottle of Pol Roger champagne in the shop, I go outside and shoot the window - with all the reflections of the world in it, including my own.

This 'vendanges' thing has caught me by surprise because France usually gets into a craze over them somewhat later than mid-September. I don't follow the wine like I used to, but I think I read that the weather combination has been especially good this year - and the wine is expected to be good and a lot of it. Other crops have been taken in weeks early too.

Both the Nicolas wine-shop chain and the Drouot auction house are open to the public. In the case of Nicolas, you can buy wine - and, take it from me, you will get fair value for the money. If you speak French, you can also usually get a fair amount of chat from the operators of the shops, and they know quite a bit about the contents of the bottles on their shelves.

Even if you are not a high-roller you can take in Drouot's auctions. Some of the catalogues are certainly affordable; all have lots of notes by experts, and many are illustrated.

Drouot also runs courses in art appreciation; for ceramics, porcelain, tapestries, furniture, jewelry, old paintings, restoration, impressionist paintings and modern art.

There are also courses for learning about the art market and for how auctioneers operate in it. For an extra fee, some courses can be completed with examinations - which I suppose result in certificates of competence. Some of the courses are available in the evenings. The fees for courses run from 1,200 to 3,700 francs each, but there are discounts for signing up for multiple courses.

Now that I've plugged Nicolas and Drouot so extravagantly, I may as well list the shops that took part in the avenue Montaigne Vendanges '97 vintage street-party.

Some of them were: Alexandre of Paris, Asprey of London, Cartier, Courrèges - if you feel like being in the '60's with high-chic, this is the place! - Dolce & Gabbana, Genny, design: Gerard Pulis, 1993 the Hôtel Plaza-Athénée, Jean-Louis Scherrer, Jil Sander, Junko Koshino, Morabito, D. Porthault, Puiforcat, Salvatore Ferragamo, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, and Thierry Mugler.

This illustration was done for Nicolas' 1993 'Fine Wines' catalogue by Gérard Pulis.

And to be cruel, this is what the invited guests drank last night: Champagne Vranken - Cuvée Demoiselle, Château Carbonnieux and Château Nairac, Château de Reignac, Champagne Gosset, Champagne de Venoge, Tokaji and Château Pajzos, Champagne Canard-Duchêne and Château Corbin-Michotte, Champagnes Moët & Chandon, Laurent-Perrier and Mumm, Champagne Henriot, Champagne Pol Roger and Château Picque Caillou, Saké Gekkeikan, Champagne Mercier and Château Meyney, Champagne Perrier-Jouët - Cuvée Belle Epoque, Champagne Krug, Champagne Heidsieck & Co Monopole, Champagne Charles Lafitte, Champagne Ruinart and Château Branaire and finally, Champagne Nicolas - plus, at least a half-bottle of Perrier. A fizz of a list.

Although it is cloudy today, it was clear and quite warm last night and judging from last year's photos, the crowd must have put away a supertanker's worth of bubbly. I've already put in for an invitation for next year. If it is truly wretched excess, I want to see it in person.

As I have no 'gold' cards I don't think I'll pass the invitation committee examination. It is going to rain now.

Contact Drouot:

Hôtel Drouot 9. rue Drouot, Paris 9 and also at 15. avenue Montaigne, Paris 8. Tel.: 33-1 48 00 20 20. There is a direct 'bid' line to the auction rooms during sales, but I think it is better if you get it from Drouot in case it changes from time to time.

For the high-end 'Vins et Alcools' auction on 18. September, the fax number for the auctioneers, Etude Tajan, is 33-1 53 30 30 31.

For the 'Bibliothèque' auction on 16. October, call Pascale Krauz at 33-1 44 79 50 47 about the sale. The is the office of the auctioneers, Etude Loudmer.

Drouot publishes a 'Gazette' which has full information about coming sales and this is complimented by a Web site of the same name.

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