Along with millions of others on April 15, I watched in horror as flames engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral and its gothic spire fell onto the roof, bringing down the enormous wooden beams known as the “Forest,” which had supported this 850-year-old structure.
To escape the horror, I reminisced about a more pleasant occasion spent viewing the cathedral from across the Seine in the world-famous Parisian restaurant Tour d’Argent, said to be the world’s oldest restaurant, allegedly founded in 1582.
The restaurant occupies the top floor of its building, where panoramic glass windows provide an unobstructed view of the river below and Notre Dame sitting in the middle of the river on the Isle de Cite. Every view from this restaurant is picture postcard perfect, always with Notre Dame in the foreground.
After dinner, we were treated to a tour of the vast and deep wine cellars of the restaurant. Our guide was a squat little man whom my significant other prophetically called (not to his face), Quasimodo, the Victor Hugo character better known as the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Though set in the 1400s, Hugo’s novel was published in 1831 at a time when Notre Dame was in deplorable condition. Hugo’s book set in motion a campaign— much like what is underway today — to restore the cathedral to its former but harried glory, having survived the French Revolution and World War II bombings.
As money has poured in to rebuild the cathedral, two corporations with major wine holdings have pledged enormous sums of money to the restoration campaign.
In French wine history, there are many instances of charitable contributions of wine to support worthy causes. Likely the best known event of this kind is the Hospices de Beaune auction, held annually in the city of Beaune in the region of Burgundy since 1859. The event was conceived to support a hospital built in 1451 that provided medical care for the indigent.
This auction attracts a worldwide clientele who vie for some of the world’s most costly wines. The 2018 auction raised $16.17 million, setting a new record for this event.
In support of rebuilding Notre Dame, Bordeaux First Growth Chateau Mouton Rothschild and the Palace of Versailles have announced they will donate a portion of the proceeds from an upcoming auction of 75 limited-edition Versailles Celebration Cases, featuring five Mouton Rothschild vintages, valued at around $900,000 per case.
Those who attend this auction will have the opportunity to dine with the who’s who of winedom on Sept. 21, where a 1945 vintage of Mouton Rothschild, released to celebrate the end of World War II, will be served. Average cost per bottle for this wine — if found — is $20,000.
French billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault, founder and chairman of Kering (a name not familiar to most but whose luxury brands include Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, Bordeaux’s First Growth Chateau Latour and Napa Valley’s Eisele Vineyard), has pledged $124 million.
Another French luxury brand billionaire, Bernard Arnault (whose holdings include Moet-Hennessy, Louis Vuitton, Chateau d’Yquem, Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot, Krug and Château Cheval Blanc along with a host of other wine brands), has pledged $248 million.
To address the loss of “The Forest,” the wooden beams of the cathedral that were placed there in the 12th and 13th centuries, The Charlois Group, a 200-year-old French wine barrel cooperage conglomerate, has pledged to make wood available from its huge forestry holdings.
There is never a good time to have a fire, but with the amount of money being raised and today’s technology, Notre Dame will soar again and “indeed live on, not lost to transient flame,” as the Star’s chairman and publisher so poignantly stated in her homage to Notre Dame.
Pat Kettles writes about food, wine and spirits every other Wednesday. Contact her at email@example.com.