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What might have been another forgettable Tuesday evening in New York City became something quite extraordinary on April 1 as Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado magazine, stepped up to a podium at the Four Seasons Restaurant and held up a brown paper bag—a brown paper bag that wound up raising half a million dollars for prostate cancer research. This was no ordinary charity event (and certainly no ordinary paper bag), but the 20th Anniversary of the Night To Remember, a gala evening that saw record attendance and stunning generosity, as it raised a total $1.6 million for the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
The black-tie evening began under the high ceilings of the historic Four Seasons Grill Room where guests were granted the unusual right to smoke cigars during cocktail hour. Afterward, attendees made the diaspora down a long limestone corridor to the main Pool Room in the restaurant. On one side of them was a 20-year pictorial retrospective of previous Night to Remember evenings. On the other was Picasso's La Tricorne, a 19-foot high canvas that has hung there for more than 50 years.
"I welcome you to the 20th anniversary of the Night To Remember," Shanken said as he addressed the crowd of 240 people—the most ever to attend this event. "At most charity dinners, people go because they have to. At this dinner, they come because they want to. We started this event at the '21' Club 20 years ago. Some of you in here have been to all 20. I'm sure many have been to at least 10 or 15. That kind of loyalty is very unusual and it's good to see so many friends."
"Tonight is a landmark evening for Night to Remember," continued Shanken. "We owe the continued success of this event to the generosity of the people sitting at these tables. Without you, we would not have contributed more than $18 million toward the Prostate Cancer Foundation over the past two decades."
The evening's list of distinguished speakers included political radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, retired NBA star John Salley and Michael Milken, founder and chairman of the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
"You always want to know the rate of return on your investment," said Milken, who is a prostate cancer survivor. "Since these dinners started, there are two million men alive today due to the reduction in death from prostate cancer. The death rate has dropped 80 percent from projected totals. And the very first trials of abiraterone were financed at this dinner. In 1993, I was given 10 to 12 months to live. Let me thank you, Marvin, and everyone here, for the last 20 years."
As is a Night To Remember tradition, Shanken began the "mystery wine" auction. Every year, he chooses banner bottles of wine from his personal cellar and puts them on the auction block. However, the identities of each wine remain covered by brown paper bags until the bidding for each is done, so no one knew exactly what they were bidding on, but each was confident that it would be something memorable.
The first lot was revealed as a bottle of Château Lynch-Bages from 1955. It sold for $35,000 and was awarded to Jamie Coulter, former head of Lone Star Restaurants group. The next lot, a 1978 Château Latour, was won by Altadis U.S.A. Inc.'s Javier Estades, who took the wine for $30,000.
Next up were three magnums, and Limbaugh won the first with a bid of $60,000, which turned out to be a bottle of 2000 Château Mouton-Rothschild. Israel Englander of Millennium Management LLC set a new "mystery wine" auction record by placing a winning bid of $80,000 for a magnum of 2005 Château Haut-Brion. The record didn't last very long.
The final mystery wine magnum received a winning bid of $100,000 from Jimmy John Liautaud of Jimmy John's Franchise LLC.
"A hundred thousand dollars?" said Shanken incredulously. "For a bottle of wine in a paper bag? Sotheby's and Christie's: Eat your heart out!"
In an unexpected turn of auction events, Liautaud re-donated the bottle back to the auction, to a huge round of applause from the crowd.
Bidding for the bottle resumed. The bottle was won for $100,000 by Rocky Patel, owner of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars Inc., but he, too, re-donated the wine. Bidding resumed once again, and it garnered another $100,000 with a bid by Coulter, who in turn also re-donated the bottle back to the auction. Shanken was incredulous, and started the bidding another time.
In the fourth round, the wine was finally won by Patel, who offered $110,000 for the bottle. And for good measure, Milken added another $90,000 to the bottle, making this $500,000 lot the most expensive bottle of wine ever auctioned at the Night To Remember. It ended up being a magnum of Château Margaux from 2005.
"I think we can all just go home now," said Shanken with a laugh.
If one were to have looked in through the windows from outside of the Four Seasons Restaurant, they would have seen an unusual confluence of distinguished guests that included Larry Schwartz, president of Diageo North America; Stephen Rust, president of Diageo Chateau & Estate; Tom Celani of Celani Family Vineyards; Edward Rabin, former president of Hyatt Hotels Corp.; Lee Einsidler of the Sydney Frank Importing Co.; Proximo president and CEO Mark Teasdale; Jim Clerkin of Moët-Hennessy USA; national entrepreneur Phil Maloof; ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski; and former baseball star Gary Sheffield.
Each table-setting was set with a bottle, wrapped in gold-colored fabric. "Last year I bought an auction lot from George Dickel Tennessee Whisky," said Shanken. "I went to the distillery and worked on the blends for my own barrel. We bottled them up and now everyone here gets a bottle of either 9-year-old or 14-year-old Dickel. That's a gift from me to you."
With applause of thanks, Shanken turned over the microphone to Cigar Aficionado's executive editor Gordon Mott and senior editor David Savona to begin the evening's main auction, which kicked off with a 12-bottle lot of highly collectible wines donated by Sherry-Lehman. All scored 95 points or higher in Wine Spectator. Highlights of this lot included a bottle of Château Haut-Brion 2010 (99 points); a Château Mouton-Rothschild 2010 (98 points) and an E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Mouline 2009 (98 points). It was had by Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana cigars for $25,000.
Next on the auction block was a chest of 50 Padrón 50th Anniversary cigars packaged in a gorgeous humidor to commemorate the Padrón's five decades in the cigar business. It sold for $50,000 to attorney Doug Wood.
A golf outing to Scotland billed as Scotland Dreams Do Come True included a Glenmorangie distillery tour and prized bottle of the 30-year-old Glenmorangie Signet. These will be enjoyed by Thomas Coleman of Kensico Capital Management Corp, Russell Stidolph of AltEnergy LLC and Keith McCullough of Hedgeye Risk Management, for $35,000.
Liautaud, who so generously bid on one of the mystery wines, also won golf and a night out with Patel at his tony lounge, Burn, in Naples, Florida, for $35,000. Liautaud's lot includes 270 Rocky Patel cigars from the award-winning Decade and Fifteenth anniversary brand as well as Royale and Private Cellar.
Limbaugh returned to the auction by winning a one-year membership at the exclusive private cigar club, the Grand Havana Room. He took the lot for $25,000.
The next lot consisted of the Davidoff Grand Dome humidor, a stunning limited-edition with a glossy Macassar ebony finish. Along with Davidoff Year of the Horse cigars and Davidoff Nicaragua Toros (Cigar Aficionado's No. 3 cigar of 2013, 95 points), this lot saw a final bid of $20,000 from David Nolan of Millennium Management.
In addition to the Padróns, Wood will also be enjoying golf in the Dominican Republic at the famed Teeth of the Dog course as well as a chest of 200 Montecristo cigars made especially for the 20th anniversary of the Night To Remember and five extra boxes of Romeo by Romeo y Julieta Piramides (Cigar Aficionado's No. 3 cigar of 2012, 94 points). This lot from Altadis U.S.A. realized $35,000.
Perhaps Coulter did not leave the Night to Remember with a bottle of "mystery" wine, but he did place the winning bid of $35,000 for the largest cigar lot the event has ever seen. At over 800 cigars, Coulter will be enjoying rarities such as a complete set of Fuente Fuente OpusX smokes, Fuente Fuente OpusX Angel's Share, Arturo Fuente Destino al Siglo, the chest of Opus22 (which contains commercially unavailable cigars) and boxes of the Fuente Fuente OpusX Lost City. The lot also included a Fuente Fuente OpusX golf bag, a crystal ashtray, colorful tins of Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars and Arturo Fuente coffee.
The final lot of rare single-malt Scotches was donated by Diageo and, in the high-spirit of generosity, was triplicated by Steve Rust at the last minute. A Scotch-lovers dream, the lot was made up of a 34-year-old Port Ellen, a 37-year-old Lagavulin, a 36-year-old Convalmore; a Brora with 35 years of age and a 30-year-old Talisker. Divided by Michael Milken, Michael Gelband of Millennium Management and Alan Rubin of Alec Bradley Cigar Co., this lot closed out the auction at $300,000.
"Now that the auction is out of the way," said Shanken, "you can all eat your dinner."
Waiters poured glasses of M. Chapoutier White Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Bernardine 2012 to accompany the first course of Maine lobster dumplings and lobster tail in a spicy lemongrass broth, which was followed by rack of lamb served with pesto faro and asparagus. The wine was a Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Special Selection 2003.
When the last dinner plates were cleared, each guest was handed a packet of three cigars: An Aging Room Quattro F55 Concerto, Cigar Aficionado's No. 2 cigar of 2013, a Davidoff Nicaragua Toro, the No. 3 cigar of 2013 and a Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series Diplomatico Maduro, the No. 4. Shanken then granted permission for smoking to begin—one of the few people in New York with enough authority to make such a decree in the storied Pool Room of the Four Seasons.
The premium cigar industry was well represented at the Night to Remember, as many of the top names attended to show their support. Jorge Padrón of Padrón Cigars; Fernando Domínguez, Javier Estades, Javier Elmudesi, Siegfried Maruschke, Janelle Rosenfeld and Gene Tipton of Altadis; Dan Carr, Michael Giannini, Rick Rodriguez, Alan Willner and Victoria McKee of General Cigar; Robert, Sathya and Meera Levin of Ashton; Rocky and Nish Patel of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars; Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard and Jim Young of Davidoff; Litto Gomez and Ines Lorenzo-Gomez of La Flor Dominicana; Eric Newman of J.C. Newman; Ernesto Perez-Carrillo and his son Ernesto Perez-Carrillo III from EPC Cigar Co.; Alan Rubin and Sam Phillips of Alec Bradley Cigar Co.; Rafael Nodal of Boutique Blends Cigars; José Arnaldo Blanco of Tabacalera La Palma; Les Mann of Colibri; Abe Flores of PDR Cigars; Courtney Smith of La Palina Cigars; Charlie Toraño of Toraño Family Cigar; Alejandro Martinez-Cuenca and Juan Martinez of Joya de Nicaragua Cigars; Bill Sherman and Michael Herklots of Nat Sherman Cigars; Dion Giolito of Illusione Cigars; cigar industry veteran Wayne Suarez; Glen Case from Kristoff Cigars; Nestor Miranda of Miami Cigar & Co.; Michael Cellucci and Mario Takeyama of Drew Estate; Stan Shuster of Grand Havana Room; Roy MacLaren and Fabian Barrantes of Villiger North America; Alex Goldman of Swisher International and Kurt Kendall of 7-20-4 cigars.