Night had not yet completely fallen on the rainy evening of March 31, as the bartenders and waitstaff of the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City prepared to serve some of the biggest players in the spirits, cigar, wine and financial world. By 6:30 dozens of cigar boxes were open and on display. Auction lots were in place. Empty Martini glasses twinkled in the soft light of the Grill Room while dozens of uncorked Cabernet bottles stood at attention on a long marble counter. In a half hour, the room would be scented with cigar smoke, for this was the Night To Remember, the annual charity gala hosted by Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator magazines.
Now in its 21st year, this black-tie event has raised nearly $21 million for the advancement of prostate cancer research. But more important than that, this event has saved lives. Thousands and thousands of them.
"Twenty-one years ago, the first Night To Remember was held at the ‘21' Club," said Shanken as he addressed a tuxedoed crowd of 230 people, including such notables as talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, founder, chairman and CEO of News Corp., former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former NBA star John Salley.
"A few of you have been to all 21 of these events. Most of you have been coming for many, many years. During that time, we've raised over $20 million for prostate cancer. When we started in the first year, we knew the dinner would be for charity, but weren't exactly sure which one. We had a card that listed different causes and asked everyone to check a box. The overwhelming choice was to raise money for prostate cancer research."
Shanken introduced Michael Milken, founder and chairman of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, who gave the crowd an update on the progress and medical advancements concerning the disease.
"Twenty one is an important number for me," he says. "Twenty-one years ago, my doctor told me I'm going to pass away from prostate cancer. So what has happened in 21 years? This foundation has become the model upon which other cancer foundations are based. There have been advancements in drugs for patients who have been unresponsive to traditional treatments, radiation or chemotherapy. It's projected that only 27,000 people diagnosed with prostate cancer will die this year—that's 80 percent less than 21 years ago. Eighty percent."
Milken went on to discuss how the advances in immunology have been critical in saving lives of those with prostate cancer, as well as stem cell research and genome-specific treatment that targets the disease based on the individual's genetics, rather than a generic, one-size-fits-all approach to treatment.
"Your money has been well spent," he said. "There are more than half a million people with prostate cancer who are still alive today because of our contributions. I'm one of them, and I thank you for all your help."
The update segued seamlessly into a Night To Remember tradition: the mystery wine auction. Shanken lined up five paper bags. Inside each bag was a wine, but that's all the audience knew. Vintages, varietals or producers were anyone's guess, which, of course was part of the fun, and the wines were to be shared with those at the winner's table. Bidding for the wines, which were donated by Shanken himself, started at $10,000. The first lot was won for $150,000 by Israel Englander, founder, chairman and CEO of Millennium Management, and the wine was revealed to be a magnum of Chateau Latour from 1990.
Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh walked away with a magnum of Chateaux Margaux from 2000 for $50,000. The next lot, a 2000 Château Mouton Rothschild, went to Marc Taub, president and CEO of Palm Bay International, for $60,000. David Nolan of Millennium Management placed the winning bid of $40,000 for a 1962 Château Latour. The last mystery wine lot, widely considered a gold-standard among connoisseurs of Port wine, was revealed to be a bottle of Taylor Fladgate from 1963. It went for $40,000 to Rupert Murdoch.
The auction wasn't finished. Shanken turned the microphone over to Cigar Aficionado executive editor David Savona and senior contributing editor Gordon Mott for the main auction, which began with wine, but became far more cigar-centric. Savona and Mott addressed a distinguished, philanthropic crowd that included Larry Schwartz, president of Diageo Chateau & Estate; Tom Celani of Celani Family Vinyards; Edward Rabin former president of Hyatt Hotels Corp., Lee Einsidler of the Sydney Frank Importing Co.; David Pecker, chairman and CEO of American Media; and Stephen Rust, president of Catalyst, Diageo North America.
Lot number one was a muscular and ample assortment of 12 highly rated (and nearly unattainable) wines. It was donated by Chris Adams, president of Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits and included canonized labels such as Moët & Chandon Brut Champagne Dom Perignon Pléntitude P2 1998 (98 points, Wine Spectator); first-growth Bordeaux like a Château Latour Pauillac 2011 (96 points); a Super Tuscan Sassicaia 2011 (95 points); and a curiously whimsical California cult bottle of 2009 Sine Qua Non Syrah dubbed This Is Not An Exit from the Eleven Confessions vineyard (95 points). Rife with aging potential, the 12-bottle lot sold for $40,000 to spirits entrepreneur Phil Maloof.
A long, gleaming, ivory-colored humidor—one of only 1,000—full of 50 Padrón 50th Anniversary cigars (with five years of refills) donated by Padrón president Jorgé Padrón sold for $20,000 to attorney Doug Wood.
Estimated at a value of $25,000, A Scottish Night To Remember was donated by Jim Clerkin, president of Moët-Hennessy USA. The four-night excursion included three nights at the Glenmorangie House, a Highlands distillery tour and two rounds of golf at Royal Dornoch, plus a bottle of Glenmorangie's 30-year-old Signet. The trip was won for $45,000 by Ajay Nagpal of Millennium Management.
Rocky Patel, owner of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars, donated a round of golf in sunny Naples, Florida with golfer Rocco Mediate at the Naples National, followed by an evening at Burn by Rocky Patel. Chris Tisi, owner and CEO of Healthy Natural Systems, won the package for $25,000, which came with nearly 400 smokes, including three boxes of Rocky Patel Royale Toros (94 points, Cigar Aficionado); a crate of Rocky Patel Prohibition cigars and chest of 100 Rocky Patel Edición Unica cigars.
Michael Gelband of Millennium Management is now the owner of a one-of-a-kind Davidoff humidor that sparkles spectacularly with a brilliant mosaic of colored glass and mirror fragments. Courtesy of Davidoff of Geneva (FL) Inc., the lot raised $30,000, and included a one-year membership to Davidoff's Hourglass Lounge concierge program, four boxes of Davidoff Winston Churchill cigars and a box of the Davidoff Oro Blanco, which is a 6 by 54 cigar made entirely of Dominican tobaccos harvested in 2002. At $500 each, it's Davidoff's most expensive smoke.
Sherry Lehman's Chris Adams donated the first lot and also won the Altadis package of golf in the Dominican Republic at the Teeth of the Dog course as well as 400 cigars, such as a box of 100 Montecristo Grupo de Maestro cigars and a one-of-a-kind Montecristo Icon humidor. A gift from Javier Estades of Altadis USA Inc., the lot sold for $15,000.
Next on the auction block was a stunning concentration of nearly 800 of Arturo Fuente's rarest and most coveted cigars. In addition to novelty shapes like Fuente Fuente OpusX footballs (which are never sold at retail), John Novogratz of Millennium Management now owns a comprehensive portfolio of Fuente's top-tier smokes, including the complete collection of Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars, the whole Arturo Fuente Destino al Siglo 100th Anniversary brand, and entire verticals of OpusX offshoots like the Angel's Share and Lost City. Such complete collections rarely exist under one roof. The final bid was $35,000.
A week-long Scotland golf vacation was the highlight of lot number eight, donated by Diageo's Steve Rust, which included five days of golfing on renown courses around Scotland such as Muirfield and The Gleneagles. The golf is accompanied by high-end dining and whisky tastings that feature rare expressions like the Rosebank 21 year old and John Walker & Son's Private Collection 2014. Chuck Wagner of Caymus wine won the lot for $45,000.
Attorney Doug Wood can now entertain 75 guests at New York's Club Macanudo, courtesy of Dan Carr of General Cigar Co. He also has a year lease on one of the club's humidified lockers, which General will fill with a box of limited-edition cigars for an entire year. Wood won the lot with a bid of $25,000.
Shanken not only reached into his wine cellar for mystery wines, but donated a special Elie Bleu humidor designed exclusively for him. Rush Limbaugh won it with a bid of $100,000, which Milken agreed to match, making it the highest earning lot of the evening.
Dinner was a two-course affair of seafood lasagna paired with an M. Chapoutier Hermitage White Chante-Alouette 2012 followed by beef wellington and truffle sauce perfectly complemented by a viscous Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Selection 2009. When dinner ended, the cigars re-appeared. Each diner was presented with a Boveda packet containing Cigar Aficionado's top three cigars of 2014: an Illusione Fume d'Amore Clementes (No. 3), an E.P. Carrillo La Historia E-III (No. 2), and the Oliva Serie V Melanio Figurado, the 2014 Cigar of the Year.
A very large part of the premium cigar industry was present to show its support. Carlos Fuente Jr. of Arturo Fuente Cigars; Robert, Sathya and Meera Levin of Ashton Distributors Inc.; Dan Carr, Michael Giannini, Alan Wilner, Rick Rodriguez, Sam Leccia and Victoria McKee of General Cigar; Javier Estades and Janelle Rosenfeld of Altadis U.S.A.; Orlando Padrón of Padrón Cigars; Rocky and Nish Patel of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars, Litto Gomez and Ines Lorenzo-Gomez of La Flor Dominicana; Ernesto Perez-Carrillo of EPC Cigar Co.; Jim Young of Davidoff of Geneva; Eric Newman of J.C. Newman; cigar industry veteran Wayne Suarez; Michael Cellucci, Willy Herrera and Alex Goldman of Drew Estate and Swisher International; Dion Giolito of Illusione Cigars; Gilberto Oliva of Oliva Cigars; Rafael Nodal of Boutique Blends Cigars; Bill Sherman, Larry Sherman and Michael Herklots of Nat Sherman Cigars; Les Mann of Colibri; Abe Flores of PDR Cigars; William Paley of La Palina Cigars; Hirochi Robaina and Robert Mederos of Cubanacan; and Eric Hanson of Hammer + Sickle.