The Collections of Park B Smith
The Collections of Park B Smith
The textile entrepreneur and wine collector
It all started back in the Marine Corps. Few people join the military, far less the marines to find a love of wine, but for Park B Smith that was exactly what happened.
Fond of the odd beer, he went to the store to pick up a six pack, but ended up trying some Beaujolais - though only because it was on a 99 cent special offer - and never looked back. On becoming a civilian, Smith built up an enormously successful textile empire which presented him with the opportunity to indulge his growing passion.
He first started up a wine cellar in 1978 which was originally a small, cramped space like a typical cellar. It now sprawls over a series of separate cellars, and Smith's perennial problem with his wine is where to put it all.
In the 1990s, his then wife Carol (who sadly died in 2002) asked him how many years it would take him to drink through the collection at the rate of one bottle with dinner every night. Smith guessed 30 to 40 years. "119!" came the reply.
So he opened up a restaurant, Veritas, to better share his collection with the world. The restaurant's wine list is an enormous tome, detailing 3,300 wines including some so rare you just couldn't buy them with your food anywhere else.
A short introduction to the joy of Chateauneuf-du-pape (Park B Smith would approve)
Over the summer of 2009, Veritas offered large discounts on Chateauneuf-du-pape, precisely because over the years Smith has decided that it is this that he loves above all other wines (even 99c Beaujolais) and wants others to enjoy it.
In fact, the idea of Smith drinking one bottle per night with dinner has little to do with anything. Smith tends to favour collecting wine in magnums (double-sized bottles) anyway, which are not really designed for a single person having dinner - except very discerning alcoholics.
Smith doesn't drink alone, as he finds the experience disappointing. The only way to do justice to a good wine, he believes, is if it's accompanied by a conversation with someone you like. That includes other wine collectors, whose acquaintance Smith values highly.
"Something happens to people who love wine," he told the New York Times once. "You really discover a camaraderie [...] It's like sharing love in a glass."
So how many bottles does he have anyway? You might think that the Sotheby's auction in 2006 would have made quite a dent. Smith sold 14,000 bottles - enough for a huge collection in their own right - of his then 79,000 for the benefit of the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts where he was educated.
The auction beat estimates to raise $5.3m for the college, and included a world record breaking single lot of 50 cases of Chteau Mouton Rothschild 1982 which sold for over $1m, dwarfing a mere $119,500 for six bottles of Domain Romane Conti 1985.
Smith continues to avidly support his beloved alma mater, but his wine collection has only grown larger, recently estimated at 192,000 bottles. For Smith, the cool, cavernous cellars of fine wines are not just a resource, but a place of peace - a shrine to the grape.
Parts of them also contain Smith's smaller, but still notable, collection of Asian art, and if he's had a bad day he can settle down for a while to improve his mood - even talking to the bottles.
"Linda [his wife] said, 'That's all right, as long as they don't start talking back to you.' "