Sunday, February 14, 1999

Sitting in his room at the Adolphus Hotel, David Reynolds doesn't look like a man who once sold two pizzas for $8,000.

Then again, I'm not sure what such a person would look like.

"It was the right price at that moment," he explained. "It was a good cause and neither bidder was a wine drinker."

Mr. Reynolds is in Dallas to finish preparations for the seventh Vintage Dallas wine auction, a black tie event sponsored each year by the Dallas Opera Guild. Last year the event netted $135,000, the money to be used to introduce children to opera and other educational programs.

This is just one of 40 to 50 charity wine auctions that Mr. Reynolds does each year. A transplanted Brit who makes his home in San Francisco, he is one of the few people, perhaps the only, who makes his living in good spirits. As auctioneer he entertains people and encourages them to pay extravagant prices for rare wines. I am visiting to hear what he has to say about vintage wine prices. My real concern, however, is the Y2K Champagne Crisis.

Yes, you read that right: the Y2K Champagne Crisis.

Some may worry about airplanes falling out of the sky at midnight, empty ATMs, disappearing bank accounts, massive power outages, empty grocery stores, and other signs that Civilization-As-We-Now-Know-It has come to an end, but I worry about problems with substance. There are rumblings that cellars will be bare long before December 31st, 1999.

All the good champagne will be locked away.

Is this a real problem, I ask?

"It may be. It's really hard to tell. One thing you do know is that you can't just produce more vintage on short notice. The vineyards prepare for this long in advance. Dom Perignon put up their Millenium vintage in 1990." He lists some other high quality champagnes and assures me that they have been moldering in bottles for years.

"It's the vintage champagne that is disappearing. I've been told that it's already difficult to get some of the most expensive bubbly.

"On the other hand, I don't trust the French. I've been to the caves— you really should see them yourself if you get a chance— and they are enormous. Cave after cave, filled with champagne. It's hard to believe there could ever be a shortage."

The French, other sources say, have been gearing up for a long time. They expect champagne sales to triple for 1999. (And you thought only things with "" in their name could do that!)

I asked Mr. Reynolds what he does to get people to pay $4,000 for a pizza.

"It's all in the show, the event, the ambience. I couldn't do regular auctions. Charity wine auctions are fun. People don't come to them for what they can buy at the local wine store. The best auctions have wines that are rare or unique. Big bottles. Sometimes gigantic bottles. Rare vintages from small vineyards. Sometimes engraved bottles. You go for something rare and special and you know you're spending for a good cause."

To play his part, Mr. Reynolds has a special outfit. A round man, he wears a cream white suit and a bright multi-colored vest crafted from an antique kimono. You're not likely to miss him.

Speaking for myself, when Y2K comes I want to be ready. That means prepared with champagne, ready to save lives and start the millenium right, as I did on a New Years Eve long ago.

The scene: a nightclub in Palma, the capital of Mallorca. I am there with a very large crowd of revelers, many of whom are the sort whose families pay them to stay away from home— and home is in another country. After midnight so many streamers have been thrown that the floor is knee-deep in curls of bright paper.

Someone drops a cigarette. It isn't noticed.

Suddenly there are flames between one of the tables as the streamers catch fire. People start to scream.

I look for a fire extinguisher. There is none. No way to move in the room, anyway.

I stand, reach for my bottle of champagne, cover the opening with my thumb, and shake the bottle. Then I point the bottle at the fire and lift my thumb. The champagne sprays out like a high-pressure fire hose.

There is much smoke. But the fire is out.

I accept the applause, bow, and order another bottle.

That, friend, is how to deal with the Y2K problem.

My suggestion: be prepared. Buy your champagne the way people in Chicago vote: early and often.


Note to readers: Vintage Dallas, where I may be trying to buy a supply of fresh fire extinguishers for the Millenium, will held on Friday, April 30 from 6:30PM to midnight at the Westin Park Central Hotel. Tickets for the event, which includes a primo formal dinner, are $150 to $200 a person and can be purchased by calling 214-443-1040.