This Saturday, starting at 8:30 central time, the auctioneers at Hart Davis Hart Wine Co. will begin working their way through 1,058 lots containing 4,699 bottles of wine from the collection of the late Aubrey McClendon. (Check out the catalog here.) It’s not too late for you to put in your bids (register here). Ben Nelson, president of Hart Davis Hart tells me you can pre-bid now via their website, app or by phone. The final hammer should fall around 5 p.m. Saturday. “We’ll never see an auction like this again,” says Nelson. McClendon “was at one time the biggest buyer of classified growth Bordeaux in the world.”
The auction is expected to raise $7.5 million for the McClendon estate. In 2009 and ’10 he had sold another $5 million or so of wine at auction.
That’s a lot of juice, but it pales beside the $500 million-plus in claims filed against his estate in probate court.
So how about giving Aubrey a hand by picking up a few bottles and drinking them in his honor?
What to bid on? Among the highlights is a melchior (that’s an 18-liter bottle) of 1999 Chateau Cheval Blanc starting at $10,000.
Or how about an imperial (6 liters) of 2000 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, starting at $9,000?
McClendon’s favorite wine was the 1989 Chateau Haut-Brion. There’s 94 bottles of that in the auction, including 1 jeroboam (5 liters, starting $12,000) and 9 double magnums (3 liters, $6,000).
McClendon made a lot of people a lot of money over the years. And he loved his French wine so much that he and his Duke fraternity bro Ralph Eads (chairman of investment bank Jefferies & Co.) bought part of a vineyard there, called Clos Dubreuil. Expect a bidding war in his honor.
I had the pleasure of drinking with McClendon one evening. We met for a dinnertime interview in 2011 for what became a Forbes cover story that we titled “America’s Most Reckless Billionaire.” When I arrived McClendon had already opened and decanted three of his fabulous wines. Turns out that all three are represented in the auction. The 1989 Petrus carries an estimated price of about $2,200 a bottle, the 1989 Haut Brion roughly $1,000 and the 1982 Lafite Rothschild about $2,000. I’m not going to be replicating that tasting at home.
The proceeds from the wine auction won’t go that far when it comes to pay off the claims on McClendon’s estate. His biggest creditor, Wilmington Trust, says it’s owed $464 million. He was able to borrow that much and more because he held lots of collateral — he accumulated massive oil and gas interests through his 2.5% working interest in every well Chesapeake ever drilled from founding until he left. But he didn’t get that 2.5% for free: McClendon had to put up his share of capital expenditures for drilling and fracking all those wells, which required hefty borrowing. Would have been a good bet had natural gas prices returned to $6 or $7 per mmBTU, but they never have. The collapse in gas prices — a result of the shale gas boom that McClendon helped unleash — put much of his portfolio underwater.
But did he ever leave a legacy. Chesapeake Energy CHK -2.85% remains a giant in the industry even as it walks a financial tightrope. And then there’s the companies he founded after leaving Chesapeake in April 2013. First McClendon launched American Energy Partners, then created a string of affiliates around the country, all backed by private equity pals at the Energy & Minerals Group and First Reserve. Now AEP is being unwound, and the affiliates have been renamed.
In 2015 the American Energy Appalachia Holdings changed its name to Ascent Resources. It’s run by former Chesapeake COO Jeff Fisher and a host of other longtime McClendon lieutenants. They sold some acreage in the Utica for $400 million and raised another $1 billion in equity and debt and still have 300,000 acres in West Virginia and Ohio.
American Energy – Woodford changed its name to White Star Petroleum, and produces about 19,000 bpd. It paid $200 million to acquire acreage from Devon Energy DVN -2.33% prospective for the Mississippi Lime. And earlier this year bought $148 million face of its senior notes for $19.4 million, or about 13% of par according to Moody’s. Which now rates White Star notes Caa1.
Another American Energy Partners spinout, Scoop Energy, sold $140 million in Oklahoma acreage a month ago to Jones Energy.
The hottest of Aubrey’s offspring looks to be Permian Resources, formerly known as American Energy – Permian. It laid out about $3 billion in 2014 to acquire about 100,000 acres in the Permian basin — most of it before the recent boom in interest there. It’s now run by former Chesapeake guy Jeff Mobley.
Even McClendon’s big post-Chesapeake backer, John Raymond’s Energy & Minerals Group, has put in more cash on top the billions already sunk. Naturally the aim is for an IPO or buyout. Only then will we have a sense of whether McClendon’s bets finally would have paid off.
He was a bold risktaker, who lived a memorable life, inspired a lot of people, and knew how to have fun at least long enough to drink some really great wine.
So come on. At least bid on a lot in honor of Aubrey. Do it for the O.G. Just slip it into your T&E. Seriously though, whoever buys lots 798 and 799, each with 3 double magnums of 1989 Chateau Petrus (starting bid $35,000), please give me a call.
That's awesome! I had no idea Aubrey was a wine guy.... I make my own wine and have a glass of it included in my profile pic... I will definitely toast to Aubrey.... My wine is really fine but I doubt it would bring 1000s a bottle. But I have had no complaints.
He wont need the wine,he's probably on an Island beach sipping Mai-ties about now.
To have been so rich, but owe people millions. Where did i go wrong?