As seen in Wine Spectator Magazine
A Strategy Based on Charity
Peter D. Meltzer
Issue: October 31, 2010
Michael Thompson, the 56-year-old founder and CEO of ITS Technical Services, an electronics manufacturing company, has spent a small fortune collecting wine. He has also generated a considerable sum by giving it away.
By his own estimate, he has personally raised in excess of $500,000 by donating wine to and purchasing wine at charity auctions. As a patron of Emeril Lagasse's Carnivale du Vin and Nashville's L'Eté du Vin and as a founding board member of the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation, he has secured donations, recruited vintner participation and bid on or sold a variety of premium lots. Some of his major consignments have included 6-liter verticals of David Arthur Elevation, large-format California Cabernet Sauvignons from the acclaimed 1997 vintage, and verticals of Château Cos-d'Estournel from 1982 to 2000.
"Charity wine auctions take up a large portion of my life," Thompson explains. "I have made some lifelong friends through my philanthropic wine endeavors."
Under the circumstances, it's no surprise that Thompson's primary cellar, in north Florida, has fluctuated between 2,000 and 3,000 bottles depending on the rate and pace of his donations. "You have to buy a lot of wine at auctions and donate a lot to keep all of these activities going," he says.
Thompson became interested in wine as a Wine Spectator subscriber. When he was appointed vice president of sales and marketing for a large electronics company in 1997, he was made responsible for hosting VIP business dinners at restaurants all over the country.
"It was literally a case of learning on the job," he says. "The wine list would be brought to me every night. So I realized I better learn as much about wine as possible."
At first, Thompson focused on California vineyards, but soon expanded his horizons. He joined wine groups, attended tasting dinners and met as many strategic people in the wine world as possible, traveling to Burgundy, Tuscany, Umbria, the Rhône, and recently to Spain.
Thompson started collecting in the late 1990s with a relatively modest cellar of just more than 600 bottles.
"At the time, I didn't envision needing more. But I totally underestimated the impact that my wine country travels would have on my collection."
His current cellar, built in 2001, has a 2,000-bottle capacity. Designed by Miller & Associates Architects in conjunction with Apex Wine Cellars, the 120-square-foot cellar has heart redwood racks, an antique limestone floor, accoutrements such as wet bar and tasting table, and artwork by Polly Rainer, a local painter. It cost about $30,000 to build. He also has a 1,000-bottle cellar at his vacation home in Colorado.
Thompson thought he had finally met his projected drinking requirements, then found out he hadn't.
"My cellar is about drinking and entertainment, so it is constantly being depleted and replenished. Now I am actively working on enlarging my storage facilities to accommodate 5,000 bottles."
He and his wife, Valerie, host a lot of charity dinners, informal evenings for friends and out-of-town guests, and even dances at their home. Wine always plays a big part in the evening.
"My guests come into the house and could sit just about anywhere," Thompson observes wryly. "Instead they all wind up in the wine cellar and seem to never leave."
He adds that the advantage of having a large cellar is that everything is very accessible.
"The disadvantage," he quips, "is that everything is very accessible."
But his generous spirit extends beyond charity to visitors to his personal cellars as well.
"I let most guests pick what they like," he says.
What's in Mike Thompson's Cellars?
Florida, 2,000 bottles; Colorado, 1,000
Number of bottles:
Both cellars are at capacity
New World Pinot Noir, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Côtes du Rhône, California Cabernet and Syrah
Martinelli Pinot Noir Russian River Valley; various Côtes de Nuits
How he keeps track of the wine:
Developed his own software program
Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon 1972
David Arthur Elevation 1147 from 1999 to 2008; all Kosta Browne single-vineyards from 2003 to 2008
More than 50, including 6L Jarvis Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 and 3L Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
Purchase he thinks was the smartest:
A vertical of Château Cos-d'Estournel 1982 to 1996: "The wines have been drinking beautifully."
Purchase he later regretted:
6L Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 1982, which turned out to have been improperly stored