The French city of Dijon recently raised about $200,000 by auctioning off thousands of bottles of wine from the municipal wine cellar, the FT reports.
As it turns out, lots of French cities keep wine cellars so they can serve local bottles at city receptions and give gifts of wine to visiting VIPs.
Municipal cellars may also be useful for city officials who are feeling burdened by their duties, according to Pascal Kuzniewski, a wine expert who served as a consultant on the auction. It's nice to "go down and talk to your bottles," he told me.
But a weird problem can come up: Sometimes the wine in the cellar can actually become too valuable. If the person curating the cellar picks the right bottles, Kuzniewski said, they can ultimately be worth thousands of dollars a piece. And it's unseemly to be uncorking thousand-dollar bottles at, say, a city council meet and greet.
Better to sell them off. At the Dijon auction, the top seller was a 1999 bottle of Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux that went for about $6,500.
Most of the proceeds of the auction will go to city's "social action" committee. But Linda Simon, who works in the mayor's press office, insisted the sale was not motivated by any shortfall in city funds, but rather from a desire to rotate out stock and make room for new bottles.
I only found one prior instance where a town sold off some of its wine. In 2006, Paris auctioned 4,680 bottles, taking in over $1 million (half of which was earmarked for an anti-alcoholism fund).
Some speculated that the Paris sale was all about the socialist city government thumbing its nose at its right-wing, wine-snob predecessors. One French wine blog called it "a catastrophe for the city of Paris and especially for Parisians. Such a treasure distributed among the most upper-crust of the capital — now that's not very socialist!"