A Preview of the 2023 Lyric Wine Auction’s Rare and Exclusive Lots

Mark your calendars: The next Lyric Wine Auction may not be until May 13, 2023, but there is already an impressive array of priceless lots confirmed, including rare wines and travel experiences, thanks to the generosity of vintners, hospitality partners and Lyric Opera patrons around the world.

The Lyric Wine Auction is one of Chicago’s premier philanthropic events, held just once every three years by the Lyric Women’s Board to raise funds to support Lyric Opera’s mission of presenting world class opera to audiences in Chicago and beyond. The formal affair draws 400 guests from across the country in an elegant celebration of grand opera, fine wine and philanthropy.

lyric wine auction

Since its inception in 1988, Wine Auction has raised over $11 million in support of Lyric Opera of Chicago and the 13th edition in 2023 is shaping up to be even grander than the last after a five year hiatus. 2018 Wine Auction netted a record-breaking $2.2 million and was named a “Top Charity Wine Auction” by Wine Spectator. 

“All the funds raised are utilized to support programs like Lyric Unlimited, an outreach program to children, young adults and adults from all walks of life across our city,” says Wine Auction Committee co-chair Nancy Searle. Lyric Unlimited serves more than 35,000 students each year with hands-on arts education opportunities, including performances for students, opera residences for schools and streaming productions, with a special focus on reaching Chicago Public School students, including students who are economically disadvantaged, learning English as a second language, or requiring special learning support. 

“The auction also supports the training of young professionals as well as new artistic performances at Lyric,” Searle adds. “We have come back really strong from Covid. This year we did six operas and next season we have planned seven operas and a musical. We have had incredible response from audiences and many sold out shows.” 

Searle has served on the Lyric Opera Women’s Board for more than 20 years and been instrumental in growing the auction into the glamorous extravaganza it’s now become. The Wine Auction Committee includes Erica Sandner, Eileen Murphy and Suzy Mulshine as well, and the Lyric Support Team is anchored by Deborah Hare. It’s these women and their tireless efforts that bring the Wine Auction to life.

Wine Auction members Nancy S. Searle, Suzanne W. Mulshine, Eileen Murphy and Erica L. Sandner toast with a glass of Maison Joseph Drouhin. Photo by Jaclyn Simpson.

This year for the first time, the three-day event kicks off with private dinners in some of the most beautiful homes in Chicago, Winnetka and Lake Forest, pairing featured vintners with celebrity chefs. The night of the auction begins with a champagne reception in the Opera House foyer, before trumpeters beckon guests to the stage, where they have dinner amidst a set designed by the Lyric Opera production team, followed by the animated live auction.

“It’s fascinating to walk into a grand opera theater and rather than seeing a stage with the curtain down, it is completely decked out with multiple levels of customized staging and lighting, set for a dinner and live auction,” says Wine Auction Committee co-chair Erica Sandner. “To be sitting on that stage and looking out onto the seats is really special.” Sandner is an avid wine collector and has been attending the Wine Auction since 1997. 

The 2023 guest of honor is Maison Joseph Drouhin, one of the most iconic producers of premier cru and grand cru Burgundy, with estate vineyards in Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune and Côte Chalonnaise. The Drouhin family is donating a two-night stay for four people at their private guest house with a personalized tour of the vineyards and historical cellars, plus lunch or dinner with the Drouhin family. The Lyric Wine Auction team has also donated a separate 16-bottle lot representing the best of Drouhin’s portfolio, including Corton-Charlemagne, Bonnes-Mares, Chambertin Clos de Bèze, and Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses, all from the 2019 vintage.

Founded in Beaune in 1880, Maison Joseph Drouhin’s cellars have spread from the historical Cellars of the Dukes of Burgundy and the Kings of France in Beaune (12th-18th centuries) to the Moulin de Vaudon, an 18th Century watermill in Chablis.

Among the other impressive auction lots confirmed for next year is a Château D’Yquem lot that includes a bottle from each of six decades, spanning from 1921 to 1975, generously donated by Stephen Kaplan, a member of Lyric’s Board of Directors. French wine lovers can also fight over a lot of six magnums of 1996 Château Margaux, which received a perfect 100-point rating from Robert Parker, donated by Patrick G. and Shirley Welsh Ryan. These are wines you simply can’t find anywhere else.

A number of lots venture beyond wine into the world of one-of-a-kind culinary and travel experiences too. Beam Suntory and Rick Bayless are offering a tequila tasting and five-course garden dinner for eight guests at Topolobampo paired with Beam Suntory’s El Tesoro tequila.

You can also bid on a four-night stay at Nimmo Bay Luxury Resort in the heart of Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, donated by Karen Z. Gray-Krehbiel and John H. Krehbiel, Jr. The wilderness adventure includes a fly fishing excursion, two customizable helicopter adventures, a whale watching excursion and dinner with wine pairings.

“We have raised the bar on the event each time,” Searle says. “All the vintners that are coming have become my friends. You develop friendships with them across the years and it’s very rewarding to see them come back.” Searle expects more than 20 featured vintners to join next year, and in the days before the auction, vinters enjoy exclusive tours of Chicago landmarks like the Opera House, Shedd Aquarium and Art Institute of Chicago.

Donations are still being accepted and the auction catalogue will be finalized by early 2023. Guests from around the world may also bid in advance or call-in during the auction if they cannot make it to Chicago. Stay tuned for updates at the Lyric Wine Auction website

lyric wine auction

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Amber Gibson spends 340 nights a year in hotels searching for the latest and greatest in the travel industry. She graduated as valedictorian from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and received a fellowship to attend the 2017 Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood Napa Valley.