Billionaire spends $500,000 on six bottles of wine

ST. HELENA, California, June 12 (Reuters Life!) - In Napa Valley, the most hallowed of America’s wine regions, a young Shanghai billionaire has tongues wagging.

Chinese businessman David Li is congratulated on his winning bid at the 28th Auction Napa Valley in St Helena, California, June 7, 2008. REUTERS/Mary Milliken

David Li, 32, was the top bidder at last weekend’s Auction Napa Valley, one of the biggest charity wine auctions in the United States, dethroning the big bidders from Silicon Valley.

Li told Reuters that he spent “a little bit” at Saturday’s live auction, but wouldn’t elaborate. What he did say, however, is that he has $3.5 billion from the sale last year of his Internet company and he plans to use his windfall to add to his 120,000-bottle wine cellar.

He spent $500,000 for the Screaming Eagle lot of six magnum bottles of 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon, the first vintage, donated by the cult boutique winery of the same name. The lot includes dinner for eight in the vineyard.

“I love Screaming Eagle. It’s the best wine in the world,” said Li.

Only 225 cases were made of that first vintage of Screaming Eagle and it earned cult status when wine critic Robert Parker gave it 99 points out of 100.

Li, wearing a bright green polo shirt and holding paddle #23, went more for the solid wine offerings than the wine lots that attached extras like walk-on parts on a TV show or a safari. He picked up a collection of signed Napa magnums and also a lot of large format bottles from Araujo Estate.

A television crew from Shanghai was there to capture multiple wins under the white tent.

Li is one of many large wine collectors emerging from China, said Zelock Chow, who distributes California wine in China, the fastest growing wine market in the world.

“He is one of the bigger collectors of Bordeaux wines in China,” said Chow, referring to France’s most prestigious wine region. “But he likes the California wines as well.”

It was Li’s second year at Auction Napa Valley and he planned to come back.

“I really love this lifestyle, the Napa culture,” Li said.

Apparently, he will have plenty of time to do so.

“I am retired ... and I am going to stay retired for two years,” he said. “Then maybe you have a job for me?”