A Case of Goodwill: New Orleans Neighbors Rescue a Cherished Wine Collection After a Hurricane

The homeowners were ready to file an insurance claim, certain all 300 bottles would perish, but their community sprung into action.
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Photograph by Ty Cole

If you live in New Orleans, you likely know the importance of being prepared for the unexpected. Hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and other severe weather events happen on short notice, sometimes overnight.

On August 27, 2021, what would become Hurricane Ida was just a tropical storm off the coast of Cuba. By the next day, the Category 4 hurricane was headed straight for New Orleans. PURE Insurance members Bill and Karyn Kearney were among the thousands who decided to evacuate. Among the things they left behind was their wine collection. With no power and temperatures climbing, the wine seemed destined for ruin, until several PURE members in the area joined together and came to the rescue.

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Photograph by Ty Cole

Betsy, the Kearneys’ insurance broker and a PURE member herself, made the decision to stay in New Orleans and wait out the storm. It was a nerve-racking experience. “We were glued to the news, watching this storm that just seemed to stretch on and on,” says Betsy.

When the storm finally passed, Betsy got to it, navigating her way around shattered tree limbs and downed power lines to check on things at her house and at her clients’ houses. It was about this time that Bill called Betsy to file a claim for his wine collection. He has several thousand bottles; most are kept at a wine storage facility, but about 300 of his best bottles—including some very rare ones—are in a temperature-controlled cellar in his home.

As a native of New Orleans, Bill knows hurricanes, and given Ida’s speed, he knew he didn’t have time to safely move the bottles from his home to the storage facility. He and Karyn packed a few things in their car and headed to her parents’ home in northern Louisiana. As he watched reports of the damage on the news, Bill knew it would take weeks before the power would be restored, so he assumed his collection would be ruined.

Betsy contacted PURE and knowing how much the collection meant to Bill and its value, she was not ready to give up. “It hadn’t even been 24 hours,” she says. “So we started to strategize a plan. We needed someone to pack it up, catalogue it, and transport it. And we needed somewhere to store it.”

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Photograph by Ty Cole

The city was devastated, and with spotty phone and internet service and no power, none of this would be easy—and they only had a few hours before the wine would begin to spoil.

Betsy immediately thought of fellow PURE member Cedric Martin, owner of Louisiana-based Martin Wine Cellar. She guessed if anyone in New Orleans had a storage facility with a working generator, it would be Cedric.

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Photograph by Ty Cole

Cedric is a New Orleans native, and Martin Wine Cellars—founded by his father in 1946—is a local institution. He considers it not just a duty but a privilege to help the community in times of need. Having learned some hard lessons from Hurricane Katrina, he did in fact have a functioning cold storage facility powered by a natural gas generator. He told Betsy if they could get Bill’s collection to the facility, he’d be happy to store it, and even provided boxes and pallets needed for transport.

PURE Art Services located an art moving and installation company that was able to transport the wine. Betsy joined them at the Kearneys’ home and together they cataloged and packed up the 300 bottles.

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Photograph by Ty Cole

Incredibly, the whole operation was finished within 24 hours of Bill’s initial phone call, and the collection was saved. “Every single bottle in my house was retrieved and taken to Martin’s facility. They were so thorough. I was in disbelief and so very thankful,” says Bill.

PURE is a specialty property and casualty insurer, dedicated to creating an exceptional experience for responsible high net worth families1. PURE provides customizable coverage for high-value homes, automobiles, jewelry, art, personal liability, watercraft, flood, fraud, and cyber fraud. Today, PURE’s membership includes more than 100,000 families from across the U.S. For more information or to find a local broker, visit pureinsurance.com.