Meet Bob Cummings, retired owner of J & J Production Services.
By Jackie Headapohl
Photography by Jacob Giampa
AT ONE POINT, there were 13,500 bottles of wine in Bob Cummings’ collection. “Nobody’s going to drink that much,” said Cummings, who’s now selling — not buying — wines.
Ironically, when he started collecting wine in 1975, he didn’t even like it. “I was a Scotch drinker,” he said.
Cummings got his start as a purchasing agent at Ford Motor Co. and launched his own manufacturing rep business, Dearborn-based J & J Production Services, the same year he began collecting wines.
He kept at it for 33 years, until the Great Recession hit in 2008. Now retired, he splits his time between a sprawling home in Northville where his collection is housed in two cellars — a small one off the dining room and the “main” cellar on his home’s lower level — and a home in Lighthouse Point, Fla., both shared with his wife, Millie.
Cummings reminisces about his first foray into the wine-collecting world. “My partner was in Fort Lauderdale at a wine shop selling French wine futures. He told me to send him a check for $40,000. I told him it was no time to be making jokes — I didn’t have $40,000 to spend.”
His partner was convincing, so Cummings scraped up the money and sent it to him. “That was the snowball at the top of the mountain that kept rolling and rolling,” he said.
For those who don’t know, buying futures in wine is a lot like buying commodities, with cash laid down now for later delivery of something that doesn’t yet exist as a finished product. Buyers wait typically two to four years to receive their bottles. There are a few advantages, Cumming said. One, you can save money, often getting a bargain price per bottle. Two, if you’re lucky and it’s an extremely good year, you can watch your futures increase in value.
Cumming and his wife began making trips to California’s Napa Valley twice a year. On one memorable occasion, he said, they came back with 104 cases of wine.
Cummings said he never intended to sell a single bottle of wine. “We just started collecting.” He put a 3,000-bottle wine cellar in the Farmington home he had at the time. When he built his home in Northville in 1994, he built a 10,000-bottle cellar.
“Entertaining was a big part of my life when I was in business,” he said. “And every time there was a party, I’d come with a case of wine on my shoulder.”
He says he can thank Eddie Jonna from Merchant of Vino for getting him involved in French wines. “I bought all my French wines from him through his futures program back when there wasn’t much demand for French wines,” he said.
His greatest futures purchase was for the 1982 vintage of Mouton and Lafite wines, which were released in 1985. Turns out that 1982 was an extremely good year.
Cummings paid $525-$535 a case. In 2006, he went to auction through Sotheby’s in New York and sold them for $11,000-$12,000 a case. “When it got to be that much, I couldn’t resist,” Cummings said. “I had too many other wines my friends would be satisfied with. Had I held on for 18 months longer, I would have gotten $38,000 a case. Right now, they’re worth $42,000 a case and holding steady.”
Cummings has been to auction three times, twice in New York and once in Hong Kong where he sold his large format bottles for “unbelievably good prices.” A bottle of 1989 Lynch Bage he paid $1,500 for sold for $18,000. “That investment turned out to be better than the stock market,” he said.
Over the years, Cummings donated a lot of wines to Walsh College’s annual wine gala, which raises money for scholarships. “About $500,000 worth over 14 years,” he said.
For 28 years, he also held an annual Christmas party for charity that benefited the Sarah Fisher Home for Unwed Mothers and more recently senior citizens and underprivileged children in the Taylor, Farmington and Novi areas. Yes, those parties featured a lot of fine wine.
Nowadays, Cummings drinks primarily California wines and is looking to shrink his collection. “Like everything else in life, there’s a time for everything,” Cummings said. “My kids aren’t wine drinkers and I’m not entertaining as much. I’m also drinking less for my health.”
Married for 35 years, with four kids and 12 grandkids, Cummings looks back on his career fondly. “I grew up in humble beginnings in Ecorse and started in Ford’s purchasing department straight out of college,” he said. “It was a big risk to go out on my own, and I had to work a long, long time before it paid off.”
He’s now looking to sell his 13,000-square-foot home on five acres in Northville. “It’s just too big now.” His home in Florida, which sits alongside a canal, is less than half the size.
He said he and Millie were able to travel the world: the Greek Isles, Great Barrier Reef, Alaska and, of course, France and Italy. They still go out most nights and the grandkids are close by. “We’ve got nothing to complain about,” he said. NS
Cummings’ home in Northville, is currently for sale. Call (248) 613-7167 for more information.