Thursday, July 2, 2020

Our Wine Cellar

Our Wine Cellar - deep and diverse - horizontal, verticals, large formats and favorite styles and labels ...

I regularly refer to our wine cellar in these pages. I expose and feature it here. Each month the leading wine publication, Wine Spectator, features a collector in their Collecting column. We and our cellar collection were the feature in the June 15th, 2001 issue.

A highlight of the feature was our collection of birth year vintage wines for the birth years of our children, coupled with our collection of large format bottles of those wines - magnums, 3 liter double magnums, 5 liter Jeroboams, 6 liter Imperials, and a 9 liter Salmanazar.

Indeed, we served fine wines from those large format bottles at our all our childrens' weddings, and we're holding more for the others' upcoming weddings, anniversaries, and for other gala celebrations and events to come.
See links to Big Bottles, Birthyear Bottles, and Family celebrations: 

See my feature page Wine Bottle Sizes Explained on the different size bottles for different wine types. 
Large format, birth year vintage wines served at
our daughter's wedding.
Our cellar - Its not fancy, its functional, for a purpose. People often ask me about cellar design. Its a cellar - for wine storage. If you're creating a showroom or tasting or dining room, then so be it.. But who wants to dine in 58 degrees?

Racks? There are all kinds of racks and kits and professional designs and installations. Again, our cellar is utilitarian and the racks were somewhat of a 'family affair'. In fact, most of them were father-son projects over a period of time where we designed and built a wine storage rack as part of a fun, teaching, bonding, collaboration project. 
Each section and project provided an opportunity to spend time together and teach basic woodworking as well as project planning and management with my three sons. 

Hence, we have several wine racks of various  bespoke designs, not perfect, but uniquely 'ours', and each a special memory, and functional for the long run, especially those over-engineered or excessively designed, all purpose built for our cellar. 

Our cellar contains racks that were designed and purpose built for standard size 750 ml bottles - some for bulk storage and some for 'display'. 

We also built racks for our large format bottle collection - some for 1500ml or 1.5 liter 'magnum' bottles, 3 liter 'double magnum' bottles, and larger format bottles as well. 

We also have bulk storage racks designed to hold full original wood cases (OWC's) of wine - a format used for many premium and ultra-premium wines as well as many Grand Cru Classe and other quality Bordeaux wines. 

Also, many large format bottles have their own individual OWC's. Shown right are six liter bottles of 90BV6L - Silver Oak Bonny's Vineyard 1990 - one bottle per OWC, note serial numbers 41 and 47.

Temperature and humidity control - If building a cellar to store wine for more than the shortest term, temperature and humidity control are essential. Once again, there are residential and commercial grade units for temperature and humidity control. It's best to have these professionally installed as they can be complicated with needs for special wiring, water supply and water disposition. 

Our cellar employs two methods of temperature and humidity control. First, it is a true cellar, placed in a basement under the house at nine feet deep below grade. It is sided by concrete walls on three sides that are exterior below grade. So the basic temperature is naturally moderate and rather stable. 

Additionally, we have a passive temperature control system. Living in an unincorporated location without municipal services, we have our own well for water service to our home. As part of that system, we have a large well water tank to pressurize and supply our property with water. That well tank is in our wine cellar and provides a constant 55% degree heat sink to moderate the cellar environment. 

We also have supplemental air conditioning to provide auxiliary cooling for the cellar when needed. 

At the end of the day, (or decade), the true test is how well bottles age in the cellar. We regularly open aged vintage bottles of wine that have been stored in our cellar since being acquired upon release, ten, twenty and as long as thirty-five years earlier. Invariably, the bottles, corks, labels, and most importantly, the wine have aged gracefully and appropriately. We often say, whatever we are doing, keep doing it, when we open such bottles of well maintained, properly aged, fine wines, in superb condition.  

We hold about 2500+ bottles in our cellar, plus more in a couple wine coolers adjacent to the kitchen for staging. While we're at a stage of life where we should be consuming our wine, we still tend to acquire our share as well so the holdings remain the same. We have almost as much  fun acquiring the wine, as we do drinking it, as this blog will atest. 

As to be expected, 95 percent of our wine cellar is Red wines. Only a couple cases of whites and Champagnes are held for short duration cellaring, nearer term drinking. We do have a collection of white dessert wines which do age well and can be held for decades or more but its single digit cases. 
People regularly ask me where I buy my wines. The answer is, wherever wines are sold. Actually, we regularly 'audit' the local wine shops, both the wine superstores, and the local independent merchants. We're always on the prowl for values, but also trying and buying wines in the styles that we prefer. We're also always buying and trying new labels, and occasionally, new regions or styles.  
We also acquire wine from favorite produces through their 'clubs' or memberships - ensuring continuity and access to favorite labels - especially for our collectibles. Much of the fun of collecting is comparing a label from vintage to vintage, over time as it ages, at different stages of its tasting/aging profile. One of the benefits of having a wine group of wine buddies is that we mix it up, spreading and sharing the club memberships. This way we can participate in three or four times as many clubs between us, and then we share the case purchases between three or four of us.
Lastly, we're always filling out our collections with new vintages of our verticals or new labels of our horizontals. (A vertical collection is many vintages of the same label; a horizontal is multiple labels of the same vintage). 
Readers of this column know we have vertical collections of favorite labels that span as much as 25 years (obviously age-worthy wines) and horizontal collections for each of our childrens' (and now grandchildren's) birth-years. 
Selection from Vertical Collection of Dunn Vineyards
Cabernet Sauvignons
These pages are filled with different examples of tasting events of various verticals or horizontals. We hold vertical collections spanning as long as three decades of numerous producers including Del Dotto, Robert Craig, Clark Claudon, Dunn Family Vineyards, Fantesca, Ducru Beaucaillou, Leoville Las Cases, Gruaud Larose and others.

See the following features from our earlier blogposts highlighting vertical or horiztonal tastings: 

Ducru Beaucaillou Vertical Showcases Pour Boys Wine Dinner

Kathryn Hall Vertical Tasting - Hall Wine Release Tour 2015

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Vertical

 In some cases we did a mini horizontal and vertical in one tasting:

Caymus and Del Dotto Napa Cabernets - 1995-96 horizontal - vertical !

Example of a gala Horizontal Vintage tasting from our Pour Boys Wine Group:

Bordeaux 2003 Horizontal Tasting on the Cityscape Deck - Grilled Steak Dinner

2003 Vintage Bordeaux Horizontal Flight
As mentioned often in these pages, we maintain our cellar inventory in CellartrackerI was developing a personal app on my own and had a vision for essentially the same solution, however, I'm a marketing guy, not a software engineer with the skills to develop a comprehensive sophisticated application. I spoke of my vision for such a site in my Wine Spectator interview in 2001.

CellarTracker was originally created in March, 2003 by Eric LeVine who was working for Microsoft at the time, to track his own collection. After extending access to several friends the site quickly grew to 100 users tracking 60,000 bottles.

LeVine launched the site to the public in 2004 and left shortly thereafter to manage it full time. Since then, the site has grown steadily every since.

Today, CellarTracker is the leading cellar management tool with hundreds of thousands of collectors tracking more than 75 million bottles. CellarTracker has also grown to become the largest database of community tasting notes with more than 5.8 million notes as of late 2016. The site is also visited by millions of wine enthusiasts annually to read the reviews and get wine recommendations. Patron members who contribute a voluntary fee get access to cost information - the aggregate average price paid for a wine by the community. This in of itself is worth the annual contribution investment, the ability to validate the price of any particular wine across a wide community of mostly astute consumers.

Finally, here is a link to a gallery of our friends' wine cellars, many of which you see featured in these pages over the past years, or certainly the wines from such cellars.  Friends Cellars - Take a look at the cellars of our Pour Boy wine group and other friends