“Wait Master, it might be dangerous… you go first.”
Jeff at The Drunken Cyclist won the honor of winning the last Monthly Wine Writers Challenge and his reward was picking out the theme for the next challenge. He chose “environment.” I am the not the person to ask about the environment, as I can appreciate the end result from those that work the soil, I am lucky if I can grow dirt. It is pretty sad, that as a homeowner, that I or my Bride can not grow anything, and when we do get kind of successful the local rabbits and deer seem to cut short our progress. Thankfully the world of wine, does not have to depend on my ability to grow anything.
I thought of the recent fires that ravaged the wine country in California and then in Spain. I read some of the transcripts and even followed the first-person narratives of those that were in the midst of that tragedy and quite candidly, they did a much finer job, then I could, even if I tried to rehash the events and the drama. Then I thought of the recent new designations for wineries as they strive to be more than stewards for the land, as in the French “Agriculture Biologique,” which I applaud, but most of it is beyond my comprehension of being a good farmer.
So, my brain started a series of non-sequitur thoughts until I followed Igor and countless others who said “Walk, this way.” I followed them not down to a laboratory or even down a rabbit hole, but I walked down to the cellar. Those grand images of old wine cellars in Gothic mansions where the dust is part of the charm. The environment of the wine collection, something near and dear to the heart of those of us, who like to collect and drink wines.
The wine cellar is part of the lore of wines. Who cannot get excited when they see pictures or perchance an actual visit to some of the cellars of the grand estates on the continent. Where one can find bottles that have been resting since they were once laid down, which explains the wonderful libraries of wines that still exist, some perhaps past their prime, and others still waiting to show that they still have it. Some are like catacombs with cobwebs defying all that enter, not to defile the rest of the bottles. Those lucky souls that have the old bottles of vintage Port that have a daub of paint on the bottle, so that if the bottle is moved, it will end up in the same resting position elsewhere.
The closest that I ever got to being in a cellar of this stature was when we booked a tour and wine tasting at Neibaum-Coppola which was in the original structure built by the Finnish Sea Captain Gustave Neibaum who started Inglenook way back when. Our tasting was held in one of the old cellars, or with the magic of Francis Ford Coppola, maybe it was created to look like an old cellar, but it made the Rubicon taste all that much more wonderful. I have also had the privilege to be in some wine cellars of some old restaurants that are still in existence and that is a marvelous visit as well.
Nowadays the cellars are show rooms, just like they are putting small cinemas into the new houses. They have state of the art systems to keep the wines at a constant temperature and humidity. The woodwork and the marble in these rooms are as elaborate as a formal dining room. The wine magazines like to feature these elaborate rooms with their wonderful hordes of wines, usually in vertical runs. Not only is it possible to have house-envy, but now cellar-envy, as some of these cellars may have cost as much as my home.
When I first learned about wine cellaring when I was in high school, the main points were constant temperature (with an allowance for some fluctuation), darkness and the lack of vibration. These three rules I have always tried to maintain. My first attempt in my parent’s home was some shelves in the basement. My first home had a coal chute, under the front porch and next to what is called a Michigan Cellar for storing home canned goods. The house had been converted to a natural gas furnace, so the coal chute was perfect with racks that I built using two by fours. In our current house, I was able to actually build a cellar that is adjacent to two outside walls of the basement that have no insulation, but the walls adjacent to the actual basement are stuffed with insulation and so are the rafter above the cellar and the room stays nice steady fifty-five degrees with no mechanical assistance. I call it a cellar, but it is really just an oversized closet and with racks on both sides of the room, I can not turn around in the room. I built it to hold nine-hundred bottles, but I somehow have managed to cram around thirteen-hundred bottles in it, and yes, I am proud of that boast. I also managed to give it a bit of a cellar feel, by paneling the walls with the end crates of wooden wine crates that I carefully took apart, and when I ran out of wine crates, I actually pasted wine labels from all of the wines that I had drank that did not end up in scrap books. The racks I had ordered from a company and I had to assemble them like tinker-toys of my youth and when I get motivated I will finish the room with a crown molding of all the corks I have saved with this future project in mind. That is the environment for my wines.