It might surprise you, but master sommelier Steven Geddes says his wine cellar is only 36 inches in circumference — which happens to be his waist size, he jokes.
The west coast director of operations for the Charlie Palmer group is making the point that it’s not about how much wine is in your cellar, but how much you enjoy it.
“All of my favorite wines I’ve consumed with loved ones and friends,” said Geddes, who prefers seasonal and regional selections.
“My favorite wines tend to lean toward fresher ones that have more acidity and are more fruit-driven — pinot noirs, tempranillos, San Gioveses, German rieslings and sauvignon blancs. Everybody thinks all the great wines are found. They’re not,” he said. “I rarely drink the same wine twice.”
Still, Geddes knows the value of a good wine cellar. He was there when the four-story wine tower at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole was installed in 1999, before Mandalay Bay opened. And he knows what to look for, such as protection from natural light.
“Adam Tihany’s original design had the afternoon sunlight coming through the wine tower into the casino,” Geddes said. “We started with a UV screen; UV is what the issue is. Then we went ahead and blacked it out. I knew it was protected, but 90 percent of the guests will say, ‘Why is sunlight shining through the wine tower?’ We blacked it out even though Adam was adamantly against it.”
“We don’t want any sunlight on wine,” agreed Brett Traylor, owner of Premier Wine Cellars & Saunas in Las Vegas. “Wine is a living organism, and the more sunlight that’s applied, the quicker it dies.”
Yet wine cellars designed with an abundance of glass are popular now. Ideally, they should have double-paned insulated glass, Traylor said, but that requires framing that has a storefront effect. So most people instead opt for UV protection.
“I wouldn’t want to try it for my house,” he said. “I wouldn’t recommend it.” Though his company will install glass walls, Traylor said, “Why risk it? Especially if you have a really nice wine collection.”
Las Vegas attorney and wine collector
Ed Achrem, who has a really nice collection — which includes numerous large-format bottles sourced from wine auctions and other places all over the world — is a believer. When he and his wife, Donna, had their 10,000-capacity cellar built in 2002, they made sure no light could filter in.
“A glass door would be good for ego, but not for the wine,” said Achrem, whose wine-cellar door is a section of wall that pivots. When closed, with lights off, the cellar is pitch dark.
“You want to keep them in the dark and keep them at a constant temperature,” he said. And when the Achrems had their cellar built, it was added on to the shaded north side of their house.
“The first thing to consider is the location of the room — location meaning preferably no exterior walls,” Traylor said. ”Positioning is important for refrigeration purposes. We want to achieve 55 degrees and 50-percent humidity year-round.”
For that reason, he said, the room should be separated from the rest of the house, with insulation, a vapor barrier and moisture-resistant sheetrock.
And watch out for those VOC’s — volatile organic compounds, more simply smelly chemical fumes — because odors can leach into wines. Geddes said another snag with Aureole’s tower was that the interior frame was painted shortly before they planned to bring in the wine.
“ ‘We’re supposed to be loading wine today,’ ” he remembers saying. “ ‘We can’t load one bottle until I can come into the wine tower and not smell paint.’ It put us back three days.”
When wine remains in an area with such volatile aromas, Geddes said, “these other things can get into the wines” because both the glass and the cork are porous.
Another crucial consideration when installing a wine cellar is a versatile racking system because not all wine bottles are the same size and shape.
Lighting, too, is important.
“Lighting’s key because we want to show off the wine bottles,” Traylor said. “I like recessed can, or LED for directional lighting.”
And don’t forget an inventory to keep track of the wines.
“You need some kind of an organization system,” Geddes said. “Some kind of bin numbering, or some kind of spreadsheet. People start collecting wines and, like all collecting habits, things get out of control, and they forget what they have. Ten bottles left out of a case will be left in a corner. All of a sudden they go to taste it and it’s like, ‘Wow, we should have drunk that a couple of years ago.’ “
Because first and foremost, wines should be enjoyed.
“Wine, to me, is one of those special things,” Geddes said. “It should be a guttural connection — things that bring you to a place, evoke something, create passion, create memories.”
Owner, with his family, of the Vegas Golden Knights and Foley Family Wines, which has 24 wineries in the U.S. and New Zealand.
Cellar: About 15 by 15 feet with a 1,250-bottle capacity, plus a wine wall in the dining room that holds about 850 bottles.
Materials: The racking is stainless steel. The floor is white glass, sandblasted on the reverse side and lighted from underneath to resemble ice, inset with logos of the Vegas Golden Knights in glass and bronze. The primary color scheme is white, gray and stainless steel, in keeping with the home’s decor.
Stock: Bill and Carol Foley just moved there in April, so the cellar and wine wall are filled only with their wines. “I need to step out; I want to bring in other people’s wines,” said Foley, who loves to try different wines and enjoys holding blind tastings when entertaining.
Favorite wine: Chalk Hill Estate chardonnay, which is “nice, round, buttery.” And Foley Johnson Cabernet Rutherford Dust. When entertaining, he likes to serve Sebastiani Cherryblock and Merus cult cabernet, of which he produces only 1,500 cases a year. “We’re very careful with it.”
Residence: Southern Highlands
Cellar: 3,000-bottle capacity
Materials: Hand-crafted wood racking, counter and shelving. The floor is antique stone and the ceiling features five, brick-lined barrel vaults. The keyless-entry cellar contains two antique, wrought-iron light fixtures, a stone table and chairs. Eight built-in, semicircular pedestals display wines and stemware.
The temperature is controlled by a separate system connected to a silent alarm that alerts a security company when the temperature rises.
Favorite wine: Caymus cabernet sauvignon
President and COO of the Molasky Group of Companies
Cellar: 22 by 21 feet, with a 4,000-bottle capacity (plus two wine refrigerators, with 84-bottles of wine in the kitchen and 48 bottles in the bar)
Materials: The racking in Worthington and wife Diane Boyle’s cellar is untreated black walnut. There’s a counter made from wine-barrel staves, library ladders for reaching shelves near the 13-foot ceiling, and a 153-year-old, 500-pound Baccarat chandelier, which was bought at a chateau estate auction in Provence and sent to Baccarat in Paris to be wired and restored. An artist is recreating a 7-by-4-foot version of a label bearing David Hockney artwork that was designed for a bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, to decorate the cellar’s back wall.
Favorite wines: Bordeaux, Heitz Cellar Martha’s Vineyard, Gaja with Italian food, and Silverado cabernet sauvignon with steak.