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HOW TO MANAGE A WINE CELLAR OF DISTINCTION

WINE CELLAR

By Nanette Hebdige – June 2020

“Wine is the only artwork you can drink – so manage it well” Luis Fernando Olaverri

 

As a rule, discerning foodies are also customarily wine enthusiasts. So, it’s quite possible your employer could be an avid collector and one your key responsibilities as the EM/HM, will include being the purveyor and cataloger of a reasonably extensive wine collection.

Even if you’re not taking care of a cellar the likes of Downton Abbey, most large estates typically will include one that needs to be managed, stocked and categorized. Monitored and maintained – no small job there.

Don’t be surprised if some cellars may include labels of great distinction, the likes of Chateaux Margaux, Lafitte or Screaming Eagle Cab ’92 as part of the repertoire (only a mere $500K a pop). A cellar of that magnitude will no doubt come with a solid security system, since it’s probably one of the pride and joys of your principal. More reason for you to learn how to manage it well.

You may or may not have sommelier expertise, but even when the executive chef suggests wines to pair with food courses, an EM/HM needs a solid, stand-up knowledge of wine. Whether it’s for daily consumption, intimate gatherings or large functions, unless there’s a designated sommelier in house, the onus most likely will fall on you.

The relic in the form of the dusty yesteryear’s tome with scribbled entries is history. With today’s emerging technology, you may wonder if your smartphone or a tablet can replace a sommelier, but it certainly presents itself as the smartest solution to categorize, maintain and manage any wine cellar, large or small.

A few years ago, the big push in cellar management were applications through social media to connect wine aficionados. They’re not all that useful with cataloging and most of the recommendations probably won’t pertain to the caliber of wines your principal will be stocking.

It’s crucial to engage with a SaaS (software as a service) private program that works best with IOS or Android technology, which will definitely make cataloging easier and less complicated.

In my opinion, eSommelier is one of the most sophisticated platforms currently available for a comprehensive wine collection. It has an upfront charge of $4,000 hardware with touchscreen interface, but it includes a barcode scanner and printer, all residing within the cellar. Even with the $500 annual fee, it’s a valuable addition in the budget for a large estate, as it has one of the most sophisticated, user friendly platforms. And since it’s Cloud based, contents can be viewed from any location to ensure current availability. Another robust management software is Binwise, as it’s used widely by restaurants and large wine collectors.

When looking for a wine cellar application system, ensure it will track these basics:

  • Name/Winemaker

  • Vintage

  • Varietal

  • Date ordered/received/consumed

  • Cost

  • Region/Country of Origin

  • Bin or Rack location and storage

  • Maturity/Drinking window

  • Inventory tracking: available quantity, add-on and removal

  • Barcode scanning

  • Tasting notes area: worthwhile re-ordering or not

After the software interface has done its job, that’s when your wine expertise and management technique come into play.

ROTATION AND CONSUMPTION

Wines are alive and therefore they have an optimal window of consumption. And although some young wines with robust structures (tannins, acidity, color, finish) are certainly drinkable, they should be consumed within the year of bottling. Most wines, however, benefit from age and have a peak consumption window during their lifecycle and shouldn’t be left languishing in a forgotten corner.

CONSTANT TEMP

Consistent temp is one of the most imperative considerations in a cellar, so think of it like a large, refrigerated cavass. Ideally wine should remain between 55°F- 58°F, keeping the temperature at minimal fluctuation, which allows for the wine to mature appropriately and develop complexity.

HUMIDITY LEVELS

Optimal at around 70% because moisture is also an important factor, as the corks swell and shrink. A cellar lacking humidity will dry out the corks and too much will render them moldy, so it’s important that the bottles should be stored laying down, allowing for the wine to make contact with the cork.

PROPER STORAGE

Ensure your bottle labels are facing up, so they aren’t overly handled, as some dust definitely denotes patina!

REST, REST, REST

New bottles need rest prior to consumption. Sediments need to settle and relax after any journey, no matter how long or short. After a shipment arrives, give it at least a 2-3-week time-out.

WINE LOVES DARKNESS

Without light, wines are able to mature and mellow gradually, vital for a vintage. Ensure the wine cellar is well lit when using but remains dim and darkened when not.

TO DECANT OR NOT DECANT

After selecting a bottle(s), allow it to stand for a minimum of 24 hours and decanted for 30/40 minutes. Decanting serves various purposes: it removes sediment to achieve wine clarity when drinking and it oxygenates the wine allowing it to open up. Common rule of thumb is that older wines should be decanted, but that may not apply to all. Know the wine being served so you’re aware if it will benefit from decanting, or not at all.

There are many factors at play when it pertains to the maintenance of a cellar, which comes with a tremendous amount of complexity and variables. Read up as much as you can about the processes involved, the wines stored in your cellar and new ones to be acquired. Anything done well requires effort, but the rewards will be oh so rewarding.

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