After dropping and breaking too many bottles in his previous home, this wine lover wasn’t looking for “fancy-schmancy” when he designed this space. His new cellar turned out to be as beautiful as it is functional.

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THE PETRUS (1978), the Chateau Margaux (1980), the Château Lafite Rothschild (1979). All turned to vinegar. Bottles and bottles of fine and expensive wine, trapped in a room with a failed refrigeration unit. Gone bitter.

It’s a wine lover’s tragedy of a lifetime. And Ron, standing now among 2,000 of his closest friends, knows the feeling well. It happened to him.

So when it came time to build a subterranean home for the rest of his stash in his new house, Ron wanted to do it right. (It’s not a collection, Ron says. He drinks it. Ron is a wine enthusiast who goes his own way. Doesn’t care for wine tastings or the whole winery thing.)

What follows is Ron’s story, Ron’s words.

“As you can see, my wine cellar is very attractive. It makes me smile every time I walk into it. But the original idea for it was to be totally functional. I didn’t want the fancy-schmancy ones you see in the magazines, where someone has the brilliant idea to set up wine-tasting furniture and memorabilia — as if you’d really enjoy sitting around in 54 degrees sipping wine. Instead, mine was designed to hold the maximum number of bottles, which turned out be room for about 3,000.”

To craft the space, Katie Hoke of McClellan Architects tipped her client off to Inviniti Cellar Design. Ron discovered CellarTracker, software that categorizes wines by numbered bins and offers a detailed inventory. Then, with much effort, he found a supplier for 3,000 embossed and numbered metal tags, Nap’s Dealer Supplies in Belmont, Mich.

“I always struggled with how to organize the wine. I wanted to have information about my entire stock in a restaurant-style wine list with wine-review ratings, best-drink dates, how many bottles of each vintage remain in the cellar, and the bin locations of each bottle from that vintage.”

Ron opens a 2004 Caymus Vineyards Special Selection cabernet sauvignon. There’s more:

Ron can easily find any bottle among his stash using CellarTracker software. His favorites? “I’m partial to Walla Walla,” he says. When asked if he has a glass of wine with dinner, Ron says, “No. I have two.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
Ron can easily find any bottle among his stash using CellarTracker software. His favorites? “I’m partial to Walla Walla,” he says. When asked if he has a glass of wine with dinner, Ron says, “No. I have two.” (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

“We settled on a cedar racking system. I then specified that I didn’t want stone tile flooring or any other hard surface. Dropping a bottle is inevitable, and the last thing I wanted was cleaning up a broken bottle of red wine. So I chose a natural cork tile. It has already paid for itself: A half-full case of wine tipped off a stack when I was loading the cellar, and not a single bottle broke.”

McClellan suggested the Old World-style curved ceiling, and Mercer Builders, the home’s contractors, set aside enough old-growth cedar to craft it. That led to the idea of hand-forged, barrel-stave-type metal hoops (by Steve Howell at Ballard Forge).

“I picked out a curved-top oak cellar door, with the outside veneer made from actual barrel staves. The inside was my only actual contribution — arranging and gluing in a large number of wine-bottle corks.”

It was Ron’s task to arrange and glue hundreds of wine corks onto the inside of the curved cellar door. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)
It was Ron’s task to arrange and glue hundreds of wine corks onto the inside of the curved cellar door. (Benjamin Benschneider/The Seattle Times)

Just outside are two large rubbings Ron had made from 13th-century brass plates inlaid into a church floor in Bruges, Belgium. Inside, the only thing besides the racks is a wine barrel turned small table, a gift from the architect.

And now?

“I can select wine from my cellar exactly as I would from a fine restaurant, except I don’t have a really good sommelier to advise me.

“I don’t have the snootiness to be a wine connoisseur. I just know what I like when I taste it and couldn’t explain it if I tried, nor could I come up with all of the highfalutin words they use. That’s why I rely on descriptions from Robert Parker and Wine Spectator.

“So, in the end, my wine cellar didn’t just turn out utilitarian, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”