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Ancient Cellars – Selfless Thoughts for Future Generations

About six years ago I was very active over at eRobertParker. Back then, I had a very low subscriber number and enjoyed learning from people before the vitriol began to pour, eventually leading to the closing of the board. However, during my active days on the forum, I noticed something disturbing: people regularly talked about “drinking down” their cellars and stopping their purchasing of age-able wines when they reached a certain age. This, in turn, led me to write a post which conjured a little steam behind it, but never quite took off. That said, I think it’s a good post, and I’m eager to share it. I hope you will comment, letting us know if you feel whether this is truly a cultural phenomenon?

A bit of background first. At the time, I was managing a wine shop in Minnesota. Hence when I mention, “my customers”, this is what I’m referring to. Also, this post was prompted by a trip to Portugal and the drinking of a 1879 Quinta do Noval. I’m reposting it here today, because very soon, I hope to tell the story of the 1879 Noval and the amazing family behind it.

Recently on this board [eRobertParker], and in my store [Cellars Minnetonka], I have heard this type of dialogue: “The trick to a good cellar is to know when to stop building so that you can drink down your cellar and die with little [wine] left.” For a long time, I agreed and lamented with [my] customers regarding parents and friends long gone who never had a chance to taste all of their wines. Consequently, I see more and more people lamenting that they might not be around to make buying b2k’s [2000 Bordeaux's] worthwhile. As for myself, I agreed with this argument, until I was in Portugal. A friend of my family’s was gracious enough to invite my new wife [Gabriella!] and I to his “castle” and treat us to some of the warmest hospitality we’ve had anywhere. His great, great, grandfather was at one time the owner of Quinta do Noval. So, on our first night there, we were graciously treated to some ancient ports from the 19th century. Needless to say, I’m sure glad his grandparents before him did not feel that they needed to “drink down” their cellar. As my fascination with wine has led me to nurture my growing and thriving cellar, I’ve wondered whenI will stop buying great vintages, knowing that I will not outlast them. And lately, I think that I might not stop growing my cellar. It seems that if done right a cellar can last far past your lifetime and continue to provide enjoyment for all those to come. Wouldn’t it be great if I could secure something now, and take care of it, for those in the future to enjoy. Haven’t we all wished that more people had taken the time to preserve some of the classic vintages of the past in better condition? Shouldn’t we also try to pass some of the great future vintages for those close to us? In the end, I’d like to know if anyone is buying for someone else’s future enjoyment?

Today, I’m not really adding to a cellar. Setting up a business, and attempting to live the life we live, does not afford us the chance to lay wines aside, but I do think that when that changes, I will begin to collect again. I also believe that I’ll lay wines down that others will enjoy in the future, a future I’m not part of. Whether we have children at some point, who might appreciate them, or if it’s just friends of the family and other relatives, I think that this would be a great way to be remembered.

What do you think?

Ryan

  • Andrew H.

    Ryan,

    I completely agree that our aging shouldn’t preclude us from collecting wines to enjoy in the future. Whether we will be around to enjoy them or someone else will.
    A simple test for this is to remember if you’ve ever enjoyed the gift of a properly-cared-for older wine and know that you can bestow this upon others. It is a great joy to be able to taste an old bottle of wine, think about the history that happened the year the wine was made, and if you were alive what your personal history that year was.
    This doesn’t even take into consideration that for most of us, as we grow older, have more disposable income to buy wines that can last well in a cellar.

    Bravo on a fine idea that wine-lovers should embrace.

    • http://www.catavino.net Ryan Opaz

      Thank you, I appreciate it!

  • http://www.winetravelguides.com Wink Lorch

    Ryan, what you wrote and now re-publish is a great thought and an excellent discussion basis, but I feel that I must play devil’s advocate.

    Too many people I’ve met over the years have wines in their ‘cellars’ (often not cellars and not in great storage conditions) that would have been so much better if drunk years ago. Especially now (for all vintages made in the past 15 years) for the vast majority of even fine or premium wines, ‘wine infanticide’ is preferable to ‘wine procrastination’.

    Of course, if one can preserve for the future a few bottles of that very small minority of legendary, ageworthy-for-decades bottles (particularly apt to fortified and/or sweet wines), that’s a great thing to do.

    • http://www.catavino.net Ryan Opaz

      Wink I agree 100% with you on the cellars that are wasted with wines never drunk. That was not my point. What I meant was that as I get older, I’ll still buy wines that might outlast me, not that I want to keep wines in my cellar “just because”! :)

      When I’m 80, and if I have the money and desire to do it, I won’t stop buying wines that might be better in 10-20 years, just because I might not be here.

  • http://vinosambiz.blogspot.com Vinos Ambiz

    I would absolutely love to lay down a wine cellar stocked both with wines that I could drink myself and with friends in the future, and also with wines that would outlast me and could be enjoyed by others. (I don’t have the time, place or money at the moment – but the time will come!). The whole idea of the time-span, of something enduring beyond your own lifetime, that you can create and that outlasts you, I find very fascinating. I’ve never had the chance to try a really ancient wine – but agian, the time will come, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it tremendously. As much as I enjoy fantasizing about laying down a cellar!!!

  • Mark H

    I am a strong believer in cellaring wine but realize that my collection will be a constantly evolving thing. I am always mindful of what might need to be opened or might be approaching the end of its tether (I have a friend who tends to cellar his wine to ‘death’) so one of the joys of a cellar is to be constantly replacing wines that you have drunk – they are all bought to enjoy at some point in the future rather than to sell. That tends to mean that the mix of my cellar is changing and evolving as I am exposed to new wine styles which is part of the fun. I certainly hope and plan to be on this earth for a good while yet but I do love the idea that my cellar will eventually pass on to my offspring to be enjoyed and added to!

  • http://www.enotrends.com Enotrends

    The increasing availability of “ready to drink” wines in the retail market is a strong factor in this change of culture. Less people seems to be cellaring wines and maybe the people with cellars are changing their minds. I recently read about an avid collector of high end French wines mentioning how he very seldom drink out of his collection since he founded excellent wines in retail.

  • http://www.whoisbid.com Whoisbid

    If there was anyone I would ever want to keep a wine for it would be my children for when they grow up.