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Divorcing Your Wine Cellar
By Roger Morris
Feb 15, 2023
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I have this good friend, Rick, who retired a few years ago from his hectic day-to-day grind as an owner / winemaker to enjoy the good life and to do some traveling.  Since his retirement, I’ve thought of Rick’s new, leisurely lifestyle as that of a boulevardier, a man who in the morning strolls to a nearby coffee shop for a bracing espresso or two and perhaps a fresh croissant or a pain au chocolat to enjoy while leisurely perusing the morning newspaper.  In the evenings, I imagined Rick entertaining guests by first taking them downstairs for a peek into his carefully-curated, temperature-controlled wine cellar.

No longer.  Rick lives in another town, but whenever we’ve gotten together in the past few months for lunch, he hasn’t ordered a single glass of wine or cup of coffee.  For some undiagnosed medical reason, his system has rebelled, giving Rick severe headaches and indigestion whenever he drinks either vin or cafe.  

I got a note from him the other day updating another facet of his dilemma: “Have you ever written about what do you do with your wine cellar when you no longer drink wine?  Or it's too big to drink while you are alive?  Are you a disloyal turncoat if you sell your cellar?  

“Or what about saving wine all your life,” Rick continued, “so you can find out what happens to aged wines, like the wine drinkers of yore, and finding that you prefer younger wines a lot more than older?  Just curious, since I am pummeled by related thoughts as I live with my cellar and talk to others who have cellars.”

To be truthful, I told him, I hadn’t thought much on the topic of cellar remorse.  All the articles I’ve written about wine cellars have been about building them.  But now that he had brought it up, a few weeks ago my wife and I were having dinner at the home of a couple new to our neighborhood, and the subject of wine cellars came up.  Sam had initially sought me out because he heard I liked wine, and, well, he himself had a cellar.  When we arrived, however, only three glasses were sitting on the counter as Jill was preparing dinner.

“Oh, I’m not drinking now,” Jill said, not explaining whether there had been a medical problem or whether she had let a Dry January in her past get out of hand.  Over dinner, Sam moaned, “Now that Jill doesn’t drink, I’ve sort of lost interest in the cellar.  It’s not as much fun to go down and select something for dinner if I’m the only one drinking.”  He proceeded to pummel me throughout dinner with questions about having parties or wine tastings to get rid of the bottles – anything except selling or giving away the tranche from his basement.  For Sam, a cellar was no fun unless he could share it with someone night after night.

So, there we have it – a previously undiagnosed malady of getting older: What happens when you no longer are enraptured by your wine cellar, but haven’t a clue on how to end a beautiful love affair.

As anyone who has discovered wine in their 20s or 30s will tell you, starting a wine cellar is an expression of newfound, rapturous love, and the cellar becomes a temple the new collector builds to that passion.  But as we all age – like our cellared wines – the bloom sometimes fades.  Rick’s
question about lost loyalty reminds of a line of from Antonio Carlos Jobim’s song, How Insensitive: “What was I to do, what can one do, when a love affair is over.”

In Rick’s case – in addition to the physical pains in his later years – it seems he never truly adjusted to the oeno polygamy that is the bedrock of most wine collections.  Sure, all of us love bringing up current acquisitions from the cellar to open for a special dinner, and a large part of any cellar, and not just the whites, should be dedicated to current drinking.  But after falling in  
love with a current vintage, as it aged, Rick and others like him found they preferred, as Steve Martin says in The Jerk, “fresh wines,” and didn’t care much about the mellower tastes of older vintages.  
And so, Rick’s cellar kept getting older and older, becoming less attractive to him with each passing year.

There are other problems that engender cellar’s remorse.  A frequent cellar death sentence is often heard in doctor’s offices, “You have to stop drinking because of your diabetes or liver or kidneys—or while you’re taking this medication.”  And some older collectors, especially during Covid, lost their senses of smell and taste, sometimes temporarily, but sometimes for years.

In my own case, I quit putting down wine when I reached 60 and have been slowly drinking up the remainder of the cellar, pairing old bottles with new ones on an almost nightly basis.  But, as it appears I may outlive by current cellar, I may need to start purchasing again.

Then there is the problem of family cellars.  Dad and Mom have decided to downsize to a smaller house or condo that can’t hold their collection.  And the Juniors in the family drink only beer or cocktails or – horrors – don’t drink beverage alcohol at all.

So, sorry Rick, sorry Sam, there is only one thing to do – cut your bottles loose and set your cellars free!  Perhaps you’ve fallen out of love with your bottles for good cause, but now those bottles need to have the chance to be someone else’s object of affection, especially someone eager and younger who will rub imaginary dust off them and let then slumber in a temperature-controlled love nest while anticipating the next rendezvous.  They deserve this second chance at affection, even if that means selling them at auction.  

And if your collection is not of sufficient merit to warrant contacting a commercial auction house, surely a non-profit organization would be eager to dispose of your collection through their annual fundraising raffles or auctions.                                                      

Or, if you have impresario skills, stage a going-away party for your cellar and invite all your wine-loving friends and association.  After opening a few bottles, unleash them on your cellar, each with a handful of tags to claim their new objects of affection.

In a conversation I had some years ago with Jaime Ritchie, Sotheby’s worldwide head of wine auctions, I asked about why collectors who had invested thousands, even millions, of dollars in their collections finally decided to sell them.  He told me that there was a joke about this in the auctions business: “It’s mainly because of one of the three deadly Ds occurring – Divorce, Debt or Death.”
And for Rick and Sam and the rest of us no longer young and eager, perhaps we can add two more Ds – Disenchantment and the Diseases of old age.   

More from Roger:  Roger Morris
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