Wine / Lingering memories of the bare cellar

“How do I know there were four young thieves? The act was caught on CCTV and their faces revealed to me and, subsequently, to the police,” writes wine writer RICHARD CALVER

THE June/July edition of the wine magazine “Halliday”, named by the venerable James Halliday after himself, contains guidance on the cellaring of wines.

Richard Calver.

This feature brought a tear to my eye. Not because I was envious of those with sufficient cash to invest in a substantial wine fridge or those who would pay around $2000 a square metre to build a cellar under their house.

No. It was in remembrance of wines fondly collected over 20 years but not consumed. In 2013 the steel roof of my storage unit was levered off by four young thieves and most of the wine I’d been collecting and cellaring for my adult life was stolen.

How do I know there were four young thieves? The act was caught on CCTV and their faces revealed to me and, subsequently, to the police. But they weren’t brought to justice even though forensics got a boot print left in the dust of one of the unit’s support beams.

So to the ample reflections on cellaring in the Halliday journal, I add two pieces of critical advice.

First, the enemies of wine storage are normally movement, daylight, air-conditioning, temperature fluctuation and excessive humidity. All these were absent in the storage unit in the basement of the flats where I live. My wines were kept under lock, most stored in wooden racks and covered with a tarpaulin. The real enemy on the horrible occasion was other people. I now rank secure storage conditions as the number one factor in cellaring wine.

The second issue is to have a spreadsheet or ample records of the wines that are being stored, when and where you purchased them and a column to update them for the current market value. Such a spreadsheet is also useful for telling you when to drink the wine based on the winemaker’s recommendations and your own preferences for storage time when you purchased the wine.

I am now developing such a spreadsheet and would like to hear from the readers about what information they would additionally suggest be shown in the relevant records. I have my own ideas but would appreciate yours.

Alas, I only had a rough idea of the value of my collection but, of course, I did know the number of wines stored within a few bottles. I knew the really good ones very well: a 1989 Grange, a 1990 John Riddoch, a Cyril Henschke cabernet sauvignon, a number of aged Fox Creek wines. Sigh. But proving their purchase was a question of reaching an agreement with the insurance company based on old retained bank statements (hint: always pay for wines via a credit card!) and then current values. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and an excess. I am sure that despite, in the end, fair treatment, the cash didn’t reflect the entire market value. While I have now started another wine collection, my storage cupboard has limited space and so I’ve updated my sound system. Music can sooth the savage beast when memories of those unconsumed bottles make me stop loving humanity.

“Hell is other people.” –Jean Paul Sartre

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