Why cellar wine?

By Amelia Ball

Cellaring is an incredibly personal thing that is about so much more than wine. We talk to several committed wine collectors who share their thoughts on this consuming pursuit.

It can be difficult to explain to anyone who isn’t into wine exactly why cellaring is a good idea. Or even a fun thing to do.

It doesn’t help that collecting wine can quickly become an all-consuming and expensive pastime. But for those who have a treasured collection, they can’t imagine life without it. The bottles in their cellars are not just drinks waiting to be consumed; they represent people, places and precious moments in time. Wine collecting is an emotive thing.

For James Halliday, his cellar is his library. “Every time I take a bottle out and drink it, I learn something new, however small, for wine is a living and ever-changing thing,” he says. James also thinks of some of the special bottles in his collection as “old friends”, but none are too special to open, admitting he has already enjoyed all of his own birth-year wines. “As I get older and face the certainty there are thousands of bottles I won’t ever drink, I remember Len Evans saying, ‘Every time you drink an ordinary wine, you are smashing a great one against the wall.’ That said, on ordinary nights, I will drink wine somewhere in the middle of the pack.”
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Every time you drink an ordinary wine, you are smashing a great one against the wall

The intrinsic link

Wine writer Campbell Mattinson can’t imagine a life without a wine collection of some type and believes it is an intensely personal, emotional connection that exists between a collector and their bottles. “A person’s wine collection says everything about their character,” Campbell says. “Give me a list of someone’s cellar collection and I’ll tell you how they vote, how old they are, how they see themselves, maybe even what kind of job they do – or wished they did. Our cellars are incredibly reflective of who we are, where we’ve come from and where we hope to go.”

After rationalising his collection many times, most of Campbell’s remaining bottles are ones that he feels connected to in some way – beyond simply their quality. “My collection has been haphazard and rambling in the past; it’s now compact, no-nonsense and decisive,” Campbell says. “I’m an all-or-nothing, obsessive person in general; so too my cellar. If something so directly reflective of your self doesn’t mean something to you, then there’s something wrong.” And while Campbell once had wines that he couldn’t imagine drinking, that’s no longer the case. “Everything is up for grabs on any given evening. And doesn’t that build a wonderful sense of anticipation every time I open the cellar door!”

Long-time collector Wayne Read distinctly remembers tasting an old Barossa shiraz that made him stop and think. “I’d never tasted those complexities in a wine before, so I thought I had to start a cellar,” he says. Some 40 years and 240 dozen bottles later, Wayne remains bitten by the bug. He heads to Burgundy for several weeks each year due to his love for the local wines and culture, also detouring via a different region each time.

With such regular stays in Burgundy, Wayne keeps a small cellar there, in addition to his collection stored at Kennards. “A friend looks after a few boxes of special wines for me [in Burgundy],” Wayne says. “Every trip, I endeavour to consume the cellar, but there always ends up being more bottles when I depart than when I arrived.” Such is the nature of the beast.

So what is it about collecting wine? Wayne has his regular buys each year, but also continues to discover new styles that find a home alongside many special bottles in his collection. These include Burgundies from Domaine Arman Rousseau, a solid line-up from Felton Road that date back to the New Zealand winery’s inception, and some older fortifieds, to name a few. Friendships in the industry also make a difference. “Ever since I met Ian Watson from Tomboy Hill, I always buy what he’s got on offer,” Wayne says, having also helped out at the Ballarat winery during vintage.”

It’s these associations that impact Wayne’s response to wine. “I think it does make it taste better,” he says. “You’re more prepared to be a little bit forgiving for a wine that’s made by somebody you like and respect. If it was only 90 per cent, you’d think it was 100. But if you go to the shop and buy something you’ve never seen or heard of before, you’d probably be a little more critical.”

Collecting memories

For fellow collector Rod Doyle, who began cellaring about 17 years ago, many of his wines have extra meaning, relating to holidays, experiences and good times with friends. “I don’t think there’s anything in there that I couldn’t drink [because it’s too special], but there are some that I might struggle to open,” he says. “But eventually they’ve all got to be drunk.”

These days, Rod has around 1300 bottles in his collection, which is now overseen by consultancy Vinified.

Rod believes the emotional attachment involved heightens the overall experience. “I think it’s two-fold. Some wines you bring out and look forward to enjoying are just so disappointing, but some have been fantastic because emotionally, I’ve looked forward to opening them up,” he says.

So, how to explain this wine-collecting thing? Perhaps Wayne sums it up best. “With wine, you open a bottle, share it and you’re guaranteed to have a good time,” he says. “It beats collecting stamps.”