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Wine Tip: A Carbon-Neutral Wine Collection

See how one man extends environmental consciousness to his wine collection

Jennifer Fiedler
Posted: April 19, 2010

Note: This article appeared in the April 30, 2010 issue of Wine Spectator.

New York-based wine collector Lewis Gersh can trace his interest in both wine and the environment to his childhood, and for this high-tech entrepreneur turned investor, now 44, minimizing the carbon footprint of his two cellars is almost as important as what bottles he puts into them. "As a wine collector, you have to be aware of climate change," he explains. "They're expecting droughts that could kill the premium wine business in California."

Gersh got his introduction to wine as a teenager. His publicist parents represented big names in music, from The Who to Blondie to New Kids on the Block, and their numerous parties always included wines recommended by family friend and then-New York Times wine critic Frank Prial. He says that being environmentally conscious is also a result of growing up in the entertainment industry: "The arts tend to be interested in that sort of thing."

Gersh began collecting 10 years ago. When he built his first cellar, at his country home in upstate New York, he aimed for minimal environmental impact by using reclaimed wood and recycled glass and keeping the cooling system passive. The cellar is partially below ground, which helps regulate the temperature. He also installed a floor vent that draws cooler air from underground into the room.

He added a second cellar in 2005, this one at his residence in Manhattan. There, he got approval to tap into his building's central airshaft. In the summer, a fan routes cool air from the basement to his cellar. It hovers around 60˚ F, a slightly higher temperature than most collectors prefer. "I'm not storing nuclear waste, where it's got to be hermetically sealed," he says. "I'd rather be doing [this] and feel better about how it's being run than worry about it having to be within a speck of one degree."

When it comes to stocking his cellars, however, Gersh largely ignores the tropes of green production. "I find that the better [wineries] tend to be doing that anyway," he says, referring to organic and biodynamic agricultural methods. "They understand that if climate change continues, they'll be in trouble for it." But from his perspective as a consumer, he says, quality is paramount: "You really want the wine for its flavor."

For Gersh, that means sourcing favorites from California and Bordeaux, such as Paloma on Napa's Spring Mountain and Château Quinault l'Enclos in St.-Emilion. He has built his collection to more than 2,500 bottles, relying on producers he's discovered on his travels. "One of the most religious trips I make is to go up to Spring Mountain and visit Barb [Richards] at Paloma, one of the founders," he says. "I adore her."

Getting the bottles home, however, requires a certain calculus to minimize carbon emission, what Gersh feels is the top influence on climate change. "Worst case is it comes on a plane," Gersh says. "That's something like 10- to 12-fold the carbon usage than going by train." For bottles from Northern California, he relies on 55 Degrees, a third-party shipping company that will bundle his on-site purchases with other clients' purchases going to New York.

Getting bottles from France is trickier. He turns to antiques-dealer friends who spend half the year in France gathering antiques, having them pick up the wines he purchased and drop the bottles at a nearby dock where they'll be loaded onto a container ship bound for New York. "It's a little scary if you're dealing with super high-end wines," he admits, but says the ultimate benefits are worth the risk. "If you do it right, your relative impact [on adding carbon to the atmosphere] is nil."

To further compensate for carbon output, Gersh uses Belgrave Trust, a carbon-offsetting concierge. He pays a few hundred dollars a month to the service, based on estimates of how much carbon his lifestyle-plane trips, multiple homes, the size of his wine collection-releases in the atmosphere. Belgrave, in turn, funds projects around the world that promote alternative energy, such as wind farms in China and India.

Striving to keep his cellar carbon-neutral is not without effort or cost. But for Gersh, the trade-off is simple. "If you love wine, and respect it," he says, "what can you do?"

WHAT'S IN LEWIS GERSH'S CELLAR:
CELLAR CAPACITY: 4,250 bottles (1,500 city; 2,750 country)
OLDEST BOTTLE: 1961 Château Margaux
VERTICALS: Paloma, Château Margaux, Château Gruaud-Larose, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, Far Niente
FAVORITE LARGE-FORMAT BOTTLES: 6L bottles of 1997 Pride signed by Steve Pride and Bob Foley
MOST BOTTLES: Demuth Kemos Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon ("This may be the best hidden gem.")
PURCHASE HE THINKS WAS THE SMARTEST: 12 magnums of 1982 Château Palmer from a private cellar sale ("They are drinking exceptionally well.")

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