Most California homes lack basements. But that didn't stop Colin and Cathleen Haggerty from building the underground wine cellar of their dreams.
The couple had lived in their sprawling Cape Cod–style house in San Diego's La Jolla district for 15 years when Colin, now 58, finally persuaded his wife to embark on a major renovation. Cathleen, 53, was skeptical: Creating an underground space would require them to displace themselves and their children, then grade-school age, from their home for a full year. In fact, laughs Colin, "We were out of the house for 51 weeks and six days."
Years prior, when they were nascent collectors, Cathleen had presented Colin with Richard M. Gold's How and Why to Build a Wine Cellar, inscribing it, "May your wildest dreams come true." Although the extravagant cellar plan initially struck Cathleen as "a midlife crisis," she remembered the inscription—and still meant it sincerely. "He deserves this," she says. "And we have had some of the best memories of our lives in that cellar."
The cellar required serious engineering. Colin recalls how frightening it was to see the roof suspended above the home's walls by steel beams while the walls of the house, which sits on flat land, were taken down. Workers dug a hole 20 feet deep, stopping every couple of days to shore the sides with steel and concrete.
The 500-square-foot cellar is designed "essentially like a boat," Colin says. The walls and floors are 3 feet thick and waterproof; any moisture that comes near the space is carried out through pipes and then pumped back into the ground. Two backup pump systems are ready to kick in should the first fail. The space is entirely temperature-controlled, but so well-insulated that the Haggertys suspect the temperature would not change for days if the electricity were to go out.
To ensure that the cellar is comfortable for entertaining, one area has heating coils below the floor. "The beauty is that it keeps the people warm, but the heating coils are away from the bottles," says Colin. The blowers that control the temperature are in a different room, and their noise can't be heard inside the cellar.
Architect William Boehm shared the Haggertys' vision of a "very Old World, old French, romantic" space. Woodcarver and blacksmith David Frisk created the shelving and wrought iron. The floor stone was taken from a 200-year-old French warehouse; the brick columns were sourced from a building torn down to make way for the San Diego Padres' Petco Park.
The couple made their own marks, too: While the hole was being dug, they sabered a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne; the cork is lodged somewhere in the hole. Soon afterward, Cathleen took a stick and wrote "money pit" in the still-wet concrete. That joke, loosely translated into French, inspired the cellar's name: La Cave d'Argent.
The cave elegantly displays the 1,300-bottle collection, amassed over the past 30 years. Their first and deepest loves are the wines of Bordeaux and Napa, which they bought on release throughout the 1980s and '90s. "I remember buying a bottle of '80 Lafite when I took Cathleen out to dinner when we were dating," says Colin. "[It] wasn't a great vintage, but you could get the wines, and they were an accessible price." And the couple remains on a number of coveted California mailing lists.
They've also fallen for Burgundy and, since their son has been enrolled at Gonzaga University, for the wines of Washington. Although big-bodied reds constitute the bulk of the collection, the couple also owns 1990 Krug Champagne, 2001 J.J. Prüm Spätlese and 2002 Dauvissat Chablis.
In general, however, their purchases have slowed—after all, their wildest dreams have come true. "I could easily cram [another 1,000] bottles in there," Colin says. "But frankly, it looks best the way it is. And there's certainly plenty enough wine for us."
Number of Bottles: 1,300
Oldest Bottles: Château Lynch Bages 1961, Château Latour 1963, Château Giscours 1966, Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1966, Château Palmer 1966
Verticals: Anderson's Conn Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Dehlinger Syrah, Dunn Cabernet Howell Mountain, Kistler Chardonnay Cuvée Cathleen, Quilceda Creek, Screaming Eagle, Turley Zinfandel (multiple bottlings in vertical), Château Cos-d'Estournel
Other Favorites in Multiple Vintages: Château Léoville Las Cases, Château Lynch Bages, Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Pichon Longueville Lalande, Château Pichon-Longueville Baron