Paul Tribolet was born in Switzerland, lives in Belgium and spent his career as an executive of a worldwide hotel conglomerate. But his passion for wine began in an unlikely spot: the Canary Islands.
"I [opened] my first restaurant when I was 24, on the island of Tenerife, in Spain," says Tribolet, now 66. "I became familiar with wine there, and the first bottle that I really started to appreciate was the wine of Marqués de Riscal." A 1969 bottling from the Rioja producer inaugurated Tribolet's collection, which 40-plus years later has grown to 3,500 bottles.
Trained at a Swiss hotel school, Tribolet oversaw food and beverage programs for Starwood hotels until his retirement in 2012. The exposure to wine afforded by his work fueled his passion for collecting; the job also required extensive traveling, and he needed a proper storage facility. Various homes in Switzerland and Belgium furnished conventional underground cellars, but when he and his partner, Jean Jin, moved into their current home in Belgium in 2006, the question of wine storage initially seemed problematic.
"We saw this loft and we fell in love with it," Tribolet says. The 4,844-square-foot apartment is on the fourth floor of a former print factory, with no option of underground storage. So Tribolet decided to design his own aboveground cellar.
Many fourth-floor residences could not withstand the weight of a 3,500-bottle wine cellar. But in this onetime factory, strong pillars and beams support the floors and ceilings. "You couldn't do this in a normal house," Tribolet explains. "But we saw the opportunities."
Tribolet was similarly enterprising when it came to transporting the wines from his previous home. He chose a cool day, so that the wines would not be exposed to heat. He commissioned a truck with "almost flat tires, so that the wine wasn't shaken too much." A crane lifted the wines from the truck and through the loft's windows.
The result of Tribolet's vision is a stunning, 201-square-foot structure made of glass, steel and American walnut—in perfect harmony with the rest of the loft, whose design is open and warmed by abundant natural light, a modern mix of organic and industrial. "Based on my design, [the cellar] was to be integrated in the entertainment area," says Tribolet. "I wanted something that you would be able to see from the outside. On the other hand, I also wanted three-quarters of the cellar to have a double use." Though the bottles are its focal point, the structure also contains stemware and decanters, a small library of wine magazines and cookbooks, and a collection of showcase-worthy trinkets.
As for the wines themselves, Tribolet's tastes eventually gravitated to Bordeaux and Burgundy. For many years, he purchased futures, though he has not done so in Bordeaux since 2010. He did, however, secure three barrels at the 2013 Hospice de Beaune, which were stored at the Louis Jadot facility for élevage before being bottled and sent to Belgium and Switzerland. Tribolet once bought frequently at auction, which supplied him such trophies as a 6-liter Château d'Yquem 1989, but his growing concern with provenance has led him to buy more wines ex-château.
Showstoppers in the collection include some impressive large-format bottles (see box below), but in general, Tribolet bends increasingly toward simplicity. He has started buying more second wines from Bordeaux châteaus, finding them "almost equally good and slightly better-priced" than their grand vin counterparts. He opens wines in the $16 to $20 range for casual weeknight dinners. "I have a philosophy: to drink very normal wines," he says. "A good example would be a Pinot Noir from Louis Jadot, Santenay. Or it could be Sauvignon Blanc from [Henri] Bourgeois, Sancerre." He adds: "If you drink celebrity wines all the time, you cannot appreciate them anymore."
And appreciate them he does, as when recently he and Jin uncorked a magnum of Chateau Montrose 1970 for Tribolet's birthday. "The wine was spectacular."
What's in Paul Tribolet's Cellar?
Number of bottles: 3,500
Temperature /humidity: 55° F / 75 percent
Large-formats: Château Montrose 1970 in magnum. In imperial: Château d'Yquem 1989, Château Palmer 1982, Château Léoville Las Cases 1986, Château Mouton-Rothschild 1979 and 1988, Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1990. Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle 1994 in melchior (18L). Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva 1989 in primat (27L)
Verticals: Mouton-Rothschild from 1993 to 2004 (complete), Penfolds Grange 1971 to 2005
Oldest Bottle: Château de la Rayne Sauternes 1923
Favorite Producers: Marqués de Riscal, Domaine Morey-Coffinet, Henri Bourgeois, Hubert Lamy, Louis Jadot, E. Guigal, Castello Banfi, Château Canon-La Gaffelière, Château Lagrange, Cos-d'Estournel, Château d'Esclans