"Hey, Ling, what's your favorite wine?" Soo Chan calls to his wife. Ling looks at her husband bashfully. "Of course La Tâche," she smiles. "But I know it's impossible to get."
Luckily for Ling, Chan's got several bottles of La Tâche, back to 1988, stashed in the wine cellar on the lower level of their home, in Singapore. An architect who coined the term "neo-tropical" to describe his style, Chan, 54, is known for blending indoor and outdoor spaces. (Coming next spring: Soori High Line, an apartment building adjacent to New York City’s High Line that includes in-unit swimming pools). When he and Ling built the home, eight years ago, Chan wanted a wine cellar but lacked the time and energy to do it right. So he left the basement unfinished, and three years later—having "practiced" by designing several wine cellars for clients—he constructed a cellar that perfectly expresses his personality both as an architect and as a wine drinker.
Chan first began collecting wine as a financial asset and kept most of his bottles in storage in Geneva. "When your wine is an investment, you don't touch it or drink it; it might as well be anything," he says. "You get a statement: ‘This is what your Bordeaux is worth.' " But after several years of associating with wine-loving friends who bought the same collectible bottles that Chan was purchasing, he realized that Bordeaux could be worth much, much more—if you drank it. "I decided I wanted to bring my wine home," Chan says.
"Investment-wise, [transporting] it makes it not so pristine. But I wanted to see it; I wanted to enjoy it."
The cellar's visual layout is as important as the storage conditions it provides. The space is dark overall, so that the eye darts directly to the bottles, illuminated by integrated LED lighting. "I respond as an architect to the bottle," explains Chan, citing the gold-engraved Château Mouton-Rothschild 2000 as one of his favorite vessels.
The floor is oak, brushed for texture and stained black. Adjacent to the cellar is a tasting room, separated by a floor-to-ceiling glass window. To heighten the sense that they are distinct spaces, the two rooms have different lighting levels. Opposite the glass window in the tasting room is a wall made of thick granite slabs, hand-hammered to create texture, framed by two rough-looking wood walls.
"The wine cellar expresses materiality," Chan says. "You get a feeling of textures, of the elements. Even the case storage—the wooden wine boxes—is part of the design."
Rather than have a temperature-regulating blower inside the cellar, Chan installed a blower system behind the shelves. That choice was partly an aesthetic one—it can't be seen or heard—but partly logistical too. When the unit needs to be serviced, maintenance workers can reach it from the next room rather than having to disturb the cellar itself.
Chan designed removable carriers ("cradles," he calls them) for individual bottles so that he can move the wines around without worrying about bottle size or shape. For him, function drives form. "Like with this cradle, my designs focus on the utility of the purpose," he says.
Humidity is a concern for any cellar owner, and the situation is especially dire in Singapore. "If you brought a bottle from the cellar to the other room, and [that room wasn't] climactically controlled, your labels would become wet immediately," Chan explains. To that end, he took great care to insulate the space properly, even installing heating coils in the doorframes to prevent condensation.
Many of Chan's wines are sourced through a wine club called Ficofi; others he buys directly ex-château, through personal connections he has built over the years. He'll sing for his supper: He helped one acquaintance design a new house in return for access to wines from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. When it's just him and Ling at home, they open relatively affordable Burgundies such as wines from Faiveley or Bouchard Père et Fils. But he can no longer allow his trophy wines to sit idle as showpieces gaining in value. "You have to drink the bottles," Chan says. "Otherwise the châteaus don't give them to you."
What's in Soo Chan's Cellar?
Number of bottles: 3,000
Oldest Wines: Château Haut-Brion 1961, Château d'Yquem 1962
Favorite bottle: Château Mouton-Rothschild 2000
Vintages of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche: 1988, 1996, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012