Wine occupies a central place in the lives of many collectors, but few go as far as entrepreneur Craig Weiss, who constructed his Memphis, Tenn., home around a sumptuous cellar custom-built for his California Cabernet-centric holdings.
"When you're in my cellar, you really see what my favorites are," says Weiss, pointing out the stacked wooden cases of cult Napa reds Continuum, Ovid, Phelps Insignia and Spottswoode that anchor the elegant underground room, designed by the East Lansing, Mich.-based firm Revel Cellars.
From an inauspicious start sipping white Zinfandel in college, Weiss developed a more sophisticated palate through tastings with friends and business partners. When he and his wife, Cathy, built their previous home, Weiss installed what he describes as a "wine closet" and set about filling it up. His efforts were bolstered by repeat trips to Napa. "When you're out there, you connect with the people and you're impressed with the beauty of the places," he says. "I haven't been on a tasting where I didn't love the wines, and I'm always tempted after a tasting to join the mailing list."
When work began on his current house, Weiss envisioned the raw basement space as a means to accommodate his fast-expanding collection. Now the Revel cellar holds more than 3,000 bottles, with a number of large-format selections up to 6 liters.
When it comes to navigating such a sizable collection, organization is crucial. To that end, Revel integrated several clever structural elements into the design in order to streamline selection and allow for flexibility in displaying bottles. Sliding drawers set on moveable dowels can orient wines in myriad ways—sideways with labels facing outward, for example, or end-wise with bottles tilted at a 15-degree angle for greater label visibility. Four floor-to-ceiling lazy Susan-style wine wheels, each with a capacity of 180 bottles, match form to function, turning corners into visually distinctive yet highly efficient storage areas.
Though he uses CellarTracker.com for keeping tabs on his wines, Weiss finds the popular Web-based organization tool to be less than necessary given the intuitive layout of the cellar. "I can walk in, do a quick scan and find what I'm looking for," he says.
A luxurious aesthetic focused on warm hues and natural materials integrates with the inherent visual appeal of Weiss' beloved wooden wine cases, imparting a personal yet sophisticated character. Brick sourced from the exterior of the home links the design of the cellar with the architecture of the overall building, while the LED lighting system combines with the Italian plaster ceiling to bathe the space in a warm, inviting ambience.
Along with a handful of other area collectors, Weiss rotates hosting a Friday tasting group where friends can sample and discuss wines. His attitude toward these events radiates Southern hospitality. "We see who's around, shoot out the e-mails, come one, come all," he says. "There's nothing formal about it." Despite the unpretentious atmosphere, the wines under consideration are serious.
Despite his abiding love for California Cab, Weiss relishes the opportunity to taste new and unfamiliar wines. After all, even when your home revolves around your collection, it never hurts to step outside and see what you've been missing.
"Wine collecting is personal," says Weiss. "Just because something's high-rated or expensive, if you don't love it, it doesn't matter. You don't want to collect based on anyone else's opinion."
What's in Craig Weiss' Cellar?
Number of bottles: 3,000
Focus of collection: California Cabernet Sauvignon
Notable large-format bottles: Harlan Estate Napa Valley 1997 (1.5L), Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa Valley 1997 (3L)
Oldest wines: Cockburn Vintage Port 1967, Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 1970, Château La Mission Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan 1989, Château Margaux Margaux 1989
Notable verticals: Dominus Estate Napa Valley, 2002 to current vintage; Continuum Napa Valley, 2005 to current vintage; Ovid Napa Valley, 2005 to current vintage
Cellar temperature: 55° F
Humidity: 70 percent