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Chicago-area couple Moe and Mar Alkemade stock gems from their wine-country treasure hunts
Moe and Mar Alkemade's 1,200-bottle wine cellar features LED lighting, black walnut cabinets and refurbished barn beams.

Esther Mobley
Posted: August 18, 2015

When Moe and Mar Alkemade started dating, nearly eight years ago, the first trip they took together was to Napa and Sonoma. Moe had traveled to the area before, for business; Mar had never visited. Both knew they enjoyed wine—red wine, especially—but that's where the specifics ended.

"What was so great about our first trip was discovering these little wineries on our own, with just a map and a car," recalls Mar. Absent a strict itinerary, they set off driving around Sonoma and Napa counties, stopping at wineries recommended by friends, as well as wineries they'd never heard of. They spoke to winemakers, tramped through vineyards and signed up for mailing lists.

Though the Lake Forest, Ill., couple, now married, had classified themselves as red wine lovers, "what we learned first and foremost is that we actually have different tastes," says Moe, a senior executive at Walgreens. He favors earthy, powerful Cabernet Sauvignon; she prefers black fruit-loaded Zinfandel. "It was a really good trip," Moe continues, in what may be an understatement. "Here we are seven years later, celebrating wine and our love for it."

Once- or twice-yearly trips to Napa and Sonoma have punctuated the Alkemades' relationship ever since. They consider their sojourns to the area "a treasure hunt," designed to seek out under-the-radar producers. They then buy direct from the winery, by the case, and rarely purchase bottles otherwise. "One of our rules is that we have to actually go to the region and understand the place and the people before we start buying wine from it," says Moe. As Mar puts it, "It's all about the story."

When the nascent collectors completed construction on their home in 2012, they figured a 250-bottle wine fridge upstairs would suffice. But before long, they were stowing bottles in racks in the basement. "We were going to build a fully enclosed, refrigerated wine room that could hold a couple thousand bottles," Moe recalls. "But the truth of it is no one's going to want to sit in it, because it's too cold."

A solution soon presented itself. Working with Andrew Hightower of Foxwood Wine Cellars, the Alkemades built a room that included a 1,200-bottle, temperature-controlled wine wall. The wall's isolated refrigeration allows the rest of the room to remain comfortable. "It serves both purposes," Moe explains. "You can sit down there anytime and have a great bottle of wine, and we've got all the storage we need."

To harmonize with the rest of the house, which Mar describes as "Frank Lloyd Wright with stone and shingle," the wine room sits behind two custom-made wrought-iron doors. Its walls are finished with stucco.

Refurbished barn beams, from a farm in Wisconsin, line the door and ceiling. Chandeliers from Restoration Hardware are made of staves and hoops from reclaimed French wine barrels. There are two landscape paintings by Montana artist Edd Enders, whose work appears throughout the home. "Like the rest of our house, we wanted it to look Old World and rustic," Mar says.

The wine wall itself, furnished with two-zone temperature control, is made of solid black walnut. The wines in its cabinets are illuminated by low-heat LED lighting, and its pull-out drawers are double deep. (The structure contains a drawer for maps and a pull-out trash container, too.) This is unobtrusive wine storage at its most high-tech: Bottles are compactly and neatly displayed in a room that serves primarily as an entertaining and lounging space. You might not guess that the deceptively deep wall contains nearly 1,000 bottles.

Per their rule, the Alkemades are discovering new wine regions. When they travel, Mar says, "We don't just arrive and expect someone else to drive us around. It's not just a hobby, but a chance to spend time together and discover things together."

"To both of us," adds Moe, "the experience of getting to drink a bottle of wine while knowing that we were in that area, we talked to someone and we can tell stories—that really is the beauty of it."

What's in Moe & Mar Alkemade's Cellar

Focus of the Collection: California

Oldest Bottles: Château Palmer 1994, Château Pavie Macquin 1994

Favorite Bottles: Château Palmer 1995, Château La Couspaude 2000, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 2000 and 2006, Far Niente Cave Collection Cabernet 2000, Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Château Cos-d'Estournel 2003, Jarvis Estate Reserve 2004, Joseph Phelps Insignia 2005, Château Pape Clément 2006

Strong Presence in Cellar: Paradigm, Pride Mountain, Hewitt, Shafer, Col Solare, Robert Biale, Hourglass, Frank Family, Raymond, Bell

Temperature and Humidity: 55° F; 70 percent

Photo Gallery

Moe and Mar Alkemade Temperature-Controlled Wine Wall

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