E Pluribus Unum!

In the years right after college, when my interest in wine was just starting to form, I enjoyed reading Frank Prial’s column, “Wine Talk,” every week in The New York Times. I remember distinctly one column he wrote about wine cellars, and what to do if you didn’t have giant collections or access to some fancy-schmancy cellar. His ideas ran the gamut from unused bathtubs to hall closets. As long as the wine was kept relatively free from heat, light, and vibration, everything was hunky-dory.

Prial’s guidelines worked well for me for a long time, but in the past few years I began to grow, unwittingly and somewhat unconsciously, out of the junior department. Wine began to pile up in odd places. Closet shelves began to bow, cupboards wouldn’t close all the way, and keeping track of what wine we actually owned became almost impossible. It was time for a change, a time to get those bottles sorted, organized, and put all into one place. It was time to turn my conglomeration of odd bottles and boxes into a collection.

The first step my wife and I took was the decision to purchase a Vinotemp storage unit. We didn’t want anything fancy; it was going to sit in the garage, after all. But we needed something that allowed for growth, so we chose a cellar that holds approximately 440 bottles. My wine buying was showing no signs of abating, and even someone as lousy with numbers as I am could tell that the value of the “pile” was growing. We needed a way to protect this hoard and the Vinotemp seemed like a good idea. Ordering and receiving the unit took much longer than we imagined. In fact, we didn’t get around to ordering it for a year or more after we made our decision. If it wasn’t the house or the kids or the dog or work, it was something else that helped our priorities shift on an almost daily basis. Something like a wine fridge found itself near the bottom of the pile more often than not. In the end, it didn’t really matter that we weren’t in a rush. When we finally ordered the cellar unit, it turned out that the manufacturer wasn’t in a rush, either. Our eventual dealings with Vinotemp, protracted and frustrating would be putting it gently, were as though the mess in my garage had come to life.

Once the fridge finally showed up, the next step in transforming the pile was signing up for Cellartracker.com, an online database that, since its creation in 2003, has grown to serve nearly 130,000 users, contain 1.8 million individual wine notes and reviews, and provide indexing capacity so that casual (i.e., sloppy) collectors like me can keep track of what wines they have, when the bottles should be consumed, and, should they ever want to sell a part of their collection (Me? No. Never.), what the approximate current auction value is. For anybody with the slightest wine geek tendencies, Cellartracker is drug paraphernalia. You can mark your bins and keep track of locations; sort wines by vintage, grape variety, cost, region, country, and on and on. Cellartracker’s instantly available information on grapes, regions, and producers is encyclopedic. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Another function of the program is the ability to track consumption, even to the point of the whats, whys, whens, and whos that contributed to a specific bottle’s demise.  I have mixed feelings about a written drinking history. Depending on one’s mood at any particular moment, it’s either a record of victories or a rap sheet, a lengthy list of criminal wrongdoing. Here’s hoping my cheery romanticism, what some might call delusional mindlessness, holds up. I mean, it’s not drinking, it’s wine. Right? Right?

So, after several years of sticking wine haphazardly in every nook and cranny, chaos no longer rules the land. From a gajillion small, cardboard boxes to one larger, refrigerated and insulated box, my wine collection can finally say that it’s got its act together.

Is this a familiar story? Does your house look like you’re Fred Sanford and you run a wine shop and not a junk yard? Are you worried that you might be a candidate for the new television show, Wine Hoarders? Stop and take a breath. There’s hope for you, right at your fingertips. If I can do it, so can you. And, if you’ve already taken some interesting or unconventional steps to tame your bottle sprawl, I’d love to hear them.

3 thoughts on “E Pluribus Unum!

  1. Gail

    Another great post Tom. Cellartracker does sounds like a great tool. I guess the step we took to tame our collection was we started to drink more than we bought. We downsized our storage unit accordingly. Given our impending trip to CA, maybe we’ll have to rethink that strategy!

  2. Tom Riley

    Caryl, that was my M.O. for years. And it worked great. But it eventually fails. Have you looked at Cellartracker yet? It’s great just for reviews and then the seeds of organization get planted. They eventually take root, sprout, and grow. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody!!! Thanks for reading The Grape Belt!

  3. caryl

    oh please come and organize me! although i do not own quite the amount of bottles as i would like, i am not at all organized like i would like…perhaps i will just have a glass of wine and think about organizing…

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