No expense was spared by a Baltimore investment manager to create the wine cellar of his dreams for his Greenspring Valley home. He started by asking his friend, architect Patrick Jarosinski of PDJ & Associates, to add a 320-square-foot wine cellar to a new pool house that was under construction. The basement, measuring 24-by-40-feet, is decorated to suggest a medieval dungeon. Trompe l'oeil vines climb up plaster walls painted to resemble stone, and two suits of armor guard the doors. A heavy wooden door leads to an anteroom, followed by a larger tasting room. A small gentlemen's lounge adjoins the anteroom.
The 275-square-foot lounge offers a clubby environment for relaxation. Historical military prints, leather furniture, and a flat-screen TV combine for a high reading on the testosterone gauge, underscored by a 19th-century painting over the fireplace, depicting a group of Englishmen drinking and playing cards, that gives a clue that frat-boy hijinks are allowed.
"Oh yeah, we've been down here blasting Bruce Springsteen," says Jarosinski.
Inside the wine cellar, wrought-iron Mediterranean sconces illuminate a collection exceeding 3,000 bottles. Cases of coveted 2000 Bordeaux are stacked up, their wood-carved labels bearing the chateau names that have become legendary: Margaux, Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild.
The homeowner, who says he didn't start drinking wine until he was in his late 20s, has a great deal of Bordeaux dating back to 1926, as well as a cognac from 1848. He points out a number of 100-point bottles, including several rated and signed by noted wine expert and Parkton resident Robert Parker. Other rare wines in the collection include a 1978 Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru by Leroy, and a case of Screaming Eagle, a small Napa winery that produces only a few hundred cases per year.
The tasting room has an expandable table with benches. The owner wanted it to be a place he and his wife and their friends would enjoy lingering with glasses of wine and food.
"We entertain in here a lot. We can put sweaters on and have dinner in here," he says. "It's fun to share. That's what life's all about."
If he could plan his last meal on earth, the wine collector says he would drink a bit of Krug-Collection champagne, some white Domaine Leroy Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, maybe some red Domaine de la Romanée Conti La Tâche Monopole Grand Cru, and finish things off with a Sauterne from Château D'Yquem, each with the appropriate dish, of course.
"Over-the-top on the wine," he says, "and understated on the food."
Drinking wine is just another day at the office for Jerry Edwards. As owner of the catering company Chef's Expressions, Edwards spends much of his time planning menus, which invariably involves tasting wines and matching them with food.
Edwards, who loves to entertain, built his wine cellar last January as part of an addition to the Timonium home he has lived in for 10 years. He wanted a large open space for entertaining clients and friends, so he realigned his driveway and added a kitchen and living area where the driveway had been. The garage was converted into a 14-by-18-foot wine cellar that opens into the new living space.
Because Edwards had a wine cellar in his previous home, he had a pretty good idea what he wanted, and drew up the floor plan himself. He says he did not want his cellar to look like a wine shop, or a slick ad in a wine magazine.
"I wanted to build a cellar that looked like a farmer came in here and said, ‘Here's where I'm going to store my wines,'" says Edwards, who was going for a rustic, Old World feeling.
Because the house was made from brick, he placed brick over the cinder block in the garage for a consistent appearance. But first, he wrapped the cinder block with plastic and insulation to prevent water damage inside the cellar.
The cellar floor is Tuscan tile with hand-laid pebbles. Knotty-pine cases, custom built by a carpenter, hold the bottles.
Edwards, who says he began exploring wine seriously around 1985, has a solid collection of Bordeaux, including 1982 and 1989 vintages. "For me, it's about the breadth of the collection. It's about having wines from all over the world," he says.
Edwards likes to collect unusual or rare wines, such as Chappellet and Lambert Bridge from northern California and Oregon's Beaux Frères, in which Robert Parker is an investor. Edwards also has a large collection of Chilean and Argentinian wines.
Among his favorite Italian wines is the 1999 Ornellaia, a so-called super-Tuscan red. He is also fond of the Australian Penfolds Grange Shiraz, which he calls "probably one of the finest wines ever made."
Edwards's collection currently stands at about 1,850 bottles, but his goal is to reach 3,000. And for him, it's not just about acquiring fine wine. He drinks wine several times a week, tasting up to 50 of them in that time. "I don't think you should hold a wine for more than 20 years," he says.
Bill and Kristen Withrow have been collecting wine for about 20 years, but they didn't have their own wine cellar until recently.
"I had all this wonderful wine in storage," says Bill Withrow. "And having a cellar was one of my goals." In 2006, the couple decided to build an 18-by-24-foot addition to their Annapolis home, with a basement to showcase their wine.
The cellar is built largely with hearts of redwood, the best part of the tree, Bill Withrow says. Wine cellar designer Lisa Weiss used a very traditional approach, she says. "Because it was a brand new space, we had the ability to go in and do what we wanted with it," she says.
The wine racks are organized vertically, with an illuminated central row on which is displayed a bottle from each grouping. French oak barrels standing upright can be used for display or as small tasting tables.
The door to the cellar contains three layers of insulated glass with a decorative etched panel in the middle. The design is of "naughty cherubs" doing acrobatics in a burst of champagne spray after uncorking, Withrow says.
The Withrows do not attempt to regulate the humidity, allowing the presence of three exterior walls to manage it naturally.
Bill Withrow, 58, has one of those jobs he can't talk about for a government agency he will not identify. (You know, or else he'd have to kill you.) He has lived overseas a lot, he says, and this has given him an opportunity to meet a lot of winemakers and collect a great deal of exceptional wine.
He is partial to Bordeaux from small wineries with small production. "The French winemakers are just so passionate about making the wine," he says. "And I adore Tuscans. The Sangiovese grape just has so much in it."
One of the more unusual bottles in the collection is a 1993 Château Mouton Rothschild. Because the label has a drawing of a nude child on it, the shipment was not allowed into the United States. The winery had to create a different label for shipping to the U.S.
The Withrows have a large collection of Champagnes, including many bottles of 1990 Dom Pérignon and several magnums of Taittinger—"Still my favorite Champagne," he says.
And they own some fine ports. "This is my baby," says Bill Withrow, pointing to a dusty bottle on the shelf. "Graham's 30-Year-Old Tawny. I love it."
Withrow jokes about his early exposure to wine in the mid-1970's, when his tipple of choice was Almaden Mountain White in a jug. In the early 80's, he spent several years in France, working for the U.S. government. There, and through his travels throughout Europe, he learned to enjoy fine wine.
Now, after years of sampling different wines, the Withrows' tastes have broadened, Bill Withrow says. "Our palates have also discovered California and New World wines."
The couple tends to drink less expensive wines during the week, but they always head down to the cellar on Friday or Saturday to choose a special dinner wine, Bill Withrow says.
Kristen Withrow acknowledges that wine can be a risky thing to collect. "It's a very fragile collectible," she says. "For whatever reason, it might not live up to expectations."
As they look ahead to Bill Withrow's retirement in a few years, the couple is trying to buy a little less wine and focus on consuming what they already have.
"The joke is that we can't buy any more futures," says Kristen Withrow, "because we won't be alive to drink them."