In wine circles, the yachtsman and industrialist Bill Koch represents the extreme collector: Before auctioning 3,400 bottles at Christie's a few years back, he had about 28,000 bottles in his two cellars in Osterville.
Between what Koch does and what those who keep a couple of bottles of Robert Mondavi above the fridge do, however, there's plenty of room, and it's there that Sanford and Katariina Anstey have found their comfort zone. They keep about 2,500 bottles in a cellar they built in the basement of their 100-year-old carriage house in a North Shore suburb.
To reach the cellar, go through the door with the bunch-of-grapes doorknocker on it, duck on the last two stairs to avoid a low beam, and stride toward the door veneered with face plates from fine old vintages. Open it, and any doubts about whether you've found the place are instantly dispelled by the corks, 2,600 of them, each one painstakingly hot-glued lengthwise onto the door by Anstey four years ago.
This is the couple's third cellar. They had one in a former house that they later expanded, and knew when looking to move that their new home would have to accommodate their hobby. This spot, with its 21-inch-thick fieldstone walls and concrete floor, is well suited. The cellar's interior walls are 6 inches thick and packed with insulation. Inside, it's chilly, as it would have to be, but it hits you nevertheless.
Give or take a degree, the thermometer always reads 54, a level governed by the great good earth beneath the mottled floor and moderated, when necessary, by a Breezaire cooler. "It doesn't matter whether it's 54, or 50, or 58 exactly. The important fact is the constancy of the temperature," explains Anstey.
All this constancy and care is focused on the more than 200 cases, most of it Burgundy and Bordeaux, purchased since the early 1980s. It would last about 10 years at the pace he and his wife drink it, Anstey says: They have wine four or five days a week, use the cellar when they have parties, and give bottles as gifts.
The collection began when "my daughter was born in 1982. We bought four cases with an eye toward being able to have celebrations and parties, though we haven't had a wedding yet. The next year, our son was born, [and] we bought four cases of that for him. So that's how it all started."
Actually, it began a bit earlier: "Wine was part of my life growing up. My parents drank wine, and Katariina is from Europe, so she drank wine, and it's been reinforced by travel. We took a trip in the early '90s and spent a fair amount of time in France. One of the things we discovered was the breadth of wines that was available in restaurants, regional wines that had been aged, properly aged, and how good they were.
"One of the things that became a goal of ours was to be able to drink wine that was properly aged, as opposed to when it comes out of a wine shop," he says. "The only way you can do that is if you age it yourself, unless you're so wealthy that you don't care what you pay for aged Bordeaux." It's the sort of outlook one might expect from an investment professional. Indeed, Anstey, 56, works that field, though he intends to retire soon.
Along the left side of the cellar are about 60 squares fashioned from plywood; each holds a case. On the right are better than 40 more, formed as diamonds just for variety. Combined, the two walls have almost 30 other spaces that hold less than a case. Each occupied cubby, and most of them are filled, is marked in very low-tech style: a lined, yellow 3-by-5 card, affixed by a push pin, announces the vintage. A third wall has another rack, with spaces for 60 individual bottles, mostly for when a case dwindles to a bottle or two.
It also holds the cellar's oldest specimen, a 1952 Chateau Latour that has a pleasing patina of dust that is otherwise mostly lacking from the well-lit, 14-by-15-foot room. "I bought it at auction," Anstey says. "I don't have any idea if it's any good."
That rack, and a table that combines with a stack of case lots to form an island in the middle of the room, are both swathed in wine labels encased in urethane, which are among the room's few remaining nods to interior design.
"It's nothing fancy," Anstey says. "It's not like we go down and drink wine in the wine cellar. It's just there to store the wine."