News & Politics

Beautiful Basements: Down in the Cellar

A homeowner with a passion for wine—and a very large collection—creates a custom cellar in McLean.

Designed by David Spon, this 12,000-bottle wine cellar in McLean uses white-maple racks to create a modern, airy feel. The owner’s Château Mouton Rothschild collection dates back to 1874. Photograph by Ron Blunt.

If You Want to Create a Wine Cellar

Stay organized

Store wines by region and drinkability—you can stash bottles
that need more aging high up, out of reach.

Incorporate a work area
Add counters or a table to the cellar for unpacking,
rearranging, and pulling wines to be served.

Think “green”
Use natural materials such as water-soluble stains and natural
finishes. Wine is a living organism that breathes in odors through the
cork, and because wine cellars are airtight, smells don’t dissipate. If
chemical odors seep in, they could affect the wine’s taste.

While touring a village in the Bordeaux region of France, the
owner of this McLean home was fascinated to learn that Château Mouton
Rothschild was the first estate to bottle its own wine. He began amassing
a collection that now includes 110 Château Mouton Rothschild vintages
dating as far back as 1874.

In 2002, he hired well-known Connecticut-based designer David
to create a wine cellar to showcase this beloved collection and
organize the rest of his many wines. “With 12,000 bottles, it’s a very
dense layout,” says Spon. One danger with a cellar this big is that it can
look like a warehouse—Spon added curved racks at the end of storage rows
and recessed coves to soften the edges. White-maple shelves give the space
a fresh, contemporary look.

A glass case lined with bottles of Château Mouton Rothschild—an
oenophile trophy case of sorts—separates the cellar from the tasting room.
Along the walls of the tasting room are framed, limited-edition Château
Mouton Rothschild wine labels painted by such artists as Marc Chagall,
Salvador Dalí, and Andy Warhol.

The cellar and tasting room see a lot of traffic. In 2008, the
homeowner decided to turn his passion for fine wines into a business. He
now owns Five Grapes, a wine distributor that also helps people develop
and manage their collections.

Friends and customers often descend into the 16-by-16-foot
tasting room, which has a table that seats eight. “There is no best time
to open a great bottle,” says the homeowner, “but I like to do it with
people who know, like, and appreciate the art and science of

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This article appears in the August 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.