Saturday, March 24, 2007

Virtual Cellar Tour.

Hello and welcome to the cellars of the Chester Grosvenor and Spa, my name is Garry Clark and Im the sommelier here at the Grosvenor. Inside these doors we are currently sitting on approximately £300k worth of stock, at cost value. The last time that I counted we had just over 18,000 bottles with a selling price between £19 and £5000.

Here we have our cold store where we keep our white wines and champagnes. In a few weeks time we are going to have these racks replaced with new racking that will allow us to store 4,000 bottles in rack and a further thousand or more in cases. The Grosvenor is one of the Depositaires of the Oenotheque range from Dom Perignon, which is their wine library of late disgorged stock available in tiny quantities to the select depositaires. Currently the oldest vintage available is the 1964 which is on our list for £975 a bottle, we also have the 1966 for a modest £1250 a bottle. Previously the oldest available vintage was the 1959, of which we sold five bottles, Im led to believe that we are the most successful Depositaire in terms of sales.

We move out of the cold store and here we have the first of our two Holding stock areas. We currently hold roughly £120,000 worth of stock in our holding stock until it is more mature and ready to be listed. In addition to this we have somewhere in the region of £50,000 worth of stock held "en primeur" - much of it yet to be bottled. Once the cold store is racked up this holding will be seriously reduced as much of the wines that are approaching drinkability are added onto the list. Each year we purchase numerous wines "en primeur" - such as Domaine de la Romanee Conti wines, Petrus, First Growth Clarets and certain other high value wines. In many cases these wines wont be bottled for another two years and then they will be sent to us for storage here in our cellars. We will keep them in the holding stock for at least another two to three years before adding them onto the list. So its an awesome responsability to be purchasing wines that somebody will be adding to the list in the next seven or more years. Ive been extremely fortunate to have inherited a fantastically stocked cellar and this year will see the first wines that I was actively involved in purchasing brought into the holding stock. It will still be a few years before I get to list them.

Here we have our dessert wines. Dessert wines have taken a bit of a slump over the last year, but we are starting to see a slight resurgence in sales as people are moving away from the huge alcoholic reds of the new world and back to the more restrained wines of the old world. Currently we have our two oldest bottles in this section. Our oldest is a 1917 Climens from Barsac. The ullage level on this bottle is quite risky at bottom shoulder and judgeing by the condition of the wine inside I honestly wouldnt hold out much hope for it, but as past experience has shown you can never tell until you open the bottle. It is hard to see from the cork, but we believe that the bottle was re-corked in 1969, as the other two bottles we had, had been. We also have our second oldest bottle which is a 1921 Yquem. Comparing the colour and condition of the wines, you would see that the Yquem is much clearer and brighter than the Climens and that would lead you to think the wine would be in better condition. It certainly ought to be, 1921 being considered as one of the stellar vintages of the last century for Yquem. The Yquem is listed at £3950 a bottle and the Climens was £1200. We seem to be listing more dessert wines from the new world now, with a diversity of production methods that dont all rely on Botrytis to create the rich unctious juice to start with. We have a smashing little wine from Randall Grahm the clown prince of winemaking who makes a California Ice wine by freezing the harvested grapes in an industrial freezer before crushing them and making his "Vin de Glaciere".

We move over to look at our collection of large format bottles. This is one of the many things that convinced me that I wanted to work here when I came for my interview. Whilst quite a few places have magnums on their lists, very few indeed have Double Magnums, Imperials, Jeroboems and the like. While they can be a bugger to pour from, the centre of gravity on a half full jeroboem places a huge amount of stress on your arms, the theatre of having a large group drinking from Jeros or Imps is fantastic.

We move over to the main attraction of the cellar our red wine wall. Here is the most significant value of the cellar. Just over four thousand bottles in total racked up. Our most expensive bottle is the 1985 La Romanee Conti from Domaine de la Romanee Conti, at £5000 a bottle. To give you some idea of the price of this wine, six bottles sold last November at auction in Southeby's US auction for $119,500 (approx £10,190 a bottle), so you can see its a steal at £5000!! La Romanee Conti is a tiny little vineyard producing less than 500 cases (6bottles) a year. Demand is exceptionally high and it is not uncommon for the wine to be sold several times over before it is even bottled!

When I started here four years ago the cellar was favouring Old world wines roughly 70% old world to 30% new world. Now after four years we are close to parity - 50/50, but since November we have seen our sales swinging slowly back to the old world - France, Italy, Spain and to an extend Germany. I believe this is down to people trading up from one dimensional new world wines to more complex old world wines. I think it is also a reflection of people looking for more maturity in their wines and a bit less alcohol too. Personally I think that the best value for money is often found in the new world, but sheer quality and complexity and just plain style you have to look at the old world. There are always exceptions however.

Over the coming year we hope to further develop the wine-list to meet our ever changing demands, we continue to seek out quality from around the world, as well as searching for those producers who are willing to stick their necks out a bit and try to grow the ungrowable in the most obscure places. Californian Albarino, South African Touriga, Aussie Gros Manseng, and many other out-of-place varietials. At the end of the day our list is dictated by our customers who ask for wines. We work with over 30 different producers to seek out the best products and secure the right prices so that we can keep the accountants happy and the customers buying!! We try to involve the various team members from the Kitchen brigade to the waiting staff who are serving the wines in the Brasserie and Library and Arkle. Everyone has something to contribute to the process. Our cellar has evolved considerably in the four years Ive been here and Im sure it will continue to develop even further in the coming years. I look forward to seeing where it takes me!

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