Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Who is in Your Wine Cave?

Who would have thought that wine caves would be a topic of discussion at the Democratic presidential debate? 

It was a fundraiser for presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, hosted by Craig and Kathryn Hall, owners of Hall Wines. The event was held in the wine cave, decorated with 1,500 Swarovski crystals, and where $900 bottles of wine were served. Certainly, an event that is exclusively for those with deep pockets.

Beautiful and extravagant Halls wine cave
His critics decry that billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States. So I thought, let's talk about wine caves in this post.

Let's be clear, I LOVE WINE CAVES!

Bottles in an old wine cave
Just as bibliophiles love libraries, oenophiles love wine caves. I love seeking out wine caves in my travel. Some are old and musty, storing each wine bottle in cobwebs, mold, and history. Others are sparkling clean and high-tech, with an opulent display of carefully curated bottles and barrels. But each wine cave is a treasure trove, and I am one equal opportunity oenophile.

The origin of wine caves dates back thousands of years during the time of the Roman Empire. The Romans stored their wines in catacombs. They discovered that the subterranean structure would protect the wine from temperature variation and provide the perfect humidity for cellaring.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, these underground tunnels continued to persist. In many parts of France, they were used primarily for cellaring wine. However, these wine caves were not immune from political activities of their times as well.

Wine Cave for the Resistance

One of the most fascinating wine caves that I've visited belongs to Maison Joseph Drouhin. The subterranean cellar in Beaune was so old that you can see herringbone-style stonework on some of the walls. This indicates the presence of Romans. Other walls were added on over time, including facades built during the Nazi regime to hide the French Resistance activists and treasured wines.

Drouhin wine cave herringbone-style stonework from the Roman era
In the book, Wine and War: The Battle for France's Greatest Treasure by Don and Petie Kladstrup, you will read about how Maurice Drouhin served in the French Resistance from his cellar. In fact, French winegrowers played a big role in fighting the Nazi regime from the intricate labyrinth of wine caves.

Wine Cave for the Ritzy

Moving 200 miles northeast from Beaune is Épernay, the capital of Champagne. Under the streets of Épernay are over 60 miles of the underground caves storing millions of bottles of sparkling wine. I visited the wine cave of Möet et Chandon, the famous Champagne house that is associated with luxury name brands Louis Vuitton and Hennessy.

Riddling rack in Möet wine cave
Möet et Chandon is all about opulence and extravagance. Founded in 1742 by Claude Möet, the high-end winery focused its clientele on nobles and aristocrats. In fact, Claude's grandson, Jean Rémy, went to military school with Napoleon Bonaparte. The alignment with the powerful emperor continued for many years. Today, deep in the Möet wine caves, you will see a big barrel of port that was gifted by Napoleon himself. You can't get tighter than that.

Napoleon's Gift of Port
My Verdict: As you can see, the relationship between wine caves and politics did not begin in Napa Valley's Rutherford Hall Winery. It is a fair question to ask whether a candidate is able to rise above lobbyists and donors to do what is best and right for his or her country. Is the wine cave fundraising event so incriminating? Because sometimes there is a Maurice Drouhin in the wine cave. Other times there is a Napoleon Bonaparte. You be the judge.

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