Some collect for prestige, others for the market. But Bob Clark of Denver has built a cellar centered first and foremost on personal relationships and ongoing connections to small, boutique producers in California. The result is a bounty of small-production Napa Cabernets, ranging from the inaugural releases of emerging winemakers to extensive verticals of estate wines sourced over years spent on exclusive mailing lists. Housed in a bespoke, hand-carved oak storage space that is itself a singular work of art, Clark's 2,500-plus-bottle trove is a standout example of focused connoisseurship: rare wines and a one-of-a-kind cellar combining into an inimitable showcase.
Clark, the chairman and CEO of energy firm 3Bear, began visiting Napa with his wife, Kathleen, in the late 1980s, and the couple has been going ever since, for three to five days once or twice a year. Sam Miller of Napa-based rare-wines merchant Bounty Hunter first guided Clark's purchases; after 2010, the bulk of the collector's acquisitions in the region have been made through visits to boutique producers arranged by David and Monica Stevens of 750 Wines in St. Helena. Among the wineries discovered in this hands-on fashion: Barrett & Barrett, Dakota Shy and Nine Suns.
"These are places that only make about 200 to 300 cases a year," Clark says. "It's the kind of production you can't get in a wine store; you can only get it from the winemakers themselves. We like that."
A privilege of this people-driven approach to cellar-stocking lies in following the trajectory of a specific winemaker's career. Clark cites Dakota Shy's Todd Newman as a key example of a producer whose development he's been privy to over many years. With shared memories of North Dakota—where Newman grew up and where Clark does extensive business—the two established a lasting bond through wine.
"When we first met Todd, he had no land of his own," Clark says. "Now he has his own property and is making estate wines. It's amazing to watch someone who starts with nothing put together something of his own in Napa. That's the true sign of an entrepreneur."
As his links to the region—and by extension his holdings—grew, Clark soon found that the basement space where he had been amassing bottles was becoming inadequate for his burgeoning storage needs. He and Kathleen had an unused office in their home, adjacent to the dining room, that they figured would be ideal for a dedicated cellar. The Clarks' longtime interior designer, Marjie Goode of the Goode Touch Interiors, solicited bids for the construction. Savanté, based in Denver, stood out.
Designer Darryl Hogeback's breathtaking fusion of artistry and usability comprises custom-bent white oak, hand-carved detailing and laser-etched numbers on the racks and drawers.
"There are maybe only five or six feet in the whole cellar that's a straight line," Clark says. "[Hogeback] did all the work at his shop and then installed it. If he put something up and didn't like it, he'd take it down and adjust it until he was satisfied."
Five stained-glass windows line the wall. Needing to limit the light coming into the room in order to protect the aging wines, Clark commissioned the creation of five inserts for the 6-foot-by-18-inch windows: Four depict wineries (Château Latour in France, Chateau Montelena in California, Viña Santa Rita in Chile and Antinori in Italy), and the fifth bears the Clark family crest from Scotland.
With the room already at capacity, Clark is taking steps to drink down his cellar with friends and family. He estimates he gives away six to seven cases of wine a year as gifts, and parties held in the home further dip into the bounty. "I enjoy opening up a bottle of wine that my friends would never be able to have anywhere else," he says.
Though some may label Clark's singular focus on one style of wine limiting, for him it contains a world of nuance and pleasure. "There are so many fine wines, I figured I'd be better off trying to understand just one well," he says. But don't ask him to pick a favorite. "[If] I was stranded on an island in the South Pacific, I would hope it would have a cave full of California Cabernets."
Number of bottles: 2,500 (2,200 in cellar, 300 in storage)
Focus of collection: California Cabernet Sauvignon
Notable verticals: Cardinale, 2007-2013; Caymus Special Selection, 2002-2010; Far Niente, 2002-2013; Gargiulo 575 OVX, 2009-2012; Lail J. Daniel Cuvée, 2007-2013; Screaming Eagle, 2005-2013
Cellar temperature: 55˚ F
Humidity: 60 percent–65 percent
Notable design features: Central wine carousel tower; counters made from reclaimed wine barrel heads; laser-numbering for easy inventorying