Private Clubs: Which Has the Best Cellar?
At many of the best clubs, whiskey and beer, long the post-round drinks of choice, have taken a back seat to wine. Climate-controlled cellars full of hard-to-find labels are the new sine qua non. "Golfers tend to be very choosy when it comes to finer things like wine, particularly at private facilities," says Paul Golden, senior vice president of ClubCorp, which recently launched a wine program that gives members at participating clubs access to limited-production wines. "Even after a horrible day on the course, things don’t look so bad after a few choice corks are popped." Here are the top six après-fairway cellars for members and lucky guests only.
No surprise: The home of the Masters is also the home of the hands-down most impressive wine collection in golf. One wine distributor familiar with the cellar says "it blows the course out of the water. They’ve got the best of the best. Period." The reason is simple: money. Augusta spends top dollar for vintages that can’t be found anywhere else. As well, the club buys a lot of "verticals," winespeak for consecutive vintages of a particular wine, and it’s been doing so for decades. Another importer who sells to Augusta adds: "It’s all about quality, the depths of vintages and back vintages."
Bel-Air Country Club
Los Angeles, California
The celebrities and media moguls who play Bel-Air have seen and tasted it all, which is why beverage director Dean McKinney supplements the usual standouts (like his verticals of Château Rothschilds and bottles from powerhouse producers like Heitz Cellars and Cakebread) with what McKinney calls "the neighborhood wine" from Moraga Vineyards, an eight-acre patch of grapes opposite the Getty Museum. Moraga produces tiny quantities of cabernets and merlots that are as rich and powerful as the boldface duffers who drink them.
Mayacama Golf Club
Santa Rosa, California
Augusta may have the premier cellar, but no private club provides as thorough a wine experience as Mayacama. Each new member is assigned not just a golf locker but also a wine locker, located in an underground grotto containing many vintages rarely seen outside the grounds. Every year, the club’s thirty-one vintner members—including Jess Jackson of Kendall-Jackson, Bill Harlan of Harlan Estates and cult winemaker Helen Turley—each provide a barrel of their premier vintage. In season, the winemakers host intimate tastings every two weeks, which could mean sipping from the barrel with Kerry Murphy of DuMOL "or dinner for twelve at Joseph Phelps Winery with Bill Phelps himself," says food and beverage director Katie Ciocca. The all-vintner tasting in April lets members and guests sample head-spinning rarities that your local wine snob would kill to try.
Naples National Golf Club
What distinguishes the wine list at Naples National?Head sommelier Sean Fulton thinks small. "I search for quality-driven, small-production wines," he says, rattling off under-the-radar labels like Husic and David Arthur Vineyards. Besides hosting regular tastings, he’s considering wine seminars and is "bringing in more international wines that will show the members different taste profiles."
Roaring Fork Club
Although the Jack Nicklaus course is a high-altitude ball cracker, most everything at the Fork is "secondary to making the wine taste great," says Steve Humble, the club’s wine director. Humble’s tight relations with noted winemakers gives him access to true rarities like boutique wines from Sine Qua Non in Ventura, California, and Spanish jaw-droppers from Ribera del Duero. The club hosts regular wine dinners at which superstar vintners such as Robert Foley uncork bottles "you normally only find on the gray market," Humble says.
The Vintage Club
Indian Wells, California
Twenty-five-hundred bottles behind glass in the main dining room only hint at the five thousand stashed elsewhere for the well-named club’s 460 members, a number of whom own vineyards themselves. (The late Ely Callaway, a winemaker turned club maker, was a member.) Al Castro, the clubhouse manager, presides over nearly 700 selections and a few true showstoppers (including the 1979 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche) as well as hundreds of great wines-to-be. "We buy first-growth futures from the best producers and just lay them down until they’re ready," says Castro, "so members get to see the great things to come."