One of the greatest wine cellars in the world—full disclosure: I helped build it—is in Hamburg, New Jersey, the result of the late-in-life passion of Gene Mulvihill, who died last month at 78.
In July 2002 I drove to Crystal Springs Resort to meet with Mulvihill. We went to the basement where a caravan of golf carts were parked; he said that he wanted to build the best wine cellar in New Jersey, and asked me to assist him. It was like asking a child if he wanted candy on Halloween.
We took pieces of wood and marked the dimensions of the future wine cellar. During the following weeks, we designed the room for 15,000 bottles with arched windows supporting a shelf to showcase unique wines, and a dining area where guests would view the soon-to-be best wine cellar in New Jersey. I liked his passion and let’s-do-this attitude.
Mulvihill came of age when Bordeaux ruled the wine world and that was his universe. His favorite was Chateau Latour. During the months his team built the cellar, we talked endlessly about wine and tasted some he never knew: Super-Tuscans, Barbaresco, New Zealand, Chile, Spain, Germany, and more. As his palate and passion developed, he wanted to learn even more. He was catching the wine bug.
When the room was nearly filled with a collection that would have satisfied anyone, he announced that he wanted the best wine cellar in America. We designed contiguous temperature-controlled rooms designated for America, Italy, Spain and Portugal, and Champagne. As the new wines arrived, he requested that I select bottles for him to taste. He absorbed the pleasures of the wines and expanded his knowledge of the regions and countries by attending wine tastings and winemaker dinners, and joining a New Jersey chapter of the prestigious French culinary society, La Chaine des Rotisseurs.
Conversations in his office or phone calls delivered his enthusiastic verdicts: “Last night, I had this Spanish (or Italian, Californian, or elsewhere) that was great, we have to get this for the wine cellar”. No teenager was ever more excited by a first car, new girlfriend, or coolest outfit.
When the additional rooms were overflowing with wine bottles and cases, he decided that America was not big enough for his passion and vision: he announced he wanted the best wine cellar in the world. At an age when nearly everyone else is slowing down, his wine passion drove him to conquer the wine world.
More temperature-controlled wine rooms were created with a walkway for guests to meander between them. It was the wine version of the Yellow Brick Road.
If you are going to conquer the world, you need to go there, so he and wife Gail visited Chateau Latour and dined at the great Parisian restaurant, La Tour d’Argent that has the largest collection of French wines of any restaurant on earth. “They had a jump on us by a century, but we have more 100 point wines”, he told me when he returned, then let loose a full-spirited laugh. Call it wine joy.
When you own 100-point wines, it’s easy to limit yourself to those, but Mulvihill’s palate was too developed and broad. Two months ago, he told me, “I like Macon-Village. Yeah, it’s a cheap wine, but it’s good”. And then he laughed at the incongruity, because we had been discussing a Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Montrachet that costs thousands of dollars per bottle.
Like nearly everything in his life, Gene Mulvihill achieved his goal of creating one of the finest wine collections on earth. It sits in a labyrinth of cellars under the resort’s clubhouse. Upstairs is his other vision, Restaurant Latour. It’s a 40-seat jewel box, named for his favorite wine, and the wine list has been recognized with Wine Spectator’s highest honor, the Grand Award. Go there. Take the time to read through the white wine book and the red wine book. It will take you a half an hour. It took him a lifetime. It required vision and passion. Wine can do that to you at any stage of your life.