The Wine Cellar by Karen Shughart

This month, to celebrate my birthday, friends treated me to lunch at a lovely restaurant/winery with charming views of Seneca Lake, in the heart of the Finger Lakes. The restaurant not only carries its own wines, but also a splendid selection from other wineries located here, along with those produced elsewhere in the United States and internationally.

Maybe it’s because of the burgeoning wine industry in the Finger Lakes – it’s the second largest producer of wines in the U.S. – that wine features prominently in our social life. Each night before dinner, my husband, Lyle, and I have a glass, every meal we share with friends at their homes or ours as well as at restaurants, includes wine. We sip, we taste, we compare, and we share. It’s part of the culture.

Right around the time that COVID quarantining started, Lyle decided to clean out a basement room directly beneath our kitchen that has thick stone walls and a stone floor.  We figured it may once have been a cistern, the house is about 130 years old. Remarkably, in both the heat of the summer and chill of winter, that space stays cool at about 56 degrees.

For as long as we’d owned our house, this was one room I had never, ever entered. It was gloomy and dark with cobwebs, discarded doors, rusted paint cans, a hodgepodge of debris and a broken wooden table. It took him hours, but eventually he got rid of all the junk, cleaned the floor and walls and cleared out the cobwebs. What an amazing transformation! The stone walls were charming; the floor was, too. It was wired for electricity, there was a burned-out bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. Then it struck me. While we enjoy wine and had taken wine appreciation classes at nearby New York Kitchen in Canandaigua, our wine storage options for collecting it had been limited. This was the perfect space to create a wine cellar.

Just outside the room we hung a round, wooden sign: “Wine Pairs Nicely with Good Friends.” We bought a light fixture to hang from the ceiling. For comfort, my husband installed some interlocking rubber tiles over the floor. We found an authentic wine barrel that we placed in one corner of the room; a huge Finger Lakes wine country poster sits in another. We purchased racks and started filling them, rows organized by varietal.

A colorful rug anchors the middle of the room, with a small, rectangular table covered with a Provencal – print cloth, a perfect spot for wine glasses and bottles to open for tastings.  Over the winter, we had an electric fireplace installed for those chilly wine-tasting nights.

Our journey began with an appreciation for wine and the abundance of vineyards so close to where we live. It has continued with the creation of our own wine cellar, a fun space for small groups of friends and family to gather, and a silver-lining project during the isolating time of COVID.

The Wine Blog by Karen Shughart

I’ve always believed that it’s easier to write about what you know, which is why wine features so prominently in my Edmund DeCleryk mysteries. Like my husband and me, Ed, and his wife Annie, live in the northern Finger Lakes region of New York, the second largest wine producer in the U. S. Wine is very much part of the lifestyle here.

Our own wine journey began many years ago. Our kids were in college, our careers at their peak, and we came home each night exhausted. We made the transition from workday to evening by having a glass of wine (or sometimes for Lyle, a Scotch) before dinner.  We caught up, chatted about our day, and even when my husband traveled for business, we designated a time to call each other, evening drink in hand. Although now retired, we continue the tradition to this day.

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One weekend we were invited to a dinner party at some friends’ house. We were asked to bring a dish to share and a bottle of wine to pair with it. It was the genesis of a gourmet group that met quarterly for many years, rotating hosts. A specialist at a wine store helped us choose the wines to go with each course. We quickly learned that to enjoy wine is to slowly sip and savor it.

Some of us took a cruise together from San Francisco Bay, along rivers that led to the Napa, Sonoma and Carneros wine regions of California.  Each evening we’d dock and before dinner attend a wine education session. The next morning we’d board a bus that would take us to charming towns for vineyard tours, wine tastings and to explore galleries and shops.

One weekend Lyle and I traveled to the Finger Lakes; a short drive from where we lived in Pennsylvania. We were enchanted by the wineries and restaurants, the vibrant jazz scene, and postcard-picture beauty.  We purchased an 1890s cottage on Lake Ontario; after retirement, we decided to make it our permanent home.

We joined a wine club.  At a series of monthly classes at New York Kitchen in Canandaigua, we learned about regions around the world where wine is crafted and how terroir, the natural environment in which grapes are grown, results in differences in color, smell and taste of the same varietal.  We cleaned up our musty basement and created a wine cellar in what was once a cistern, dry as a bone with thick stone walls and floor and about 56 degrees year ‘round.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about wine, and I write about it in my mysteries. It is, after all, part of the local lore, and an integral part of the culture. And just like Lyle and me, having a glass of wine at the end of the day is a way for Ed and Annie to unwind and share their stories.