Peek inside Wessex Hundred’s most intimate wine cellar
Walk down the steep set of stairs and an enchanting archway awaits. The inviting sign from Austria on the handmade wooden door reads “Weinkeller.”
The Williamsburg Winery founder Patrick Duffeler unlocks it to reveal a wine cellar, his personal wine cellar, inside his home on the grounds of Wessex Hundred, where he resides with his wife, Francoise.
Watch your step. Crossing the threshold requires a bigger drop than you might have anticipated.
Ideally, you’re not wearing your Sunday best shoes to navigate what’s next. The loose gravel floor makes for an uneven surface that is rocky to the feet but ideal for storing wine. Air flow and ventilation improve thanks to the soil floor. Not even a scent of mustiness is detected. Instead, the air is fresh, reminiscent of the outdoors you inhaled trekking through the wooded grounds of the tree-lined farm.
Duffleler good-naturedly proclaims the approximately 1,000 bottles in his collection “a mess.” He points left, right and behind him to the wine-filled racks, indicating which vintages came from France or Germany and which were made from his own “backyard” — vineyards at The Williamsburg Winery. It’s not surprising that the traveler who has visited 67 countries has a wine cellar with souvenirs from many of them. But there’s no cataloging system and not really enough light to see the fine details on the bottles unless you know what you’re looking for.
Fortunately, Duffeler does.
“Gabriel Archer Reserve from 1991,” he says, holding a bottle of the vintage celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
Fluorescent lights are for offices not wine cellars. Because wine is photo-sensitive, it’s always dim in here. If too much light seeps in, the pigments fade in the reds and darken in the whites. Two small fixtures similar to electric lanterns are all that illuminate this cave-like setting.
Ideally you brought a wrap even if you’re wearing long sleeves. It’s 60 degrees inside the cellar. As a perishable product, wine must be stored in cool conditions. Duffeler doesn’t look the least bit chilled in his Navy blue Janker, the boxy jacket best known in the Alpine region.
The bottles, of course, lay horizontal to ensure the wine is always in contact with its cork.
Not everything in here is wine. Francoise stores her homemade jams and pickled jars on a shelf directly to the right of the door, noting, “I come, but not for the wine. The wine is Patrick’s.”
The storyteller in Duffeler lends itself to an anecdote behind every bottle, but don’t bother asking him which one he favors most.
“The one in front of me,” he quips.
Leaving the wine cellar, he seals the door and points to the tasting room on the opposite wall just a few paces farther down the narrow hallway. The Duffelers host guests here, another intimate setting made more so by the open hearth fireplace and low ceiling.
“This is where we have special dinners,” Francoise says.
The understated décor includes several mounted deer antlers — none from hunting. They are from deer that perished on the property, each set intricately unique. Small German engravings hang from the walls, including one in recognition of the town the original Duffelers came from. Pewter goblets on the windowsill add to the warmth.
Heated cheese with your wine? Duffeler’s special machine just for that purpose is a rare treasure. An eye-catching table with spiraled legs comes with its own story; Duffeler carved it by hand. The wood used for it came from moving boxes that contained his furniture shipped from upstate New York to Switzerland decades ago.
Climbing the 13 steps returns you to the Duffeler main floor, and closer to returning you to the farm and vineyards that make up his backyard.