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From bedroom to tasting room

West side couple makes spare room a wine cellar

Posted: September 12, 2008 10:55 p.m.
Updated: November 14, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Annie and Robert Schwartz sip wine inside the wine cellar they had built in their Stevenson Ranch home.

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The Schwartz family is pretty typical in size - two parents, three children, two dogs. But recently one of the five bedrooms in the family's Stevenson Ranch home has been given over to an additional family member - well, actually, about 2,200 of them.

You see, the Schwartz family has turned that bedroom into a refrigerated wine cellar where thousands of memories are housed with the bottles. And an impressive edifice it is. There are racks and racks of premium wines, granite counter tops and a custom decor that the toniest wine store would cry for.

So why did they do it?

Well, it had to be for the love of wine. It certainly wasn't done to increase the value of their home. "We spent 40 grand to depreciate our home by 40 grand," Robert Schwartz said.

Not always wine people
The Schwartz familly moved into their 3,300 square foot home 11 years ago. Robert is a mortgage broker with Tower Funding in Valencia. His wife Annie is the owner of Origin Talent in Studio City, and owner of the new Fresh clothing boutique in Newhall. They have three children, Madison, 21, Alix, 17 and Max, 13.

Their other "children" are a Maltese named Spencer and an English bulldog named Sadie. And, no, Sadie isn't always growling, that's "just how English bulldogs sound when they breathe."

Robert and Annie weren't always "into" wine. In fact, a glass of red wine will often give Robert a sinus headache. But these days he perseveres.

"I'm a wine taster, not a big drinker. Give me a glass of wine and I can make it last all night," he said.

Robert explained that his first awakening to wine came during a conference trip to Beaver Creek resort in Colorado in 1999. He and associates were at a mountaintop restaurant and a friend was ordering $250 bottles of wine. The friend kept sending them back as substandard and the sommelier kept agreeing with him and charging him nothing for the bottles.

"We went through five bottles of $250 wine," he said.

The wine habit was born then and, today, the couple love and enjoy their wine together.

"It's part of our journey together," Annie said. "We're very, very social. With wine, there's always a conversation, always something to talk about. Robert really knows what he's doing."

"I look at wine as art and winemakers as artists," Robert said. "The fun part is trying to find the Van Goghs of wine."

An expansive habit
Annie Schwartz said that when her husband first started collecting wines, the bottles quickly filled up the racks in their kitchen center island. In addition to the space issue, the kitchen often got warm in the afternoons. Consequently, Robert decided that they needed a few wine refrigerators. They installed two refrigerators in the kitchen cabinets. It didn't solve the problem.

"Next thing you know, we had four wine refrigerators holding 250 bottles each in the garage," she said.

However, even those refrigerators soon filled up and more space was needed. That's when the decision was made to turn the downstairs bedroom Annie was using for an office into their wine "cellar."

"We hired a wine cellar builder," Annie said. "He was an artisan," Robert added. "He built it from scratch in our garage and brought it in piece by piece."

The Schwartz wanted an "eclectic" design for their cellar and the builder accommodated them during the four-month process. This included cutting down the wooden boxes of some of their favorite wines and using these in a mosaic on the cellar walls.

"A guy" designed the unique wine-bottle chandelier hanging from the ceiling.

"Our most favorite bottles are there," Annie said. "The better story they have the better the chance of them getting up there."

The garage refrigerators were sold to friends, and the wine cellar became the heart of the Schwartz home, at least for entertaining. With 2,200 bottles in place in the room (which is kept at 56 to 58 degrees), there is still room for another 800 or so. Robert said he has wines from $6 to $3,000, and noted that, "We have an incredible alarm system on our wine cellar."

All of these wines are tracked on a computer database as to their location in the cellar, and each has tasting notes included. Robert said he will buy three to six bottles of a wine he wants and try one young (right away). Then he'll add notes such as "Don't touch this wine for three years."

But Robert is as much about the story behind the wine as he is about its taste.

A perfect example is his 1935 California zinfandel. It's his oldest wine in the cellar and is "undrinkable."

But he keeps it because it was given to him.

The couple enjoy entertaining and, especially, pairing wines with food.

Their choices are almost limitless, as they have wines from around the world, but California wines are a large part of their collection.

"We have a lot of Napa Valley cabs and a lot of central coast pinot noirs," Robert said.

Though the couple haven't been wine tasting in Europe, they have done so in Israel.

"They're starting to get good wines there," Robert said.

He noted that he reads all the wine trade magazines and would even like to begin selling his wines online one day.

He added that he is not a wine connoisseur, just a "wine snob."

"Life's too short for bad wine," he said.

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