Jeweler Steve Padis stashes his wine gems in a personal wine cave
Issue: December 15, 2008
San Francisco jeweler Steve Padis' passion for wine is matched only by his passion for diamonds. For Padis, both are gems worth collecting: He owns three jewelry stores and has amassed 10,000 bottles of wine. Until recently, however, he split his wine collection between a home cellar and a vault in one of his stores. Now, with a newly constructed 3,000-square-foot wine cave on his property in Napa Valley, Calif., Padis finally has a place to showcase the jewels in his wine collection.
Padis, 55, says his career began as a "street artist." In 1974, during his senior year at the University of California, Berkeley, Padis strung shell beads and sold them on Telegraph Avenue. By the time he graduated, in 1975, he had begun to deal in precious metals and diamonds. His career aspirations also shifted from becoming a doctor to becoming a jeweler. Today, he and his wife, Judy, own three wholesale jewelry stores in the San Francisco area.
Before 1979, other than an occasional bottle of Asti Spumante, Padis was not much of a wine drinker. But on a trip to California wine country, he developed a taste for Cabernet Sauvignons. He bought bottles from Buena Vista and Sebastiani wineries and began his collection using a strategy he learned from the diamond wholesale business: Buy directly from the source. Soon, Padis made getting his name on wine clubs' lists among his executive assistant's most important duties.
Through the years, wines purchased from clubs, travels and auctions overfilled the couple's 2,500 bottle capacity cellar in their Black Hawk, Calif., home—and one of the store's vaults. "On one trip we discovered Adelaida Zinfandel 1992 at a quaint, little restaurant in Cambria [Calif.]. It was so outstanding that we decided to trek up to the winery and buy all the Zin they would sell us," Steve Padis recalls. Padis took the 50 cases of Zinfandel to one of his San Francisco stores and stashed the wine in the walk-in jewelry vault.
Then came the inspiration for building a personal wine cave. "It happened during a private party at Far Niente, soon after Gil Nickel passed away. The cave was lit with hundreds of candles," he recalls. "It was a moving moment for us, and we decided we wanted to have a cave to build beautiful memories inside." They planned their dream cave on the hillside of their home in Napa, which is situated on 6 acres with panoramic views of the valley and vineyards.
Cave construction began in October 2005. But contractor David Provost of Bacchus Caves quickly discovered that the ground was not well suited for tunneling. "From the hillside it did not look like a problem, and the geo-tech report was fine. But it was the worst ground we ever tunneled in; a cave almost shouldn't be here," Provost says. "After the first 20 feet of tunneling, the cave fell in. After that, we could only tunnel 2 feet a day, so it became a game of inches. And there are a lot of inches in this cave."
Undeterred by this and subsequent cave-ins, Padis used them as an opportunity to make the cave larger. Finally, in May 2008, the couple's custom-built cavern was complete, with approximately 7,500 bottles moved from the Black Hawk cellar—just in time to host the winners of California Central Coast Wine Classic's live auction lot 66 with a Napa Valley cult-wine dinner.
The cave is a grid of tunnels. Two entrances lead to two main tunnels, Steve's Tunnel and Judy's Tunnel. Two cross tunnels connect the main tunnels and three chambers: a wine room, dining nook and bedroom. The cave naturally maintains a temperature of approximately 59° F and a humidity of about 63 percent.
Steve's tunnel leads to the wine room and boasts a fountain built from a Greek-style terra-cotta vase—a tribute to his Greek heritage. The wine room houses the bulk of his collection on custom racking by Grotto Custom Wine Cellars and Cabinets. Padis racked every bottle himself and tracks inventory by memory. The 10,000-bottle- capacity chamber is approximately 70 percent full, with wines organized by region and vintage.
His passion for California wines, which make up about 75 percent of his collection, is displayed front and center. Nine-liter bottles of Vineyard 29 Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 and Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection 2003 sit on the tasting counter. Shelves of 3-liter bottles line the side walls above single-bottle racks and include a vertical of Clark-Claudon from 1997 to 2004.
Judy's tunnel, the site of the first cave-in, holds a tongue-in-cheek nod to the event, the "Cave-In Tasting Bar." In addition, carved into the back of this 120-foot long tunnel is a dining nook with seating for 12. Judy's tunnel also boasts the original jewelry safe used in their business. It is filled with 50 special bottles. "These gems are hidden away for safe keeping, so our friends won't find them," Padis says with a laugh.
Inside the safe, verticals of Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon from 1986 to 1991 and Grace Family Vineyards spanning 1999 until 2005 rest alongside Château d'Yquem 1986 and Château Pétrus 1990. Among those is a Château Lafite-Rothschild 1953, which Padis is saving for his 60th birthday. "This 1953 vintage is my birth year," he says, "and we plan to drink it at Victoria and Albert's at Disney World, where we celebrate my birthday every year."
Large-format bottles and etched, hand-painted bottles flank both sides of the safe. On top of the safe is their largest bottle, an etched, 27-liter Justin Isosceles 1999. Padis cherishes a 6-liter bottle of Silver Oak 1994. Judy's favorite bottle is an 18-liter Adelaida Cabernet Sauvignon 1995, etched and hand-painted with a carousel horse. Other standouts include a 6-liter Sibling Rivalry Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, which is a one-of-a-kind collaboration by Heidi Barrett and Gary Eberle.
One unusual feature—even for a dream cave—is the bedroom, which lies between Steve's and Judy's tunnels. Though they have never spent the night there, Padis says, "it was our fantasy to have a bedroom."
As such, the room is more symbolic than functional, exhibiting a highlight of the Padises' collection: More than 200 bottles of Turley Zinfandel in assorted vintages and vineyards from 1998 to 2000 fill niches here. "Turley is so intense you need only one glass, and it is time for sleep," Padis says. "We call it 'goodnight wine."
Jan Walsh is a freelance writer based in Vestavia Hills, Ala.