To have and to hold: Wine makes the A-list

Shops help find, procure wines

With wine collecting and cellar building becoming the latest rage in Southern California, cottage industries have sprung up to help L.A.’s elite stay at the top of the collecting game.

Since many a collector is coming into the game a bit late, winery allocation lists are full, producers are charging $100 and even $200 for bottles that went for a quarter of that price in the mid-1990s and so many new winemakers have entered the field that it’s hard to know who’s making what where without hours of research and trips to wine-producing regions.

“Many people have good palates, but they don’t have the time to devote to doing the work it takes to find and procure the wines they are going to like,” says Ivy Renee Tarr, founder and owner of the Passionate Palate, which acquires wines and assists in filling collections.

Tarr generally charges $100 per hour for her services, but she operates on a percentage basis when procuring specific wines. Her clients include actors Dan Aykroyd and Ted Danson.

While Tarr deals with finding the wine, Jean-France Mercier, owner of Tixa Wine Cellars, deals with the home storage, and Carte du Vin founder Jeff Smith deals with keeping track of what a collector owns.

“The first question I ask is ‘How many bottles do you have?’ And the second question is ‘How many bottles do you intend to have?’, ” says Mercier, whose clients include David Geffen, Haim Saban, Patrick Stewart and Bob Shaye. The biggest problem is running out of space.

Mercier custom designs and builds each cellar, preferring to work in new homes rather than existing ones.

Once the bottles are loaded, Jeff Smith has a task: make a list on his laptop that indicates bottles’ location in the cellar, organizing bottles by region and grape, and includes information such as Robert Parker scores and tasting notes.

Clients can access their collections on the Carte du Vin server via computer or wireless PDAs, which comes in handy if they’re at a store or auction and need to know what they already have at home. Smith prefers to work with cellars containing at least 1,000 bottles, and his base fee is $2.50 per bottle, with discounts on volume.

The Passionate Palate: (310) 836-7231, passionatepalate@comcast.net

Tixa Wine Cellars: (323) 650-1829

Carte du Vin: (323) 876-3853, www.carteduvin.com

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