When Pierre and Susan Guérin arrived on the Vineyard from France and moved into their Edgartown home in 2002, one thing they couldn’t live without was a wine cellar. “We needed a place to put the wine, because pretty much in France where we used to live, every place we had, we had some kind of wine cellar,” says Pierre.

They would have to accommodate the 700-bottle collection Pierre had assembled over the years in France. The house’s unfinished basement would hold a playroom for their two children as well as the wine cellar. “We built that room, and actually for my birthday bought the wine racks, and I ordered all the pieces that fit together. And I built it myself, put in the air conditioning, and keep it at 55 degrees year-round,” Pierre says.

The Guérins’ love of wine extends well beyond the home, as together they are the proprietors of the Sweet Life Café in Oak Bluffs, where President Obama, the first lady, and their party dined last summer. The Sweet Life features Pierre Guérin’s carefully selected wine list of 150 bottles from more than twenty countries, ranging from the familiar to the exotic. The Guérins are true wine enthusiasts, relishing the conversation and conviviality that often attends a dinner served with fine wines.

Personal taste

Pierre Guérin’s home wine collection has grown by about two hundred bottles but still retains the personal character that is its hallmark: Pierre collects mainly French red wines, and Bordeaux primarily. “French people drink probably 75 percent red,” he says. Pierre buys wine to drink, but he also collects a few special bottles, “my treasures,” he calls them. “Chãteau Haut-Brion, Chãteau Latour, Chãteau Margauxand I am a big Saint-émilion fan, Chãteau Laroze.”

Pierre much prefers Bordeaux, and particularly red Bordeaux, to Burgundy wines. He claims it is because Bordeaux wines are easier to learn and understand. “Burgundy is a disaster, so many little appellations and literally hundreds of small-scale winemakers.” His remark is just as likely about terroir; Pierre has a strong preference for wines from the southwest region of France where he lived for years.

Among Pierre’s personal favorites are the Malbec wines, both varietals and blends, from the storied city of Cahors, located north of Toulouse in southwest France. Cahors winemaking dates to the era of ancient Rome, with the earliest vines planted around 50 B.C. The Cahors Malbec grape, known locally as Auxerrois, is a thin-skinned grape that requires more sun and heat than the grapes of either Cabernet Sauvignon or pinot noir, and is highly susceptible to cold weather. In 1956, a hard spring frost across France killed almost all of the Malbec grapes, especially in Bordeaux, but they were replanted in Cahors where they flourish today. (Since the late 1800s, Malbecs have also found a home in Argentina, where the higher altitudes permit a longer growing season, crucial for a full-bodied Malbec.)

The Guérins’ cellar also contains some sauterne and one or two special bottles like Chãteau d’Yquem, “but we usually drink sauterne with fois gras, and we don’t have it that often,” Pierre says. There are the commemorative bottles, bottles of his year of birth and the birth year of Pierre and Susan’s children. Pierre collects them regardless of the quality of the vintage. The year their daughter was born, 1997, was not a good wine year, but Pierre says 1999 “was a great year, and our son was born in ’99, so I have a lot of bottles.”

Among the more unusual bottles in Pierre Guérin’s collection is a 1993 Mouton Rothschild, a Bordeaux. It gives insight into the stories behind the bottles as well as the advantages of a properly designed wine cellar. Every year since 1945 Chãteau Mouton Rothschild has commissioned a different artist to do an image for the wine label. A lot of famous artists have done them, including Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and Andy Warhol. The 1993 label included a pencil drawing of a reclining nude nymphet by the French painter Balthus. After it was initially banned in the United States, labels without the drawing were made for bottles to be sold here. Pierre has both the original French label with the art and the American one without. In France he had a wine cellar that was overly humid, and the moisture discolored the French label, so its value as a collectable bottle is nil. There is only the wine within.

Trends with sellers

Wines are very big on the Vineyard these days. Wine lists have expanded at restaurants, and most offer a good selection of wine by the glass in addition to full and half bottles. Wine tastings and wine dinners have also become very popular, especially in the shoulder seasons and in some cases summer. The Sweet Life Café, Oyster Bar Grill, and Park Corner Bistro in Oak Bluffs and Atria, Détente, l’étoile, and the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown all have hosted wine-pairing dinners, sometimes even featuring the cuisines of some of the world’s leading wine regions. Hundreds of people, many coming from off-Island, thronged the sampling stations ringing the celebration tent at the Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival held in Edgartown last October. Atria hopes to make annual its own festival, the first of which (May 14 to 15 this year) features more than fifty wineries from California. Package store wine sales remain strong, despite the economy, though today’s wine buyers show a strong preference for bargain wines and for wines that are drinkable without cellaring.

As Pierre notes, “I won’t buy wine the way I did in the beginning when we were in France. In France I would buy a lot of ’97 Bordeaux, ’98, ’99, etcetera, and I would store it because I was born and raised under the old habit of: You buy Bordeaux and keep them for ten, fifteen, twenty years. But aging doesn’t work anymore, because most of the bottles are made to be drunk right away.”

Most wines available at package stores are designed for early consumption. Wines from Australia, New Zealand, North and South America, and South Africa typically need to be consumed within two to three years.

However some wines will improve with proper aging. Young wines that age well contain pronounced tannins, acidity, or sugar, all of which are natural preservatives. Big bold reds, such as Californian Cabernet Sauvignon and Italian Nebbiolo, have good aging potential because of their intense tannins. White Burgundy, German Riesling, and Alsatian wines compensate for their lower tannin levels with higher acidity. Dessert wines such as sauterne contain high amounts of sugar that help them age well.

Building a cellar

The French term for wine cellar, cave à vin, suggests its early origins. When it comes to storing, aging, and preserving wine, today’s collectors have a wealth of choices, including wine refrigerators, wine closets, wine rooms, and below-ground wine cellars.

When building a wine cellar, it must be constructed like a refrigerator. Installing a wine cooling system in the wall without converting the room correctly might make the system ineffective and could cause damage to your walls, ceiling, and the wine. When properly stored, wines not only maintain their quality but many will improve in color, aroma, flavor, and complexity as they ripen into maturity.

In cellaring wine, there are three factors that will have the greatest impact upon the wine: temperature, humidity, and light. A temperature of 55 degrees is ideal for both short-term storage and long-term aging of wine. Lower temperatures will throw the wine into a state of dormancy. Higher temperatures will not only accelerate aging, but if above 75 degrees, the wine will bake into something undrinkable. Damp air between 55 and 75 percent humidity keeps wine corks from drying out, but when above 90 percent, mold will grow on the corks. (Most wine racks are designed to allow a wine to be stored on its side so that the cork will not dry out, staying moist when kept in constant contact with the wine.) Wine is also extremely light sensitive, especially delicate white wine, so keep your bottles in a dimly lighted place.

The following recipes from the Guérins with suggested wine pairings were originally published along with this article:

The Sweet Life Café’s White Gazpacho

Susan Guérin’s Fruited Chicken Tagine

Wine pairings

We asked Pierre Guérin of the Sweet Life Café in Oak Bluffs to suggest wine pairings for various courses and dishes you might prepare in your kitchen. Then we invited two Island purveyors of wine to weigh in with their own recommendations. Ben Hall Jr. owns Great Harbour Gourmet & Spirits Inc. in Edgartown, which motivates this passionate wine lover to seek out new labels, and he has teamed with various luxury yacht owners to provide summer wine and champagne cruises. Jamie McNeely, of Our Market in Oak Bluffs, has been in the retail wine business for twenty-eight years; a serious wine enthusiast, Jamie has had the opportunity to design and stock some of New England’s finest private wine cellars, and prides himself on being able to match any price point with a quality wine.

Recommended wines can be found in Island package stores (or special ordered). Prices are average retail (rounded to the nearest dollar) except for Jamie’s value picks, which are priced per Our Market.


Summery greens

A salad – such as one with Island field greens and heirloom tomatoes – pairs well with a Sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio as you need something light and crisp to complement the clean taste of the greens.


Pierre: 2007 Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio (Italy) $19; 2008 Domaine Fournier Sancerre Les Belles Vignes Sauvignon Blanc (France) $25.

Ben: Suggests you try pairing the wine based on the dressing. A light, lemon-zest, Chardonnay vinaigrette on local greens pairs well with this Verdejo/Macabeo/Sauvignon blanc blend for its bold flavors of guava, lychee, and lime: 2007 Telmo Rodriguez Basa (Spain) $14.

Jamie: 2008 Domaine Fournier Sauvignon Blanc Vin de Pays du Jardin (France) $13. Value pick: Casal Garcia Vinho Verde (Portugal) 2 for $12.


Rich, cream-based chowders, such as New England clam chowder, need a full-bodied, well-oaked Chardonnay, like those produced in the Napa Valley region of California.


Pierre: 2006 Newton Chardonnay unfiltered (California) $39.

Ben: 2006 Tandem Winery Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay (California) $52.

Jamie: Slightly less full-bodied, this would pair well with corn chowder: 2008 Adegas Morgadio Legado del Conde Albariño (Spain) $16. Value pick: Clos LaChance Chardonnay (California) 2 for $20.


Red meat

Pairs well with red wines produced from the classic Bordeaux grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot – especially steak. A Malbec wine from Cahors or Argentina, a Graves from Pessac Leognan, or a “right bank” wine from Saint-émilion or Pomerol would also pair well. For steak au poivre, a great match is an equally peppery wine such as Shiraz/Syrah or a Mouvedre: Try a Chãteauneuf-du-Pape or a Bandol.


Pierre: 2003 Chãteau Smith Haut-Lafitte Pessac-Leognan (France) $65.

Ben: 2003 Finca Sandoval Manchuela (Spain) $48; 2006 Hogue Cellars Genesis Syrah (Washington) $17.

Jamie: Joseph Carr Cabernet Sauvignon (California) $21; Chãteau Boutisse Saint-émilion Grand Cru (France) $30. Value pick: Concannon Petite Syrah (California) $9.99/2 for $18.


Depending on the way poultry is prepared, it pairs well with several wines. Chicken simply grilled, for example with lemon and herbs, goes with Sauvignon blanc, particularly white Bordeaux – a blend of Sauvignon blanc and Sémillon.


Pierre: 2006 Chãteau Carbonnieux Pessac- Léognan Blanc (France) $49.

Ben: 2007 Marquis Philips Holly’s Blend (Australia) $20.

Jamie: Marc Brédif Vouvray (France) $18. Value pick: Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc (South Africa) $8.

White fish

Grilled fish, sole for example, pairs well with Chardonnay that’s not too oaky – white Burgundy or Chablis – to balance the flavors of both wine and fish.


Pierre: 2007 Jean-Pierre Grossot Chablis Premier Cru Les Fourneaux (France) $50.

Ben: Excelsior Chardonnay (South Africa) $11.

Jamie: Chãteau Graville LaCoste Bordeaux (France) $19. Value pick: Saint-Peyre Picpoul-de-Pinet (France) $9.99.

Steak fish

The traditional rule of thumb was to serve fish with whites, but a more contemporary approach includes some reds, such as pinot noir. “Steak” fish – such as shark, tuna, and salmon – have become more popular, as has red wine in general, and as a result, they are being paired together. Pinots are lighter reds that will not overpower the food. The best matches come from the Pacific Northwest or New Zealand, which tend to be good value for the money.


Pierre: 2007 Montinore Estate Pinot Noir (Oregon) $19.

Ben: 2007 Carlton Hill Estate Pinot Noir (Oregon) $48.

Jamie: Célestin Blondeau Sancerre (France) $23; Groth Sauvignon Blanc (California) $19. Value pick: Santa Ema Sauvignon Blanc (Chile) $7.99/2 for $14.



Desserts in general pair well with a nice brut champagne, and fruit-based desserts especially.


Pierre: Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut, Yellow Label (France) $39; 1999 Gosset Champagne Brut Grand Millésime (France) $80.

Ben: 2008 Kiona Red Mountain Ice Wine (Washington) $26 (half bottle).

Jamie: Cru d’Arche Pugneau Sauterne (France) $37 (half bottle). Value pick: Bonny Doon Muscat Vin de Glacière (California) $13.99 (half bottle).


Dark and bittersweet chocolate desserts pair well with somewhat robust wines, such as Cabernets or tawny ports. A pinot noir or Merlot pairs well with chocolate lower in cocoa content.


Pierre: 2004 Mas de Daumas Gassac Cabernet Sauvignon (France) $45; 2005 Chãteau Teyssier Saint-émilion (France) $30.

Ben: 2008 Viu Manent Noble Sémillon Late Harvest (Chile) $15.

Jamie: Sandeman Ten Years Old Tawny Porto (Portugal) $31. Value pick: Warre’s King’s Tawny Porto (Portugal) $15.99.