Destination Cellars: A Wine Lover's Escape

Interested in touring a private estate to learn about the makings of a fine Brunello and later staying the evening at a private home in Tuscany complete with an intimate Tuscan dinner? Then perhaps a membership to Destination Cellars is in order.

Destination Cellars is the first and only luxury destination club partnered with Exclusive Resorts, MasterCard and more to offer affluent wine, food and travel enthusiasts personalized access to prestigious winery properties around the world.

"Memberships start at $15,000, which includes five experiences at any of the wineries we are partners with around the world," said David M. Keuhner, founder and CEO of the Virginia based company.

"We have more than 25 members and are partners with about 70 family-run estate properties in everywhere from Australia and France to New Zealand, Portugal and Spain. Our members are a mixture of professionals who have an avid interest in wine and the means to do this, and also those who are at a point in their lives where they want to learn more and get experience about wine. People see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity as well as an education process."

Individual and corporate club members enjoy tailored experiences including everything from intimate tastings and fine dining to cave exploration and biodynamic seminars.

"We sell not only experiences but memories to our members," Keuhner said.

We have a mix of corporate members for executives and employee incentives where we become your wine and travel consultant. We have certain member profiles they need to fill out so we can learn as much as we can about our members like when their birthdays are, if they are married, number of kids, etc. We cater to their needs with a reservoir of experiences."

Keuhner had been in the restaurant industry for several years when he came up with the idea of Destination Cellars.

"I used to be the general manager at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Washington, DC and it was there that I took a passion to the grape," Keuhner said.

My uncle used to be the sommelier at the 21 Club in New York and a light bulb went off about 11 years ago. I worked for three startup companies after Ruth's Chris and each was affiliated with the restaurant industry so I was able to keep close ties in the industry and my appreciation and education with wine continued to grow. I came up with the idea when my wife and I decided to go to Napa Valley. I wanted to do something private and intimate with my wife and because I didn't have strong ties to the industry and wasn't a big purchaser, I received a really cold reception from the winery that I went to. I wanted to sit down with the winemaker and since I was just coming in to have a good time and not buy a lot of wine, they didn't have any interest. I was somewhat shocked and turned off by this experience but knew there must be others out there wanting the same experience as me."

While Napa and Sonoma Valleys are certainly known for their wine tastings, the experiences are not private.

"I know there are tasting rooms all over Napa where you can share your experience with a lot of people and experience what wine tastes like but there was nothing available for an exclusive experience," Keuhner said.

I came back and researched both the wine market and consumer side to find out what they wanted. I wanted to have wineries involved within a network that would be held in high regard and of the same caliber around the world."

Keuhner's research determined that the consumers wanted to be seen on a personal level.

"They wanted to be known as Mr. and Mrs. Smith and were looking for a unique experience," he said.

We needed to secure companies that we wanted to partner with to allow member access. We then traveled around the world securing these partnerships. One corporate member just got back two weeks ago from Napa Valley where he went with his girlfriend. I had the 24-hour curveball thrown when he said he wanted to get engaged. There is a place called Fisher Vineyards with a view of Sonoma on one side and Napa on the other. They had a table set up on top of a mountain where they had a tiki umbrella where they had dinner literally on top of the world. The couple was offered a private blending experience where they blend their own wine and they are planning on serving it at their wedding."

As a result and due to a member request, the club has designed a Napa Valley "engagement experience," which includes a private table atop the mountain to enjoy a bottle of "Wedding Vineyard" wine.

"Where else can you do a private blending session with a world renowned winemaker and leave with a wine that is proprietary to you," he noted.

Our goal is to cater to an intimate experience. We have a professional sommelier on staff, who can provide wine pairings with food or if a member is having a dinner party, they can call for advice. People are often intimidated by wine so having that service available to our members was an important step."

Kellie Speed

As the Boston city guide editor for JustLuxe, Kellie Speed is a native Bostonian and a freelance writer/editor/copywriter with more than 20 years expe...(Read More)

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