A wine cellar is like a time capsule where, for once, the phenomenon is welcome.
In a wine cellar, time is a wine lover's best friend; a way to slow life down, take it easy, stop and recollect.
For oenophiles, a wine cellar can be a place of stories and solitude, regardless of its shape or size. It's very similar in effect to a bibliophile's bookshelf or personal library. Whenever you look through it, you see a treasure trove of potential pleasure, prospective memories, and mind-altering possibilities. Both are brilliant, of course.
However, it feels like time can be deferred in a wine cellar. Its consistent persistence mitigated somehow, so as to elevate the infinity of pleasures and possibilities waiting to be realised whenever a screw-cap clicks or, better yet, a good cork goes pop!
Ian Scarborough's wine cellar is unlike any I've seen. It's not underground. It's not under the stairs. It's not even in a room ... well, it is a room, of sorts.
"Frankie Lovett came up with the idea and built this for us in the early '90s. He built a few of them around here, actually. It's not pretty, but it works well," Scarborough says, leading me through the cellar door.
Hidden in plain sight at the top of the drive, in the car park at Scarborough Wines' old cellar door on Gillards Road, in Pokolbin, is where, what Ian Scarborough calls 'The Bunker' is located.
Locked at all times, it's an unassuming structure, just another old water tank, perhaps? Hefty concrete panels sit flush with each other all the way around in a rather neat circle. Each panel appears to measure almost two metres in length, less than a metre in width, and about 10 inches thick. There's an air-conditioner installed on one side of the room, to help keep outside temperatures at bay, especially throughout summer.
"It'll fluctuate between 14 and 16 degrees in here, but it never gets over 16, even when it's hot outside. It gets even colder in winter, so we don't run the air-conditioner then," Scarborough says.
Boxes and boxes of bottles and bottles of wine are spread out along the floor, pushed up against each other in the kind of haphazard way that only comes with the notion of "later".
"I've really got to clean this up, some day," Scarborough says, probably for the umpteenth time.
Chalk is scrawled on the concrete walls; familiar names to those who know or otherwise some sort of secret code: HVD '05, VAT 47 '00, '99, Reyner '98, Mistress '04, RODA 1 05/06. Some boxes are stacked five high, with many of their lids torn open in a fit of unhurried discovery. A unique sign of life that only a wine lover would know.
"You like to keep a decent cache of local wines," I suggest.
"Yeah, the premier ones," Scarborough replies. "There's always some Tyrrell's in here, and Brokenwood, mostly Graveyard and Mistress block. I've probably got more old Graveyard in here than [Iain] Riggs has got himself. They're such great wines ...
"This is some De Iuliis, from the Steven's Vineyard. Beautiful wine this. So typical of that elegant Hunter style," he adds.
There's always some Tyrrell's in here, and Brokenwood, mostly Graveyard and Mistress block. I've probably got more old Graveyard in here than [Iain] Riggs has got himself. They're such great wines ...Ian Scarborough
Ian Scarborough was born in Glenelg, South Australia. He grew up in the Riverland and got into wine when he was quite a young man. The idea of a winemaking lifestyle appealed to him, so he enrolled to study oenology at Roseworthy Agricultural College.
"I just loved the idea of wine and the lifestyle that went along with it," Scarborough says.
"Back then, the market was for fortifieds, but we were drinking just marvellous wines; top Australian reds out of Great Western, and the Barossa, of course, and some really great wines from the Hunter ... Our teachers would trade what they called 'laboratory samples', which they weren't, but that was when I first got to try some of the best of the Hunter."
Ian visited the Hunter Valley with his wife Merralea in the late 1960s, long before there were any two-hatted restaurants and hot air balloon rides.
"I just fell in love with it," Scarborough says. "I can still remember driving up Oakey Creek Road, the place was so green. There were patches of grape vines spread out next to paddocks full of cattle. It was absolutely gorgeous.
"I remember being fascinated by the whole Tyrrell's thing; the old hut and the dirt floors, but that wasn't the only thing," Scarborough says. "The whole countryside was beautiful, with the backdrop of the mountains; the Brokenback Range, the flats and the various soil types. It was just magic."
Opposite the boxes on the floor, on the other side of the cellar is a more familiar sight. Wine racks stocked with bottles of wine laid down on their side. Reaching up into one of the racks, Ian pulls down a bottle of something still in its decorative box.
"What's this ... Oh, this is a bloody cracker wine; the 920 from 1990 [Penfolds Bin 920 Cabernet Shiraz], that's one of my favourite Coonawarra's, best of all time," Scarborough declares as he slides back the lid and reaches for another.
"Oh boy! An '02 Comtes [Tattinger Comtes de Champagne], now that is a wine ... This will still be so fresh; they always have such vibrant acidity. We used to drink these like they were going out of fashion, but they're just so dear these days," he says.
"How do you decide what makes a good wine, as opposed to a bad wine?" I ask. "What do you look for?"
"I'm pretty familiar with most wine styles around the world, but I never really get to the stage of saying, 'There's apricot flavours, or strawberries, or lime and citrus, you know, that sort of thing ...," he says. "I mean, for me, wine is about the complete package, rather than isolating certain flavours out of it. A good wine is balanced. It has a harmony. Quite often, if there's any sort of flavour that dominates, then it's not a particularly good wine, in my view."
Stashed away safe and sound among the wine racks, there are bottles whose labels have famous wine words on them, like, Pomeral (1999), Chateau Y'Quem (1975), Gevrey-Chambertin (2016), and Morey-Saint-Denis (2001).
"Ah, this is an '88 Lafite (Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Bordeaux), that should be drinking well by now, I reckon. And what's this, oh '95 Latour (more Bordeaux), that's another cracker wine," Scarborough notes with great excitement. "There's a couple missing, though. Probably be in another box somewhere, unless they've been drunk by someone," he says, appending his previous observation with a little less enthusiasm.
"What about these wines, in the middle?" I ask, pointing to a cache of wines stacked up in the centre of the cellar.
"All this stuff in the middle here belongs to Jerry and Liz (Ian's son and daughter-in-law)," Scarborough says. "They really should get their act together and start drinking. They might even be so kind to share some with the old man."
In saying this he catches my eyes lingering on an old Hunter River Burgundy from 1983, which lies next to a few old bottles of '96 Mount Pleasant Old Paddock & Old Hill Shiraz.
"Brilliant wines those. Classic, old Hunter reds," he says. "We should probably drink one, what's the time?"
"Nearly 2pm, we've been chatting for over two hours," I reply. Time flies in a wine cellar, after all.
"Grab a bottle and let's go, we're not getting any younger," Scarborough says, and I follow him back out the wine cellar door.