Inside Barberian’s subterranean wine vault, the best-stocked cellar in Canada

Inside Barberian’s subterranean wine vault, the best-stocked cellar in Canada

Click to see a larger version. (Image: Renée Suen) Click to see a larger version. (Image: Renée Suen)
 

One of the city’s oldest white-tablecloth restaurants also houses one of Canada’s largest wine collections underneath what used to be its parking lot. Barberian’s wine list now sits at 4,000 selections, with nearly 40,000 bottles in inventory. (If you ordered a single bottle of every item on the list, it would cost a whopping $3-million.) Owner Arron Barberian gave us a tour of his sizeable, subterranean vault below 11 Elm Street.

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Barberian built the wine cellar in 2006 as an homage to his late father, Harry. “The last words my father spoke to me were ‘Let’s go build that cellar,’” says Barberian. The room sits below the dining area in a space that used to be the restaurant’s “million-dollar, eight-car parking lot.” Guarding the cellar and its contents is a door that can only be unlocked by a thumbprint scanner.
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At 80 feet long and 20 feet wide, the split-level, 1,600-square-foot space took one year (and $1.8 million) to build in 2006.
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Fifty-six tonnes of steel and 500 cubic metres of concrete went into making the cellar. The concrete walls are sprayed with water daily to maintain the cellar’s humidity so the corks don’t dry out.
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The temperature in the cellar is kept in the mid-60s (that’s Fahrenheit). Upon booking the room, guests are told to dress for the chilly clime. To prevent theft, outerwear and bags are not permitted in the space (so don your fanciest sweater to stay warm).
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The mezzanine is home to the restaurant’s magnums, each of them equivalent to two standard bottles of wine. Many of the big bottles are signed by some of the winemakers who have made the pilgrimage to Barberian’s including Francis Ford Coppola. For a little privacy, velvet curtains can be drawn to muffle the noise between the two levels.
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Gilded chandeliers were purchased from Toronto General Hospital’s former Bell Wing at a charity event years before the cellar was built.
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Bins are made of light, Russian plywood and are slightly angled to prevent the bottles from rolling out.
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Wines are arranged by general region, then in columns by vintage (not price). There’s a large catalogue at the front desk of the restaurant that maps where everything is. Most of the wines are reds from France (mainly Burgundy, Rhone, and Bordeaux); the rest are mainly from California and Italy. White wine and and wines of “extreme pricing” (just ask for the secret wine list)—including the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which goes for $25,000–$35,000 per bottle—are all housed off-site and retrieved on request.
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A hydraulic lift is used to reach bottles from the upper shelves. It had to be disassembled to be brought into the cellar.
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Rental rates start at $3,500 per night, and the room can accommodate up to 30 high-rollers (or one birthday bash for legendary winemaker Louis Jadot, attended by Geddy Lee).