Villa Collina Renewed: The Best Cellar

Editor’s Note: “Villa Collina Renewed” is a 15-part blog series detailing owner Dr. Eric W. Barton’s work to restore the largest home in Tennessee to its original Italianate beauty. Each week we will discuss renovation projects across the 40,250-square-foot waterfront mansion, from geothermal upgrades and energy efficiency to state-of-the-art lighting, marble renovations and the wine cellar. We hope you enjoy this detailed research on the jewel that is Villa Collina.

The Villa Collina holds many treasures inside her walls, including a subterranean wine cellar. Descending the staircase and entering through metal gates takes a visitor back to old Italy, where underground brick rooms called cantinas held wine and cured meats. This cellar has something to see down every hallway, including some unforeseen surprises along the way.

The original owners of the home were so intent to get this part right that they flew their designer to Italy, so she could see and experience what they wanted to recreate at Villa Collina. When Eric W. Barton purchased the property, he discovered mysteries and missing pieces. Through interviews and research, he was able to learn more and restore unfinished projects throughout the house. Then, he took on the task of carefully planning and stocking the shelves in the wine cellar.

As with the rest of the house, an iPad is on a table that controls the music and lights for the area. The dust on the bottles in the entryway is intentional – this is a transformational journey to a place where bottles need not be dusted.

There’s a chill in the air – again, all intended – to keep the area at the proper temperature for optimum wine storage. Historically, wine was stored underground to keep it cool. Wine also needs high humidity to help the corks breathe. More on that in a bit.

Strolling through the warmly lit cellar, a visitor sees rustic woodwork lines narrow and tall brick passageways curve and meander past small and large alcoves, art pieces, dining and tasting rooms. At 2,600 square feet, the cellar can store thousands of bottles of wine, as well as a wide assortment of whiskey, scotch and craft beer.

A circular brick structure that looks like a wishing well seemed lovely, but also out of place. When the original homeowner came to visit Barton, he learned it was originally intended to be a fountain, but the water feature was never installed. As part of the massive rejuvenation effort Barton has undertaken at the home, the inside of the structure was painted a rusty orange and a lion head fountain installed. The sound of the water is soothing, but it also serves the purpose of keeping the humidity at the proper level. That ensures that corks remain in great shape to allow just enough air in the bottle, so the wine will age well – but not enough to cause oxidization.

Each wine alcove holds custom-built racks filled to the brim with bottles from around the world. Barton hired sommelier Ryan Megar to perform the task of curating, stocking, inventorying, classifying, organizing and displaying the wine. He created a system with color-coded tags that indicate the price range of a bottle and organized the inventory into sections based on region and varietal.

Megar continues to share his expertise with guests of Villa Collina by curating selections for educational wine dinners. He offers knowledge of pairings and tastings during intimate dinners in the cellar’s cozy dining rooms.

Along a long, curved brick wall are four arched structures that appeared to be windows filled in with stucco. They were numbered 1 through 4 in pencil, raising questions on what was originally intended to fill the blank spaces. Again, in interviews with the original homeowner, it was discovered that mosaics were supposed to grace these arches. During the cellar restoration, Barton hired local artist Annalee Bohon to paint original murals of beautiful women in muted tones that add class and style to the archways. The murals were painted so that, when approaching from either side of the curved wall, the perspective would be perfect. No detail is too small!

Ravenna, Italy, is a city famous for its mosaics. A large piece depicting an angel in a vineyard fits seamlessly into another curved wall along a cellar passageway, created in a monastery in Ravenna from thousands of tiny tiles.

Adding to the whimsy and mystery of the cellar, a brick wall stocked with wine moves to reveal a passage back to the cellar entrance. Barton changed the button that activates the large door to make it inconspicuous and added a penny on top to conceal the button. He also has access to the cellar via a hidden moveable panel in his office that opens to a spiral staircase down to the cellar.

One special area of the cellar is guarded by locked church gates and filled with Barton’s private wine collection for special guests and occasions.

Décor was updated throughout the cellar, including within the cantina dining room, which boasts a colorful painting within a faux window depicting a landscape of red poppies.

When it’s time to wine down … er, wind down, Barton usually picks his favorite varietal, Pinot Noir, but lately has been adding more merlot and wines with bolder flavors. Within the alcoves and passageways in Villa Collina’s cellar, surrounded by beautiful art and Old World touches, it is the perfect place to enjoy nature’s finest vintages.

Up next: Villa Collina’s fountains boast beautiful artwork and add symmetry and another layer of ambience to the home. Watch for the next installment of Villa Collina Renewed to learn more about how homeowner Eric W. Barton restored the fountains and added a special one to greet guests in front of the home.