Crafting Timeless Memories with Tony's Wine Collection

October 6, 2023

Hidden in the suburbs of north-west Sydney, there exists a captivating wine cellar for wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs alike — a sublime space that embodies elegance, sophistication, and the timeless allure of fine wines. We sat down with owner, Tony from @tonysthirsty as he unveils the genesis of an extraordinary wine cellar meticulously designed by the team at Studio Minosa to cradle his cherished Australian wine collection. Rooted in a profound love for wine spanning over three decades, this interview traces Tony's evolution from his early days in Newcastle, NSW, to the realisation of an awe-inspiring wine sanctuary.

Can you share with us the inspiration behind creating this remarkable wine cellar for your Australian wine collection?

I’ve been into wine for about 30 years. I went to university in Newcastle, NSW, which of course is on the doorstep of the amazing Hunter Valley. I was surrounded by locals who worked in hospitality and knew a thing or two about wine. I started asking questions and quickly learned about different grape varieties, different vintages, and of course, different levels of quality. I also learned about the concept of cellaring and how some wine improves over time. The first wine I bought to cellar was a Penfold’s 407 Cabernet Sauvignon. The first wine I ever drank was a Pikes Riesling!

I loved the thought of holding these bottles for years to come and I was hooked. The challenge at the time was that I was a university student, and I didn’t have much money. Whatever money I could save, was used to buy wine! That’s probably a strange concept for young people to understand. My friends were spending their money on clothes and partying - like normal people.

From that time onwards, I always dreamt of one day having somewhere awesome to store my wine. Not in my wildest dreams did it look anything like the one I own today!

The most important factor with cellaring is consistency of temperature. Most people think it’s the temperature itself, but the consistency is more important. Over the years I’ve found different places to store the ever-growing collection that gave me that temperature stability.

What made you decide to focus on Australian red wines for your collection?

It suits my personality! I’m a very loyal character and I support what I love. In my humble opinion, Australian wine is the best in the world. It obviously doesn’t have the reputation and history of French and Italian wine, but nobody can argue that Australian wine makers don’t produce wine equal to or better than what is being produced anywhere in the world. There’s a lot of wank in the wine world. People love to rattle off the names of world-famous wineries and their wines to show how sophisticated they are. I suppose wine is no different to fashion or cars in that sense.

The French, Spanish and Italian wines I’ve tried are okay, but I’ve never had one that I couldn’t match for flavour or quality with an Aussie wine (and usually cheaper). There are so many amazing Australian wine producers and wines to try, that you don’t really need to look outside the country. It’s also my way of supporting the Australian wine industry and it’s economy.

We were in Chile a few years ago for my brother-in-law’s wedding and drank a fair but of Carmenere which we loved. I’m also partial to an Argentinian Malbec. Although Aussies are making some awesome Malbecs now. Try the 2020 Bleasdale Generations Malbec! I don’t mind a good Chablis but again a great Aussie Chardonnay is at least the equal of any Chablis I’ve had.

Could you tell us about your favourite aspect of the wine cellar's design that enhances your wine-collecting experience?

What you guys have been able to capture is the romance of it. Even the Colour scheme suits the way cellaring wine lives in my mind - the brown, the gold, the bronze! Nobody walks in there and doesn’t comment on how beautiful the stone is! The different zones add another element to the cellaring process. The fridge houses all the expensive / special wines. The shelves display my favourite wines and wineries at a beautiful 45 degree angle. The draws house lots of the wine that will stay put for many years. The mechanisms used for the doors in the display cupboards are amazing with their precision. It’s wine heaven.

To me, collecting wine is amazing on so many levels. When I open an aged bottle of wine, I often think about what I was doing when it was bottled. I recently had a 2001 Lake’s Folly Hunter Valley Cabernets which was incredible! In 2001, I’d only been out of Uni for a couple of years. I’d just moved back to Sydney. I was at the start of my career. I had no children. My nephew was born, and my niece was two. Best of all Parramatta lost the unlosable Grand Final to Newcastle! Newcastle is close to my heart because I spent so many years up there and as you know, I support whoever plays Parramatta!

The cellar design adds to the romance of the whole process. It’s hard to explain but it’s like you’re walking into a beautiful time machine. You walk in and it’s 2023, you pick up a bottle of wine and it’s 2001. It’s a weird but wonderful concept.

How has this wine cellar design changed or improved the way you interact with and enjoy your wine collection?

It’s an amazing space with or without wine but for me it’s a place I can get lost in. I live a very busy life. In that room, there’s nothing else but the wine. Obviously the most important improvement is accessibility. In my old house, they were stored under the house, and it wasn’t easily accessible and obviously not as visually attractive. There was no real incentive to hang out there. I’d go down to store or grab wine and get out. My relationship with my cellar has gone to a new level because of the dedicated space and the ease of being in there. Now I go into the cellar and spend some of the time just staring! Three years later I still pinch myself.

Can you share a memorable moment or experience related to this wine cellar that stands out to you?

I know it’s a bit of a cliché but it’s a memorable experience every time I walk in there! The most memorable moments actually happen away from the cellar. Toni (my wife) and I attended the Brokenwood dinner last year and I sat next to the winemaker, and we were chatting. One of the staff tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I was Tony from @tonysthirsty. They said that they recognised my voice from my posts, and they all loved the page and the cellar! As you know, I don’t show my face on the Instagram (and TikTok) account so it’s just my voice.

Brokenwood was my first love. The Cricket Pitch was a university student’s perfect wine. Relatively cheap and consistent. The first really ‘expensive’ bottle I ever bought to cellar was a Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz which was around $110 a bottle at the time. These days they sell for around $350. The 2017 & 2018 were incredible vintages if your budget allows.

The other memorable story was one that one of my mates told me when he was building his house. His builder was talking to him about the upcoming build and wanted to make a suggestion for his dedicated wine storage area. He grabbed his phone and jumped on Instagram and pulled up my wine cellar and showed my mate. The builder didn’t believe him when he said he knew me and that the cellar was in suburban Sydney. I think a lot of people look at the cellar and think it’s in some magical house in some magical place. I love the fact that anybody with the space can create something similar for themselves with your help.

What advice would you give to wine enthusiasts looking to start or expand their own wine collections, especially in terms of storage and organisation?

Follow @tonysthirsty and other wine enthusiasts. Find some that teach you stuff instead of just showing you stuff. Once you try different recommendations, you’ll quickly work out what you like and what you don’t and whose taste or palate suits yours.

I’m a fan of big powerful wines. As a result, I love Shiraz, but I can’t do Pinot Noir. Lots of people try and convince me that there are some amazing Pinots that I would love but I don’t see the point of trying to force myself to like something. It’s like the dark chocolate argument. If you don’t like it, trying 100 different dark chocolates is a waste of time and calories when you could just be eating the chocolate you like. If you find one dark chocolate that is tolerable, it’s still unlikely to be better than the milk chocolate you love. So, drink what you love and if you’re lucky, you’ll have cheaper taste than me!

I’m also a big fan of taking notes. If I love a wine, I’ll record it. Please don’t forget the vintage!! The year is so important. The same wine can be very different in two different years. Take note of the wine, the variety, the region, the year. Try some of the wines from the same winery. Quite often their style will suit you.

I’ve also bought the Halliday Wine Companion for as long as I can remember. James Halliday is a legend of the Aussie wine industry and has taught me a hell of a lot of what I know today. The wine companion reviews every significant winery in Australia and lots of their wines and rate them. It’s very informative and helpful and pretty easy to follow. If you have a subscription, they’ll send you the hard copy and you’ll have access online. I LOVE it. They also have a cellaring software that I use to log my collection.

In what ways do you believe this project aligns with our studio's motto, "Design Life Better"?

I love the fact that you took the time to understand who we were and what we needed and loved. The design, the colours, the different zones all came from our conversations. This room is definitely a reflection of a better life in terms of my interaction with the wine. It’s also room we can share with friends. It’s a room that does everything we’d dreamed it could do. It protects the wine. It presents it amazingly. It makes it more accessible. It’s a practical room to use. The recent addition of the stools has made it even more so. The process we took to arrive here was an enjoyable and exciting one!

What future plans do you have for your wine collection, and how has the cellar design prepared you for them?

The future plan needs to include drinking more! When we built the cellar, I thought I had heaps of room and would never fill it. When we were in lockdown, I spent a lot of my spare time reading and subsequently ordering wine. I discovered new wineries, like Flaxman, that I engaged with and ordered from. Their Flaxman Estate Shiraz is now one of my favourite wines! The fact that there is a limit on how many bottles I can store has changed my strategy a bit. I’ll slowly replace ‘cheaper’ wines I drink with more desirable (more expensive) wine. I’m proud that the cellar has most of Australia’s great iconic wines stored in it and it will slowly evolve into a more and more high-end cellar. I’m 50 this year so I don’t have as much time as I did back in the early 90’s when this all started. That is definitely a consideration for me now when it comes to what I drink and what I age.

Finally, what message or tips would you like to pass on to our followers to help them enhance their own living spaces and design their lives better?

Life is short. Just bite the bullet and do it. I don’t regret spending the money on the cellar but if I didn’t do it, I probably would have always regretted not doing it. Toni has less of an issue spending the money than I do. I’m grateful she pushed to do it. I’m not taking anything with me, so I plan on enjoying what we’ve worked hard to create for ourselves.

Tony’s Current Top 5 Australian Wines (in no particular order)

Rockford - Basket Press Shiraz

Lake’s Folly - Cabernet

Tyrrell’s - Vat 1 Semillon

Penfold’s - Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz

Mount Mary - Yarra Valley Quintet

Design Life Better, with Studio Minosa

View the entire project here.