Wine is as old as civilization itself. The earliest archeological evidence of the enduring libation dates back to 7,000 B.C. China. As the centuries passed, ingenious craftsmen worked out how to store it.
Just five years ago, in 2013, researchers uncovered one of the oldest known examples of a wine cellar, circa 1,700 B.C., in the ancient Canaanite city of Tel Kabri in northern Israel.
Much has changed thousands of years later, but man’s passion for the Dionysian drink has only grown and evolved, as has our ability to store and display the vast collections of bottles, limited only by temporal and geographical boundaries.
For nearly 20 years, Joe Kline and his partner Curt Dahl of Joseph & Curtis Custom Wine Cellars have been improving this lineage with game-changing innovations and a relentless dedication to their craft. Found in homes and businesses throughout the East End, their wine cellars run the gamut from traditional to ultra-modern, with an array of unique materials rarely found elsewhere.
But like all great things, Joseph & Curtis started small.
“It was just the equivalent of a hobby for me,” Kline says, noting that he made furniture in his spare time when he wasn’t working as a trader for Dahl’s NYC firm in the late 1990s. After the two forged a friendship and began dining together with their spouses, he showed Dahl a custom wine rack he made for his wife using wood and copper rods.
It was like nothing Dahl had ever seen and, once Kline convinced him he actually made it, the future partners realized they could combine Kline’s designs with Dahl’s business savvy and begin selling custom wine racks to other wine enthusiasts. “Little by little, we started getting people responding to them,” Kline says. “It was as much a piece of art as it was wine storage.”
Some two decades later, the merging of art and utility still defines Joseph & Curtis, though the business has expanded from elegant racks to massive, climate-controlled cellars housing thousands of bottles for some of the country’s wealthiest and most discerning collectors.
“Just about any style you can imagine, we’ve designed and built,” Kline says, pointing out that today both he and Dahl design cellars for Joseph & Curtis. “We both wear a lot of hats.”
Once the racks were selling briskly, customers began asking them to create entire rooms featuring their unique aesthetic. “It was a learning curve,” Kline confirms, but they teamed up with an experienced “old-time refrigeration guy,” who’s since retired, to learn climate control techniques, and they’ve never looked back.
At the end of the day, these are trophy rooms,” Kline says, explaining that while they do all sorts of projects, Joseph & Curtis is known for designing and building wine cellars that go far beyond simple function. “High-design cabinets are very much a focal point,” he adds. “It’s as much a statement as it is anything else.”
Whether they’re building wine features for top-tier restaurants or small private cabinets, Kline and Dahl’s clients ask to be wowed. They regularly incorporate materials rarely seen in even some of the finest cellars and cabinets. “They want something no one else has,” Kline says.
As a result, the duo use steel with various hand-applied patinas, dramatic LED lighting to create glowing panels of glass and acrylic, and unusual hardwoods, such as Australian jarrah and African wenge or binga.
“We use a lot of exotics,” Kline says.
He recalls a recent job where the customer asked for “the Rembrandt or Picasso of wine cellars” installed in his Fifth Avenue apartment. Kline and Dahl put together a stunning three-panel room between two walls of black stone and two walls of glass. Things became complicated when the client asked for one glass wall to be seamless, which proved difficult, considering the glass wouldn’t fit inside the building’s elevators or stairwells.
Joseph & Curtis ended up renting a crane and working with the city to get permits to hoist the solid, tempered glass panel into the building, at no small expense to the customer. “They had to close part of 5th Avenue,” Kline says, but the final product was magnificent. Lit from above by LEDs, “the whole panel glows,” he adds proudly.
“There’s every type of customer,” Kline says, pointing out that Joseph & Curtis work with interior designers and homeowners with very specific ideas, while others tell them to take charge, only requesting that Kline and Dahl do something amazing.
Both men are constantly working on new designs and breakthroughs, from “stupid little hand drawings on a napkin” to realistically rendered 3-D isometric drawings on their proprietary software.
And no matter how big the business gets, “Curt and I still go to these houses and meet these people,” Kline says. “We’re extremely hands-on.”
Of course, the job doesn’t end once the cellar is built. Joseph & Curtis also offer management consulting services for the collections within them.
Learn more at josephandcurtis.com.