Société du Vin: Vintage Drama

Societe du vin

A rare view inside the exclusive den of oenological delight that is Société du Vin.

According to its designer, Elvis Restaino, the setting for the Hamptons’ most exclusive members-only wine society exudes “drama and eroticism”.

If you’re a resident of the Hamptons with an enviable wine collection, chances are you will have heard of Société du Vin by now.

The creation of the billionaire owner of the NBA Houston Rockets, Leslie Alexander, Société du Vin is Long Island’s first private members’ wine club.

This club’s East End locale reads like a Who’s Who of the world’s rich and famous; Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of Goldman Sachs, power-couple Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, fashion mogul Ralph Lauren, and A-list film producer Steven Spielberg, are homeowners, to name but a few. With membership for Société du Vin priced at US$50,000, plus US$8,000 in annual fees (Alexander is aiming for between 75 and 100 members), it is just as well the locals are not short of a bob or two.

Alexander says he had been toying with the idea of an ultra-exclusive wine club for five years before it came to fruition. After searching his neighbourhood of Bridgehampton for a suitable venue, finally, in 2010, he spotted an old potato barn for sale. He knew it was fate.

“I drove past the barn on Butter Lane almost every day, between Southampton and Easthampton. Then I noticed the sign and it hit me.”

He snapped up the 10,000 square foot barn and began pondering an interior designer. As the first wine-cellar society in one of the world’s most prestigious postcodes, Alexander needed to enlist the skills of someone extraordinary.

He found just that in Hollywood set designer Elvis Restaino. “I was looking through Architectural Digest and the cover story was about Gerard Butler getting his Manhattan loft renovated. The pictures were so creative. The man who did it was… Restaino. His style — sort of bohemian rustic château with a baroque spin — was exactly what I wanted.”

Alexander said it took Restaino two-and-a-half years to transform the barn into Société du Vin. “It’s truly thrilling-looking. Everyone who has walked in can’t believe it. It’s like you’ve been transported to 16th century France in another dimension.”

Restaino believes that his background in television and movie sets gave him a novel perspective on interior design. “For my job on screen I would build, say, 25 different restaurants, bedrooms or coffee shops in the space of a few months. I quickly learned an eye for colour and understood what worked and what didn’t.”

To create Société du Vin he incorporated a smorgasbord of materials such as lavish dark faux leather, pure gold, corroded wood, hand-blown glass and oxidised metals. He flew to the south of France for inspiration. He made an exact replica of a gate from the 1680s from a French wine cellar using gold leaf, copied the flagstones from an ancient French château and hand-carved a replica of a figurehead from a Spanish galleon.

“Société du Vin has this ferocious sexual energy. It is set up in a traditional way and in many ways it looks as old as the wine. But it has these hyperkinetic edges to merge old traditions with drama and eroticism,” said Restaino. “Wine tastes better in Société du Vin than anywhere else in the world,” he added. “Not a single shade of red exists in the entire space. The only red is in a member’s glass.”

The club is equipped with state-of-the-art security and environmental controls, features customisable storage units in a variety of sizes, nine exclusive private cellars (which can be decked out according to a member’s fantasy) and individual climate controls. It also provides an extensive array of other services, including inventory management and year-round access.

Société du Vin plans to hold about four events each year where members will be able taste vintage wines and mingle. For one of its opening parties last year, would-be members were invited to a two-day tasting of 57 vintages of Château Pétrus. These sought-after bottles came from Alexander’s personal vertical collection of Pétrus, spanning almost all the vintages from 1945 to the present. He bought this in 2011 for the sum of HK$1.6 million (US$206,000). Tickets to the day event cost US$17,500 (including lunch and dinner).

Alexander declined to comment on the number of members signed up so far. But he said: “There are quite a number of people in the Hamptons who are huge wine collectors, who want to sit somewhere unique and enjoy wine with their friends. This is a niche that needed to be filled.”

Alexander enjoys a wide variety of wines but his 6,000-bottle collection is mostly priceless Burgundy. Luckily for members, he is known as a generous man.

There will be a DRC Richebourg tasting at Société du Vin on 16 August hosted by rare fine-wine collector Peter Thustrup, featuring 10 immaculate vintages brought over from France, with a limit of 15 seats. For more information email: contact@societeduvin.com

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