By Kylie McKenzie
HF catches a few precious moments with Quebec’s wine storage chameleon, Jonathan Primeau whose artisanal wine cellars are custom designed as unique places to store and enjoy remarkable wine collections. His dream creations are found as unprecedented art pieces in private tasting rooms, on extraordinary yachts and in the most interesting of places around the world, sometimes hidden and private, and other times, in full view. Each one-of-a-kind cellar is painstakingly designed and built to exacting technical standards to reflect the passion, interests and individuality of its owner.
Q: You speak of wine tasting as a very spiritual experience. How so?
A: I envision wine cellars that provide a quiet refuge from the frenzy of everyday life. Our objective is to capture a sense of the sacred where the cellar becomes a space for reflection, celebration and meditation on the senses. By integrating astonishing works of art into the design of wine storage spaces, we’ve literally transformed the concept of the wine cellar or tasting room. This is the true essence of contemporary luxury, isn’t it? Wine tasting is, as I see it, all about senses and spirituality.
Q: You create what you refer to as wine playgrounds. How did that start?
A: In September of 2013, after 15 years in information technology, it was time for a career turnaround. Given my interest in art and design and my passion for wine, starting CellArt to create the most extraordinarily beautiful wine spaces in the world was an exciting next venture. We not only provide perfect wine storage solutions, but also consider ourselves true concierges with ongoing expertise, tailored collection management advice and a bevy of uncommon tasting events.
Q: So wine collectors are looking for you to do something pretty unique?
A: To achieve this, we combine artisanal savoir faire and state-of-the-art wine storage technology with the work of talented, new generation artists. Every artist has their own sensibility, vision and audacity which lets us push the envelope on both sides of the creative formula. The result is the creation of mesmeric spaces that celebrate the apparent opposition between pure art and utility necessary to embrace the most iconic bottles. Our vision of luxury is also about client service: accompanying them from the ideation to the completion, and thereafter maintenance services and cellar monitoring for a life-long relationship.
Q: You call yourselves design chameleons. Is that because your portfolio is so wonderfully diverse?
A: We can match any style, from any era, and any culture or create any mood. The ability to remain versatile is paramount. Challenging ourselves, our ideas and thinking outside the box on each and every project, is what it’s all about, every time. We are redundancy-averse!
Q: Your atelier is in Boucherville, (Montreal) Quebec. What role do your global partnerships play?
A: Before and above all, we are designers and woodworkers. Almost 100% of our storage solutions are essentially homemade. In order to offer a true versatility, we have also partnered with two tech companies: STACT, for advanced wine storage systems made of anodized grade aluminum for unlimited storage possibilities. From a procurement standpoint, we have a worldwide exclusive partnership with Acker Merrall and Condit, the leading auction house of fine and rare wines, with whom we share offices around the globe: from New York to Hong Kong, London to Paris, and more.
Our strong commitment with the arts has also led us to a unique collaboration with World of MacIntosh, the New-York destination townhouse. Located behind a discrete set of doors in the heart of New York City’s SoHo neighborhood, this hidden world thrives at the intersection of audio, art and design—it can be described as a sort of HiFi speakeasy. Those who enter can expect an experience like no other: exemplary sound presented in beautifully designed spaces that leave one impressed, intrigued and inspired. We also have a five-continent partnership with Acker and are active in the luxury car industry where collectors are often fine wine lovers; this is how we ended up collaborating with Aston Martin Residences in Miami.
Q: Tell us a little about the background of your clients?
A: Whereas our clients share a common passion for wine, they are quite diversified. They range from their early thirties to their sixties and have an income profile from c-suite executives to billionaires chasing new experiences. Most of them are men, but more women collectors are building wine rooms into their homes. Even when it is man’s project, madam is almost always involved in the decision process. From a geographical standpoint, most of our clientele is North American (especially from New York, Atlanta, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago…), but we’ve recently seen requests from Singapore, France, Ukraine, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.
Q: You’ve described your work as artisanal. Can you explain the process with a client who has a unique space where they’d like to display their collection?
A: Each dream wine space begins with a first-contact conversation to establish the priorities and vision of the client. The very first step of the process requires as much detail as possible on the profile of their collection; number of bottles, red or white or sparkling, bottle formats, glassware, environment etc.; a project type description with architect plans if available; and inspirational visuals of the client’s taste. This will allow us to determine the perfect combination of design, capacity and performance.
There are three different types of wine spaces: active cellars including a cooling system, passive cellars that are more dedicated to everyday wines with no aging potential, and tasting rooms. Active cellars are the most complex ones to design, requiring both creativity and engineering in order to maintain a perfect air circulation and temperature within the cellar unit so that the wine can age perfectly.
There is literally no limit. Everything is possible, whether we’re talking about materials or shape. Our team offer truly tailored spaces, never building the same cellar twice.
Q: At what stage are you usually involved and who is on the team? Do they bring their architects, designers, boat builders to you ahead of time? How much of your work is retrofitting into existing spaces?
A: We aim to provide our clients with turnkey projects, which means we step in at the earliest stage of the project, starting with the design conception, manufacturing until delivery, installation and maintenance services over time. Sometimes we have a direct connection with the client, sometimes we work in collaboration with their interior designers, architects or personal shoppers; and then on all the technical parts with general contractors and builders. The technical expertise to integrate all the cellar components is a rare skill. We then act as consultant experts.
We have composed a team of experts: graphic and industrial designers and Thierry our Artistic Director, technical experts, engineering team, general contracting and HVAC specialists and of course experienced craftsmen, to offer the exceptional at each new project. Our team is also reinforced by our ambassadors that give us the final magic touch formula; the extraordinary Matthieu Yamoum, Head Sommelier of Baccarat Hotels & Resorts and Master Sommelier John Szabo.
We not only provide perfect wine storage solutions, but a true Concierge expertise, tailored collection management advice, uncommon tasting events, and more.
Q: If I call you today, how long will it take to create my dream wine cellar?
A: CellArt manufactures every piece locally in its 25,000 square-foot shop in Boucherville using components and materials that will deliver both long-lasting solutions and perfect finishes. Wood is an alive material, meaning that even with high-end machinery, real craftsmanship of expert woodworkers is essential so that the end product is truly exceptional.
We only produce 52 masterpieces per year, to ensure the finest quality. On average the full cycle is about 12 to 18 weeks. The first phase consists in designing the perfect concept, which is not only an aesthetic exercise, but involves value engineering to make sure to propose a solution that performs.
Something unique in this industry is that CellArt holds a general contracting license. This allows us to build a detailed technical specification document for the rough preparation of the room where the cellar is to be built, to ensure a perfect environmental fit and long-lasting performance. Then comes the production phase itself, followed by shipping, delivery and installation.
Q: What is the hardest part of the process?
A: Every single project is a work of art and we never duplicate any concept, so the value engineering part is the most crucial step to our art. Prototyping, testing, continuously investing in research and development to refine our offering, and adapt to a fast-changing clientele eager for new technologies is what differentiates us in an industry that, paradoxically, is still very traditional. And on a lighter note, a challenge that arises sometimes, is getting each part of the couple to agree on the vision!
Q: You work with a lot of clients who wish to store, access and display their wines and spirits on a mega-yacht and cruise ships. Can we talk about the additional considerations in nautical installations?
A: The perception of ‘wine cellars’ has evolved tremendously over the past few years. Contemporary collectors are not only chasing wine storage solutions, but extraordinary environments that are created as masterpieces as mesmerizing as their collection. The container is now as important as the content. The wine collectors community dreams large and looks for exclusive spaces and custom accessories. Moreover, with the current world’s situation where mobility is drastically redefined, homes and personal yachts are the ultimate places to escape, to revitalize oneself, step back and keep enjoying the present moment.