Lynne Alpert's amazing wine collection rests on makeshift shelves built by her husband. Nancy Norling's cornucopia of cult cabernets resides in what used to be a pump room. Diane Rucker houses her 500-bottle collection in boxes, a cabinet and a converted storage closet under the basement stairs.
For these wine collectors, unlike most of their male counterparts, there's no need for a cellar to be dressed to impress. It's what's inside the bottles that counts. "I just collect what I really like," said Alpert. "I just follow my palate. I want wines that really, really send me."
That kind of passion for wine has only recently begun to translate into serious collecting by women. While females make more than two-thirds of U.S. wine purchases, more than 90 percent of U.S. collectors are males.
"I think a lot of that is changing," said Alicia Anderson, whose Compleat Wine Cellar business has seen a major upturn in female customers. "Of the jobs I've closed in the last two years, more than 50 percent of them have been women."
So far, these three Twin Cities women -- whose collecting penchants go well beyond quaffables -- are eschewing the trappings of an über-cellar and stressing quality over quantity.
In other words, for them, size doesn't matter.
The vitals: The 66-year-old Minneapolis resident founded the New French Café and is now a Realtor and avid world traveler.
The approach: "When the restaurant opened [in 1977], wine as something really special hadn't happened yet," she said. "I'd buy some in stores and drink the stuff from Oregon and California pretty fast. The only wine that I hung onto is the stuff made by the old-school winemakers."
The collection: In a word, seasoned. As in nothing -- not a single bottle -- from the 21st century. Her "youngest" Bordeaux is a 1990. Over the years, Alpert has cherry-picked bottles from her very favorite wineries, almost entirely in California and France.
The faves: Chateau Rayas, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Haut-Brion and sundry Burgundies from France; Dunn, Heitz, Stag's Leap and Chateau Montelena cabs from California. But "the one that I've never tasted and I'm just waiting and waiting for just the right occasion is a Gaja San Lorenzo 1978."
The space: Very basement-y and lived in -- it was a coal bin for decades -- with thin shelves built by Alpert's architect husband, Kay Lockhart. A James Dean scrapbook and a daughter's baby shoes further humanize the room.
The spouse: Alpert still has several bottles of 1982 Chateau Latour, which she bought for $50 a bottle and which is now worth more than $1,000. "Kay can barely stand drinking it," she said. "It's great that it's worth a lot to somebody, but it's just wine."
The future: "I'm done buying wine [for the cellar]," Alpert said. If she were to start back up, she'd be hard-pressed to stick with her policy of never paying more than $60 for a bottle.
The other collections: Cookbooks (hey, she is a former professional chef) and "tons of folk art," from Mexican mermaids to African amulets to Indian traveling temples.
The vitals: The 38-year-old senior product manager at Seagate Technology lives with her husband, Derek, and their three children in Apple Valley. The couple met while attending MIT.
The approach: "I started collecting about six years ago, really on a whim," she said. "We'd buy four chardonnays or syrahs and try them all against each other and figure out what we liked and what we didn't." That scientific approach suited a woman with a master's degree in material engineering.
The collection: About three-quarters of her 500 bottles are from California, mostly via mailing lists and not available locally. German Rieslings are finding favor of late.
The faves: California cult cabs and other reds from Sine Qua Non, Booker, etc., plus French wines from stellar vintages. "I can't bring myself to open any of the 2000 or 2003 Bordeaux. Seems like every time I open them, they're darker and murkier."
The space: The converted storage room under the basement stairs is cool and compact. "Everyday" wines are stored in several other places, including the top of the kitchen pantry.
The spouse: Derek "appreciates good wine, but is not as avid. He likes chardonnay with cute critters on the bottle."
The future: "What I'd really like is a cellar that holds about 1,200 to 1,500 bottles, and to keep maybe 25 percent of it for longer aging. This house is fantastic for us, but in five years I could see us moving. We have three children and three bedrooms."
The other collections: "I used to do crystal figurines, but not since we had kids."
The vitals: The 54-year-old dentist lives in Plymouth with her husband, Al.
The approach: Local attorney Stuart Williams became Norling's wine mentor about 20 years ago. "He was dating my roommate, and I put his bottle of great French wine in the fridge next to my box of low-cal wine. He started schooling me then," she said. "I just kind of dabbled a little bit, got stuff that Stu would recommend. Then I started reading about it and subscribing to every wine magazine, and [critic Robert] Parker gets to be your god."
The collection: California-centric to the core, with a few Italian bottles. Mostly cabs, with some pinot noir and syrah mixed in -- i.e., inky teeth-stainers, "but I'm in the business so I can fix that."
The faves: Top-of-the-line cult wines from Screaming Eagle, Bryant Family, Harlan, Dalla Valle and Marcassin. A magnum of Araujo cab is particularly coveted.
The space: A spacious former pump room houses most of the wine, although some belonging to Norling and her son Al is stacked outside the room. At the pump-room entrance there's a red stain on the floor, a remnant of a dropped bottle of 1997 Araujo cab.
The spouse: Near the cellar lay some cases of Miller Lite; Norling would neither confirm nor deny that this was Al's "cellar."
The future: "I want to build my dream cellar, but I hate to do it in case we sell the house because somebody else might not want a dream cellar." Beyond that, "in my next life I'm going to practice dentistry in Napa two days a week and be a grape grower the rest of the time."
The other collections: Cookbooks (her favorites are by TV's "Barefoot Contessa," Ina Garten) and framed menus from memorable restaurant meals.
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643