A private wine collection manager
“The first thing out of everybody’s mouth, without question,” says Catherine Stefani, in regard to describing her line of work to strangers, “is ‘you have the best job in the world.’” It is very likely true.
Wine wasn’t really on her radar, at least not in a professional sense, until her university in San Luis Opisbo on the central coast of California began offering classes in viticulture and enology. She worked at a winery on weekends, moved to San Francisco after graduation to work for the Wine Institute, and eventually shifted focus to what’s known as the secondary market: people who buy wine to hold it, sometimes for decades, and watch it appreciate.
Today, she catalogs the inventory of private collections worth as much as $1–$5 million. She makes note of every bottle owned, its location (a home cellar or off-site storage), and its value. She’ll do a personal inspection two or three times a year to ensure accuracy, but she’s never out of touch. “Before I go out and update a cellar, I can look and see, ‘Oh, maybe there’s some things that you might want to sell. Maybe you should hold some things for drinking before they get past their drink date.’” Her clients also keep her well informed about things they have purchased and what’s on their wish list, but they rely on her expertise. “I want to make them money.”
She says most wine collectors start out at the level of casual enjoyment, but it often grows to represent a significant portion of their net worth, and that’s when Stefani steps in. “I can go in and tell them what they have. That’s my specialty, knowing what wines are worth, what categories trade,” she says. “Different regions of wines are worth more at different times. When the market is a little bit more saturated with one category, another category becomes more valuable.”
She spends about half her time traveling; for example, she says, “I’ve gone to Champagne every year for the last few years. Going to Champagne and Burgundy to try new releases—that’s a business trip.”
Of course, it’s not all glamour. Evaluating a new cellar can take days. “It’s hard work,” she says, “the days where I’m going in and doing an inventory of 3,000 to 5,000 bottles. That’s the side that most people don’t know about. It’s crawling around in a wine cellar or a storage facility that is just boxes and sometimes dusty.” And there’s a big difference between enjoying a glass of wine with a client and “tasting 150 wines a day of very young Bordeaux, which becomes clinical. It’s not sexy.”
So is there a client or a cellar that is too small? “Never,” she says. “It depends on what you’re looking to do. I deal in the very best wines in the world. But there’s always a starting point—nobody starts at a first-growth Bordeaux or Grand Cru Burgundy.”
Ultimately, she says, her client relationships are strong because they are built on trust and discretion. “I’m not afraid to give my honest opinion with regards to wine and investment,” she says. “That’s what they pay me for, and I believe that is what my clients appreciate.”
A world-class art gallery
Jim Robischon founded the Denver gallery that bears his name in 1976, mounting progressive contemporary art exhibitions of primarily local and regional artists. He spent the next 10 years forging solid relationships within the art community, particularly with museums, private collectors, and art consultants. By 1986, with the gallery’s foundation in place, Robischon and his wife, Jennifer Doran, began to expand the gallery’s reach considerably. Then, in 1990, they moved the operation from its original Uptown address to the historic SH Supply building on Wazee Street in LoDo.
The current gallery space is nearly 9,000 square feet, Doran says, “which allows us to present between 20 and 25 adventurous shows every year.” The gallery is knows for pairing Front Range and regional artists with important international art stars, such as Kiki Smith, Richard Serra, and Judy Pfaff. “By integrating within our gallery programming prominent artists and exciting younger artists like Derrick Velasquez and Ian Fisher,” Doran says, “our audiences can see the crosscurrents in art and make connections to art history.” Visitors to the gallery may also see the work of artists—Colorado artists, in particular—who show at the Denver Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, and the Boulder Museum of Art, among others.
“When most people enter our gallery for the first time,” says Doran, “they may feel as if they have walked into a museum or art center, as the exhibitions are presented in a formal way and often offer a surprising visual experience.” Of course, there’s no admission fee and almost everything is for sale.
For serious buyers, the gallery staff brings the client into the viewing room, where the gallery’s extensive inventory of paintings, prints, photography, sculpture, video, and other progressive forms of art is held onsite. “We make a point of not limiting the gallery to one category of work,” Doran says, “so visitors will be able to experience a wide range within the broad categories of abstraction and representational imagery.” They are adept at guiding clients through the selection process, focusing the search and sorting out any confusing terms or complex imagery. “Art is its own remarkable form of language and requires a level of quietude in order to receive it,” Doran says.
She adds that although a client may come into the gallery thinking only of the physical details of their designated art site, they are likely to leave with a much deeper sense of what art can bring to their lives in addition to enhancing their environment. Once the client (or couple) has decided on a range of works to which they respond, they may have the artwork (or artworks) brought to their home or office to assist them with a final decision. “In that way, they can further explore not only how the piece or pieces fit into their locations, but into their lives as well,” says Doran. “The process can be quite amazing and illuminating, and we feel privileged to be able to facilitate such a unique experience for others.”
1740 Wazee St.
A bespoke travel service
Brent Handler, the CEO of Inspirato, has an impressive pedigree when it comes to high-end travel. He and his brother Brad (now Inspirato’s board chairman) launched Exclusive Resorts with another partner in 2002, purchasing a collection of luxury homes around the world. Handler sold the majority of that business and went on to create Inspirato—a similar concept with some key differentiating elements.
Handler left Exclusive Resorts with a critical understanding. “What I learned in my eight years of doing luxury vacations,” he says, “was that people really wanted the service and certainty of a five-star hotel, but they wanted to do that staying in a home.” However, purchasing another portfolio of multimillion dollar homes was impractical. At Inspirato, the homes are leased. “We lease them long-term, typically for four or five years, which gives us control of the assets just as if we had bought them, but it allows us to charge a lot less for a membership.”
The initiation fee is $20,000, and annual dues begin at $3,600. Members search destinations and accommodations and easily see the pricing and availability. It launched in 2011, starting very much from scratch. “We started just with some early investors and word of mouth,” Handler says. “I think we started with about 30 homes in the portfolio originally. It was slow going in the beginning.” Fast-forward to today, and the company boasts 13,000 members, 350 homes, and roughly 600 employees.
Earlier this year, Inspirato introduced a brand new approach to travel with the Inspirato Pass. The concept is straightforward: For $2,500 per month per person, you can choose a destination and go—no nightly rates, taxes, or fees. “Inspirato Pass is as simple as look, book, stay, repeat,” says Handler. “Currently there are about 90,000 trips. It grows by about 5,000 trips a week. And the day that you check out, you can book your next trip.” The only caveat is a seven-day window before you can travel next. “You could go to Vail, take a week off, go to Aspen, take a week off, go to Paris, take a week off,” he says. “And the further out you book, the more value you typically get.”
It’s expensive, and Handler readily admits that it’s not for everyone. However, much like any subscription service, if you use it, you get great value.
In either case, it comes down to service. “If you want to have a luxury experience, it’s very easy to go to a Ritz- Carlton, stay at the Four Seasons, stay at the Broadmoor. It’s easy to find,” Handler says. “Homes, not so much. With Inspirato, every one of our houses has an employee, somebody on our payroll, a concierge who lives in the market. They’re on site when you arrive, they shop for you, they take care of you if something goes wrong.”
Handler says that the most common feedback he gets is that it seems too good to be true. It all comes down to a proprietary algorithm and an in-depth understanding of how experiences and accommodations are sold. “We have figured out a way of shifting value from suppliers to consumers through our proprietary model,” he says. “The invention, I think, is going to stand the test of time.”