Lo­cal man treks world of wine, from Green­wich to the Alps

The News-Times - - BUSINESS - By Alexan­der Soule

As busi­ness trips go, Fred Tre­gaskis can­not think of one bet­ter than the Zurich deal that fell into place with Swiss pre­ci­sion, while in­dulging his pas­sions for wood crafts­man­ship and moun­taineer­ing — all in one fell swoop.

Oh, did we men­tion the wine? Roughly two years af­ter that pro­ject and his re­lo­ca­tion to Ridge­field from Canaan, Tre­gaskis has reestab­lished his com­pany as Sum­mit Wine Cel­lars, de­sign­ing up to 100 so­phis­ti­cated stor­age rooms an­nu­ally.

Tre­gaskis does the de­sign work at the Ridge­field fixer-up­per he and his spouse pur­chased to be closer to clien­tele in Fair­field County and the New York City area. A Ban­tam com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in both met­al­work­ing and wood­work­ing builds Sum­mit Wine Cel­lar’s var­ied com­po­nents which are then trans­ported to a cus­tomer site for fi­nal assem­bly.

In some cases, those stor­age rooms are as­sem­bled in the houses of wine con­nois­seurs through­out Tre­gaskis’ adopted home of Fair­field County, but as often as not they are far­ther afield — some­times to the far­thest points on the planet, whether Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina, or Ban­ga­lore, In­dia.

‘It just took off’

Tre­gaskis’ own jour­ney started in Saratoga, N.Y., where grow­ing up he was drawn both to art and wood­work­ing. He stud­ied at SUNY New Paltz and pur­sued ca­reers in paint­ing and ce­ram­ics, while dab­bling on the side in home con­struc­tion and ren­o­va­tion and boat build­ing.

Seek­ing a stead­ier source of in­come more than 25 years ago, he ap­plied to be an art di­rec­tor for a New York wine pub­li­ca­tion. While he did not get the job, the com­pany noted his college background work­ing in vine­yards and bars and asked if Tre­gaskis had any in­ter­est in writ­ing up brief re­views of wines.

“They gave me a glass of wine to taste,” Tre­gaskis re­called. “It was a pinot noir, and some­times pinot noir can have a little bit of a burn­trub­ber fin­ish. And I said, ‘well, this has a fin­ish like a ’57 Chevy patch­ing out of a stop­light.’ ” And they said, ‘that’s the kind of re­views that we want — we want re­views that young Amer­i­cans can re­late to.’”

At a Man­hat­tan wine tast­ing

event in 1995, Tre­gaskis ran into staff of the St. Regis New York ho­tel, and learned they were ready­ing for a large ren­o­va­tion that would in­clude a new wine cel­lar. In­trigued, Tre­gaskis took a flyer and asked if he could put in a de­sign for the pro­ject.

He got the job, and as word got around in the tight wine cir­cles of Man­hat­tan, busi­ness fol­lowed.

“I knew all these som­me­liers in New York from tast­ings,” he said. “I did the dis­plays be­hind the bars, I did stor­age rooms. I did a bunch of restau­rants in New York — it just took off. That was my job.”

In short or­der, Tre­gaskis’ hand­i­work won the no­tice of cus­tomers of those up­scale eater­ies as well — specif­i­cally, home­own­ers in Green­wich, Scars­dale, N.Y., and other wealthy sub­urbs who asked if he did res­i­den­tial work.

Tre­gaskis set­tled on the name New England Wine Cel­lars, all the while build­ing up a client base coastto-coast and then in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Busi­ness largely dried up in the 2009 re­ces­sion, but

he was able to find enough work to keep the busi­ness going un­til the econ­omy re­cov­ered. To­day, Tre­gaskis and other U.S. wine-cel­lar de­sign­ers face sig­nif­i­cant com­pe­ti­tion from over­seas com­pa­nies which sell pre­fab de­signs on the cheap, but he said his core clien­tele re­mains loyal.

Moments with wine on stage, ra­dio

In Jan­uary Tre­gaskis switched to the Sum­mit Wine Cel­lars name, in be­lated def­er­ence to his com­pany’s foot­print ex­tend­ing well be­yond the arc of New England, and ref­er­enc­ing an­other fa­vorite hobby: moun­taineer­ing and tech­ni­cal rock climb­ing, with the Swiss Alps pro­ject bring­ing to­gether that pas­sion with zest for wood­work­ing and wine.

Tre­gaskis in­dulges his wine pas­sion through mul­ti­ple more av­enues, in­clud­ing a live show he and spouse Louise Baranger of­fer for events and fundrais­ers, ex­plor­ing wines from dif­fer­ing points of the 20th cen­tury with mu­si­cal ac­com­pa­ni­ment pegged to those eras per­formed by Baranger’s band, in which she is a renowned trum­peter.

And Tre­gaskis hosts a

pod­cast called “A Mo­ment in Wine” that fea­tures his off-the-cuff in­ter­pre­ta­tions of wines he tastes on the spot, which is aired as well on WAMC FM 91.9, a Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio af­fil­i­ate in Platts­burgh, N.Y., whose sig­nal ex­tends into por­tions of western Con­necti­cut.

Tues­day’s edi­tion cov­ered a 2015 vin­tage from the Rhone Val­ley that Tre­gaskis de­scribed as “pretty lean and ‘min­er­ally’ — plum, black­berry, al­most like a cherry cough-drop kind of fla­vor,” while not­ing the mul­ti­tude of va­ri­eties that re­gion of France pro­duces.

If the world of wine has lured Tre­gaskis down more than a few paths of en­deavor, these days all roads lead back to Ridge­field, and to the wood­work­ing hobby that started it all for him so many years ago. Need­ing an ex­tra ax han­dle on a Satur­day in April, Tre­gaskis said he put aside some time to split wood and carve the ap­pa­ra­tus by hand.

“I’d rather make something than buy it some­where,” he said. “I could go buy an ax han­dle some­where for $10, but it’s way more sat­is­fy­ing to do that.”

Alexan­der Soule / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Sum­mit Wine Cel­lars founder Fred Tre­gaskis in April at his home de­sign stu­dio in Ridge­field.

Con­trib­uted photo / Sum­mit Wine Cel­lars

A room de­signed by Sum­mit Wine Cel­lars of Ridge­field.

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