Local man treks world of wine, from Greenwich to the Alps
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.”
Summit Wine Cellars founder Fred Tregaskis in April at his home design studio in Ridgefield.
A room designed by Summit Wine Cellars of Ridgefield.