Bottles in the Birdhouse

Story & Photos by Greg Risling

Pay one visit to the home of Betty Jo and Jay Newell in Yorba Linda and you will know why they enjoy hosting mini-tastings, parties and other events.

They have a sprawling and inviting backyard made for outdoor gatherings that once was home to a stable of horses and even a sand volleyball court. But it’s the large structure in the corner of the backyard that houses one of the couple’s favorite spots.

Jay Newell (above) punches in the code to enter his cellar. (Right) The 800-square-foot cellar stores up to 800 bottles.

Known as the “Birdhouse,” – affectionately named after Jay found a weather vane that now sits affixed at the top of what looks like an oversized garage – the building serves several functions but none better than the wine cellar tucked away in the corner.

When Jay, a retired investigator with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, was diagnosed with cancer in 2017, he knew putting in a wine cellar was a priority “in case things didn’t work out.”

He got right to work, designing their dream cellar and doing much of the work himself. He arched the ceiling in an expressive manner, coated the space tightly with insulation (the cellar sometimes doubles as a backup refrigerator) and had the wine racks specially designed.

“I really researched it,” Jay fondly recalls. “I wanted it to be easily accessible and easy enough where you don’t have to search for that certain bottle. It is bigger than what I planned.”

The result is an 850 square-foot showpiece that can store up to 800 bottles. The rows are all numbered 1 to 46 and he meticulously keeps a binder of his inventory and cataloging that gives him quick access to find the right wine to serve to guests or to bring to their favorite restaurant.

“If we feel like drinking a certain type of wine, we go right to the cellar and grab a bottle,” Betty Jo said. “We always take a bottle with us to a restaurant. There is enough variety in the cellar that makes the decision easy for us.”

Mind you, the cellar isn’t completely stocked. Jay estimates there are somewhere between 400 and 500 bottles on average, worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000 to $20,000. The Newells most expensive bottle is a $400+ 2013 Daou Cabernet Sauvignon.

When the couple first joined OCWS about six years ago, they stuck to drinking Cabernet Sauvignon and other popular varietals. But that all changed once they got involved, attended OCWS events and met new friends. Now, any OCWS member who has the fortune to visit their home, will get an added bonus of marveling at their cellar.

“Joining the wine society expanded our appreciation of different varietals,” Betty Jo said. “We have a whole circle of friends who are society members thanks to joining.”