Dr. Atul Gupta - Headshot in wine cellar holding a glass of red wine

Atul Gupta’s lifelong obsession with wine has spread across the Lowcountry – literally

The Collector

Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lisa Staff

If you have questions about wine, odds are good that Dr. Atul Gupta can answer them. He can tell you about the different wine-making regions around the world and why each one is perfectly suited for a particular grape. He can tell you about the particulars of different red blends and why specific varietals were chosen for different flavor notes. He can tell you about the experience of visiting the vineyard and seeing the entire process from the ground up.

Possibly the hardest question for him to answer when it comes to wine is exactly how many bottles he owns.

“Four thousand? Maybe five,” he answered after a long pause. “I keep wine in a lot of different places. This is a home cellar, but I keep wine at the South Carolina Yacht Club and probably five or six different restaurants around the island, plus a couple more in Bluffton.”

It’s not that he doesn’t trust his favorite restaurants to offer a suitable wine for his tastes. It’s just that he knows what he likes. “Plus my price point is definitely going to be better,” he added with a laugh.

And therein lies part of what sets Gupta apart as a collector. He speaks with authority but without a hint of pretentiousness. If approachable politicians are often referred to as someone you could grab a beer with, Gupta is an oenophile you could grab a wine with. His is a genuine enthusiasm for the world of wine – the flavors of it, the mystique of it, the science of it – that informs his particular savant-like knowledge of the grape. 

“I love wine. I started getting really into wine at a young age,” he said. “Before I was old enough to drink.”

That love of wine was born from a family friend growing up in Cincinnati, whom Gupta refers to simply as “Mr. C.” A first-generation Italian, Mr. C served as a second father to Gupta, teaching him about the subtleties of wine along with everything from business to cooking.

“To this day, how I make my Sunday sauce is how Mr. C taught me when I was a teenager,” he said. “That was my introduction to wine because in Italian families you sit down at the table, and even as a young adult you have a pour of wine with dinner.”

That love of wine fueled a thirst for knowledge that Gupta pursued with gusto, helped along the way by friends who matched his wine knowledge with their own.

Dr. Atul Gupta - Headshot - Holding a wine cork
Dr. Atul Gupta, a resident of Hilton Head Island, boasts an impressive collection of over 4,000 bottles meticulously stored across his private cellar, within the South Carolina Yacht Club and adorning the cellars of various restaurants in the area.

“I’m one of these guys where, somehow, someway, the universe has put people into my life who are far more successful, far more knowledgeable and far better people than I am. So I get this benefit of being around them and having their knowledge spill over onto me,” he said. 

Among those are friends like Chris Tassone and Dwight Trew, who not only share a bottle of Caymus with Gupta every Father’s Day but also helped him procure one of his crown jewels – a 1991 Harlan Estate that is generally unattainable. “This is their best vintage out there, and you can’t get it.”

a bottle of Caymus being held by a man in a suit with a red tie

The Harlan Estate comes out when Gupta wants to go look back on some of his prize bottles. While talking through their specifics – how Barolo, Brunello and Barbera are his three favorites, and how they all share a common ancestor in a much more affordable Nebbiolo (“The main difference? About $100,” he said, only partially joking).

“Cab Sauvignon didn’t exist in nature. We created it,” he said, thoughtfully turning over one bottle. “We took Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, a white, and blended them genetically to create Cabernet Sauvignon. That is why you’ll see Cab Franc in a lot of red blends because it’s its daddy.”

Going through the bottle in his collection, he’ll occasionally come across one whose backstory encapsulates what has fascinated him about wine since he was young. One in particular came to his collection when he visited the winery during a tour of Italy. There, at the base of Mount Vesuvius, he found Cantina del Vesuvio, a vineyard that had been mercifully spared during one of the volcano’s last eruption in 1944.

Dr. Atul Gupta - Hilton Head - Collection of Wine
Dr. Atul Gupta, a concierge physician, has an impressive collection of wine. Highlights include a 1991 Harlan Estate, a 1996 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cantina del Vesuvio Lacryma Christi from a small winery at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius.

“The lava was burning everything in its path and destroyed every vineyard except theirs and a couple of others,” he said. “The story is that when the volcano blew, Christ saw what was happening and cried, putting out the fires and saving the vineyards. Hence the name,  Lacryma Christi, which translates to tears of Christ.” 

It’s one of countless memories that the many bottles in his collection unlock for him. And to hear him talk about it, that’s the point. 

“It’s not really about the wine so much as it is sharing it and talking about it,” he said.

A bottle of Lacryma Christi
A bottle of Lacryma Christi

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