Cameron Douglas, Master Sommelier, relaxes at home.

My happy place is at our West Auckland home, on our deck in front of our roaring hot chiminea, sipping and savouring a glass of fantastic red wine or a fine cognac or whisky.

I love nothing better than sinking into a bean bag and sharing the news of the day and the world with my darling wife Janet or close friends - the drink and the warmth of the fire just seems to make all the chaos of life melt away into calmness and serenity. It's a place for deep conversation, idle chat, or companionable silence.

The chiminea is pretty ugly. It's an old cast iron one that used to have a grill on the top but we've long burnt that away. It's fat and pot bellied and smells great - we burn mostly twigs and small fragrant wood. If it's fired up, it roars - or crackles gently if we get it right. It can be pretty spectacular - we've also had instances of it smoking badly and sending us, choking, down into the yard.

It's perfect on a balmy evening with a clear sky and a view of the southern cross but we've also sat out there (under a partial roof) in the pouring rain. One memorable evening we moved the roaring chiminea closer to our shelter and melted the guttering around the roof.


We travel regularly - generally on wine and beverage quests. I do guest lecturing and speaker gigs (and lots of tasting) frequently in the United States. Good friends of ours have a home on a cliff in Malibu - a real old-style California bungalow on a block of land that includes an old apple orchard, in the middle of an outlandishly rich and elegant neighbourhood. We have spent many happy evenings under the stars there, drinking and talking, cosied up by the big old chiminea Jack picked up in Mexico, fuelling it with apple tree twigs and sticks.

When I found one here in New Zealand, I had to have it. We'd intended to set it up in the yard, but somehow it's never made it off the deck.

Being able to take time over a special beverage is emphatically a key part of the attraction of my happy place. Wine and beverages have been part of my life for the past 25 years but I've never lost the capacity to simply take pleasure in appreciating a fine beverage.

It comes down to the environment. Sometimes, after evaluating a particularly delicious wine I look forward to bringing it home to linger over and share. Similarly, if I've tracked down a special XO cognac or rare single-malt whisky, having close friends over to sip and discuss it with makes it more special.

* Cameron Douglas is New Zealand's only Master Sommelier and an Auckland University of Technology hospitality senior lecturer.