by Miriam Raftery - Decor & Style
Connoisseurs of fine wines can savor an array of options for storing their vintage collections. A growing number of homeowners are opting to include wine storage features – from decorative wine cabinets to elaborate custom wine cellars – as design elements in their homes.
“Creativity is what makes this job fun,” says designer Rick Fahmie, owner of Kitchen Expo in La Jolla. “I design each project to be unique and different.”
For a recent client, Fahmie created a stunning walk-in wine cellar complete with onyx slab flooring and walls accentuated by an artistic backsplash. For another client, he designed a curvaceous custom wine cabinet of burled redwood, tucked into a stone archway in a hall.
A custom wine cellar provides the ultimate solution for homeowners with large wine collections. In Southern California, where most homes are built on concrete slabs without basements, wine “cellars” ARE more apt to be found above ground in spare rooms converted to serve the purpose. Smaller wine cellars typically cost $10,000 to $25,000, while large and more elaborate cellars may run $25,000 to $50,000 or more.
Whatever option you select for wine storage, it’s important to be sure the environment has proper controls for temperature as well as humidity. Heat may cause spoilage, while freezing temperatures can ruin corks. Excessive moisture may cause corks and labels to become moldy, while dry air may cause leakage of air into your wine.
“The classic temperature range is 55 to 58 degrees,” says Gene Walder, owner of Vintage Wine Cellars in San Marcos. “As well, you need humidity in the 55 to 75 percent range.” Those parameters are adequate for long-term storage over 10 to 30 years, which meets the needs of 95 percent of the company’s clients.
But, Walder notes, “Some clients are looking for much longer, because they are collecting both for personal use and for investment. For investment, auction houses or future buyers will be very conscious of how wine was stored, so constant humidity of 60 to 70 percent and a minimum of 55-degree temperature are preferred.” Even in Southern California, a subterranean wine cellar requires temperature and humidity controls to properly preserve wine, he adds.
Walder recommends a ducted, split-air handler system, which takes air that has been already humidified and temperature controlled and quietly circulates it through ducts. “Whether it’s new construction or a remodel, room construction must be properly prepared,” he says. That includes walls and ceilings with vapor barriers and insulation, as well as exterior-grade, weather-tight doors and windows.”
Other options include digital controls, and alarm and a back-up control system. In the event of system failure, the alarm notifies Vintage Cellars or a security company to contact a refrigeration company. According to Walder, prompt repair can prevent an entire collection from spoiling. “We also recommend a biannual checkup of your system,“ he says.
Consider your entertaining needs when planning your wine cellar. Do you need space for wine tasting or full dinners? Keep in mind that at 55 degrees, a wine cellar is a chilly environment. If you have the space, consider creating an enclosed tasting room adjacent to your wine cellar instead of putting a table and chairs inside the cellar itself.
I’ve seen a beautiful wine cellar in La Jolla where the people had individual heaters that came down from the ceiling and were placed over each seat at a table for eight, providing a little warmth for everyone,” says Gary Parker, owner of WineSellar & Brasserie in Sorrento Mesa.
The design of racks and other storage options within your wine cellar will depend upon the size of your collection. Do you have large bottles or special vintages that you wish to display? You may also wish to include storage areas for full cases of wine that need to age for several years before opening.
“If it’s a large collection, 15,000 or 20,000 bottles, we try to come up with a logical approach to properly house the wine inventory,” Walder says. “Certain clients have very unusual requests.”
For example, Walder created a walk-through, arched display case for a client in Sun Valley, Idaho, who had many large-format bottles. “Each bottle was the equivalent of one or two cases, so you walk past them all like in a library or a museum.”
Lighting may be used to create special effects, such as highlighting special bottles on racks tilted to preserve corks. Fluorescent lighting, if left on for long periods, can deteriorate wine. “We do a lot of display lighting that is integrated into the cabinetry,” Walder says. “Sometimes it will backlight whole racks to permeate light through and give a nice back glow.” Small directional can lights may also be used to wash light down onto racks for display purposes.
Keep the overall ambience in mind when choosing lighting. “You might want to highlight a few bottles, but it’s nice to have a dark feel,” Parker says. “The best wine cellars that I’ve been in feel like they are underground or in a cave. The whole world is removed.”
Walder concurs that “there is a strong push for the cave cellar feel,” but adds that some homeowners opt for other styles ranging from traditional Old World to contemporary. “There are all kinds of looks,” he says. “Several clients have integrated beautiful antique armoires, washbasins or materials recovered from antiquities into the cellar. Stonework, archways and distressed finishes are popular options for setting the ambience in wine cellars. “We had a job in Deer Valley, Utah, for a client with an unlimited budget,” Walder recalls. “He integrated first-cut Jerusalem stones for his floor and some mural areas.”
Jeffrey Strauss, owner of Pamplemousse Grille in Solana Beach, commissioned Walder to convert a home office into a wine cellar at his Solana Beach residence. “Gen is known for rounding his wood, so the flow is great,” says Strauss, who called the result “spectacular.”
Marble floors set an elegant tone to the restaurateur’s contemporary and spacious personal wine cellar. “He had specific requirements for large-format bottles that we accommodated in many ways – in pull-out drawers, small display racks on countertops, and cove trays for magnums to the right and left of the door,” Walder says. “There are also three tiers of display rows for his various vertical collections of wine.” Cabinets display stemware, while a countertop serves as a wine-tasting area.
“It’s a work of art,” Strauss says of his private wine cellar.
But Walder begs to differ. “The wine is really the art,” the master wine cellar designer concludes, “and the cabinetry is the conduit.”
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