The way to Create a Dream Wine Cellar (Wine Spectator)

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Note: This article originally appeared in the July 31, 2017, issue of Wine Spectator.

It starts small. A couple of bottles stowed {in a|inside a|within a} kitchen rack; a case {for your|for the|to your} birthday; maybe a splurge {on an|with an|by using an} auction trophy. You taste with friends, broaden your palate, find yourself drawn to specific regions and producers. {Before you know it|Before long|In no time}, a closet is overflowing, but your collection is just {getting started|starting out|starting}.

Dina Given, a writer and health-care executive living in Lebanon, N. J. — “farm-and-horse country, ” she says— began acquiring well-rated yet affordable wines in the mid-2000s, including a particularly memorable Schild Shiraz 2004 from Australia. But the {size of|scale} the collection fast outstripped her ability to store it. “Originally, we kept the wines in boxes in our basement, ” she says. “Soon, the boxes were becoming really overwhelming, so I bought some cheap racks online, {and all of|and all sorts of} a sudden we have walls {full of|filled with|packed with} racks. ”

Ultimately, a basement renovation provided the impetus {to install|to set up|to setup} a dedicated wine area. “We wanted a space to show off our bottles but also {protect them|keep them safe}, ” she says. “This collection is something we’ve been {putting together|setting up|assembling} for 10 years. ”

Mark DiPippa, an ad agency founder and creator of financial-literacy television program The Centsables, tells a similar story: “In {the early|the first|early} 2000s, spending $50 {on a|on the|over a} bottle of wine was amazing {to me|in my experience|in my opinion}. On my 50th birthday, I spent $10, 000 {on a|on the|over a} ’61 Petrus and a ’61 Mouton-Rothschild and shared {them with|these|associated with} my father, ” he says. “My friends ask if I’m crazy, but I {tell them|let them know|inform them} these are experiences I’ll have for the rest of my life. ”

This pivot from interest to passion marks the point of inflection from make-it-up-as-you-go-along wine storage in basements, boxes, nooks and crannies {to a|to some|into a} dedicated cellar that functions not only as housing for prized wines but as a domestic centerpiece for entertainment, relaxation and continuing education.

But for all the pleasures a home cellar can provide, {it is not|it is far from|it is not necessarily} devoid of pitfalls. A temperature- and humidity-controlled space, often stocked with rare and expensive bottles in need of consistent care, the private cellar is an exercise in precision and discernment. Costs {can be|could be|may be} high, and losses— {due to|because of|as a result of} ill-considered construction or reckless purchasing— severe.

Rick Wenner

DiPippa, an advertising executive and TV show creator, has cultivated a globe-spanning collection of elite wines.

Foreknowledge is key. As with any significant investment, the risks of building a wine cellar can be mitigated by seeking the advice of experts and individuals who have {gone down|been down} the path before you. For this guide, we spoke to cellar owners and designers {about their|of their|of the} experiences and the lessons they’ve learned. Consider their advice your own private consultation {on the|around the|within the} wine room of your dreams.

Think of a wine cellar as a room-size refrigerator: a sealed environment capable of being held {at a|in a|with a} constant temperature and humidity. If you happen to live over a network of readily accessible subterranean caves, all the better. Otherwise, creating your cellar {will likely|will probably|will more than likely} involve at least the installation of {a dedicated|an ardent|a fervent} cooling system and insulation {of all|of most|of} surfaces (including the floor and walls). Then there’s lighting, load-bearing shelving and more. {Due to the|Because of the|As a result of} complexity of the undertaking, {setting up a|making a|developing a} cellar is beyond the scope of most do-it-yourselfers. Fortunately, there are many reputable firms {across the country|across the nation|around the world} offering everything from in-depth consultations to full-service jobs comprising fabrication, delivery and installation.

Jim Cash, founder of Revel Custom Wine Cellars in East Lansing, Mich., got his start in the sector by designing his own home cellar. A veteran of the construction industry, he leverages his building and business credentials to bridge the gap {between the|between|involving the} personal tastes of collectors and the design puzzle presented by the demand for secure wine storage.

Cash says Revel rarely bids on jobs. Clients come primarily via referrals, {with an|having an|by having an} existing sense of the firm’s aesthetic; some even approach him prior to the construction of the home {that will|which will|that may} house the cellar. Things get personal fast.

“We have a discussion about what they collect, {and then|after which|and after that} customize the cellar {to the|towards the|for the} specific situation, ” Cash explains. “The goal {is to|would be to|is always to} match the cellar {to the|towards the|for the} personal aesthetic of the customer. ” Even a client’s height is taken into account: “I {ask them|question them|inquire further} how tall they are {so I|and so i|therefore i} know how high I can do cabinetry without them needing {a step|one step} stool or a ladder. ”

One of Cash’s major customizations was {for a|for any|to get a} collector based in Melbourne, Australia, who was drawn to the firm’s trademark rotating Revel-ution wine panels. In the midst of a home renovation with an Italian interior design firm, the client requested that a supersized version of the storage system be constructed, with the standard steel racking dowels replaced by burnished copper versions to match his new countertops and light fixtures. Revel complied, custom-plating thousands of the dowels with antiqued copper and shipping the whole piece {Down Under|Right here} for installation.

Typically, however , a collaboration is hatched closer to home. Collector Harold Jablon was three revisions deep {into a|right into a|in to a} cellar blueprint with an Atlanta-based designer when he met contractor Ruben Calleiro at a charity event at Jablon’s beach home in Charleston, S. C. The two began to discuss wine, and Jablon showed Calleiro the room he saw housing his yet-unrealized cellar.

Harold and Irene Jablon collaborated with a local contractor to create their 800-bottle vacation-home cellar.

“Ruben stood there for about 20 minutes while I described what I wanted, ” Jablon says. “He said, ‘ I can do it— and I can make it {30 percent|30 %} bigger and save you $10, 000. ‘ I said, ‘ When can you start? ‘”

Calleiro worked out of the house’s garage, fabricating the 800-bottle cellar over the course of three months. He created shelving from locally sourced cypress, hand-sanded the pieces and left the materials unfinished to preserve the {natural beauty|natural splendor|pure beauty} of the wood. The floor is ceramic tile that resembles wood but provides better insulation— a must for cellar not located below grade. “Ruben’s a true craftsman, ” says Jablon. “He put his heart and soul into it. ”

Dina Given, on the other hand, spoke to several {general contractors|contractors} before settling on Joseph & Curtis Custom Wine Cellars in Mountainside, N. J., to create her cellar. “We weren’t getting a lot of confidence from basement contractors {that they|which they|they} would be able to build the wine cellar we wanted, ” {she says|states}. “A lot of them said they could do it but were proposing things that felt pretty basic. ”

After some research, Given called in Joseph & Curtis for a consultation. “They got what I wanted immediately, ” she says. “Their first design was perfect. I said, ‘ That’s it, you got it. ‘”

Given wanted {a space|an area|a place} she could spend time in without freezing. “A {lot of|large amount of|lots of} wine rooms I’ve been in, the whole place is refrigerated, ” she says. “We didn’t want to wear coats {when we|whenever we|once we} came in to have a glass of wine. ”

Paul Bartholomew

Fiction writer and pharmaceutical executive Dana Given drew on the expertise of cellar designers Joseph & Curtis to create her 700-bottle showpiece.

Designed as a wine wall, the cellar displays bottles behind glass, {keeping the|to get} controlled storage space separate {from the|from your|through the} sitting area. The collection holds more than 700 bottles. Locally sourced elements are {integrated into|incorporated into} the structure; the cellar is framed out of reclaimed wood from an old tobacco barn in the area. “It’s modern but has some rustic elements to it, ” she says.

DiPippa’s cellar in Huntington, N. Y., {was born|was created|came to be} from a business plan he developed in 2001 to create {an Old|a classic|a vintage} World– style wine shop, bistro and fine-dining restaurant combo to be called Claret House. When New York building regulations forbidding such hybrid enterprises quashed his plans, he transferred his vision to his private cellar. “The space for the cellar was originally a 2, 000-square-foot finished basement {with a|having a|using a} playroom and a gym {with a|having a|using a} golf net, ” DiPippa explains. But there was one issue with this otherwise ideal location: “I had to {make a|create a|produce a} deal with my daughter, {who was|who had been} 9 or 10 {at the time|during the time|at that time}, to convert her play area into my wine cellar, ” DiPippa says with a laugh. “She got my old 10-by-10 wine room, {and I|and am|and i also} got my cellar. ”

The space delivers the Old World ambience DiPippa desired, with travertine floors, an arched entryway {with a|having a|using a} custom-made iron gate, and walls composed of fieldstone. The racks were sourced from redwood, stained a dark walnut and lacquered. Building took six months. “I {went through|experienced|had} 1, 000 pictures of wall-sconce lighting alone {just to get|for} the cellar to look {exactly like|just like|the same as} what was in my mind, ” DiPippa says.

Capturing a sense of place was {equally important|essential} to Kevin Theroux, {an orthodontist|orthodontics} from Greenwood Village, Colo., whose passion for wine stemmed from a love of international travel. Trips {with his|together with his|along with his} wife, Christine, to France, Italy, Spain, Australia and South Africa generated a collection of bottles meant to evoke memories {of their time|of time} abroad.

Theroux shuns retail, preferring {to buy|to purchase|to get} wine while in-country. “Even many years later, drinking a bottle of wine brings back memories {of the|from the|in the} winery itself, ” {he says|he admits that}. “Walking the vineyards, meeting the winemakers, cellar tastings, the particular weather or scenery. One of my favorite things that collecting and drinking wine offers is that feeling of connection. ”

Preserving this link to his wines’ origins factored into the cellar Theroux commissioned from Denver-based designer Darryl Hogeback, whose firm, Savanté Wine Cellars, {specializes in|focuses on|focuses primarily on} expert woodwork. “As {an orthodontist|orthodontics}, I measure success and failure in tenths of millimeters, and I wanted a craftsman who had the same micro-attention to detail, ” Theroux says.

{Drawing on|Using} his love of Bordeaux, Theroux purchased several wooden barrels from a cooperage he’d visited in the region and asked Hogeback to incorporate them {into the|in to the|to the} cellar as storage bins. The decanting area holds a photo of the Abbey of Sant’Antimo in Tuscany, a beloved biking spot of Theroux’s.

{Even the|However,|Your} door to the cellar is endowed with terroir : “Christine {and I found|thus i located} really amazing 19th-century pewter door hardware at a market in Provence, ” {he says|he admits that}. “It actually came off an old barn. ” {Unable to|Not able to|Struggling to} fit the hardware {to a|to some|into a} standard doorframe, Hogeback fabricated a custom walnut-and-glass door to accommodate it. Sometimes it takes an expert touch to bring a treasured memory home.

The road from vision to execution is not always so smooth. Many designers craft cellar parts at their workshops and ship them complete to the collector’s address for installation. Maneuvering these ungainly pieces down stairwells and around corners can create challenges in the last mile.

When Cash was working on his own cellar— “Revel cellar No . 1, ” he says— the lazy Susan wine wheel he’d crafted wouldn’t fit through the door to his wine room. Now he provides clients with {a list of|a listing of|a set of} each large piece {and its|as well as|as well as its} dimensions, requiring that they sign off on the order {and ensure|and be sure} an accessible pathway {from moving|motionless} truck to cellar.

Savanté ‘s Hogeback often encounters rooms {set aside|put aside|reserve} as cellar spots {that are|which are|which can be} ill-suited to the task. “The builder or a remodeler would [then] {have to|need to|must} come in and prep {the space|the area|the room}, ” he says. “This {becomes a|turns into a} major cost. “Other potential snags are less obvious. Hogeback cautions against using certain stains and finishes on racking components, since volatile organic compounds released by these substances can infiltrate corks and ruin wine. Cellar lighting should emit no UV rays, which could damage fragile liquid and labels. Moisture barriers should be placed behind all insulation, and moisture-resistant drywall, such as purple board, must be used in place of standard paper-coated surfaces, which can promote mold and mildew growth.

But the make-or-break consideration {for many is|for a lot of is|for several is} price. Wine collecting is an expensive hobby, and reliable and attractive in-home bottle storage is no different. “Even if the client is fabulously wealthy, ” says Cash, “they usually inquire about cost up front. ”

One {rule of thumb|guideline|general guideline}, cited by Cash, {is to|would be to|is always to} estimate the cost of the wood at around $45 per bottle. Curtis Dahl of Joseph & Curtis {backs up|backs|stands behind} this figure but cautions that the bespoke work his company is known for makes every project unique. “We are a very custom firm, ” Dahl says {in an|within an|in a} email. “We not only build but also do 100 percent {of the|from the|in the} design and fabrication, [so] each job is different. ”

Not surprisingly, the more customization {a client|a customer} wants, the more expensive a cellar will be. “So much depends on the efficiency of design, ” says Cash. “How efficiently our cabinetry arrays within the space, the wood species used. For example , {there’s a|there are a|which} lot demand for walnut {right now|right this moment|at this time}, which has a 15 percent premium versus mahogany. ” Racking can amount to roughly {70 percent|per cent} of the cost of the cellar, so selection of materials is vital in estimating the bill for a project.

Before diving in, consider the ongoing costs of cellar ownership, {such as|like|for example} insurance, electricity use and cooling-system maintenance and periodic replacement. It all adds up. {But if you|But if you act like you} think of a cellar {as a means|as a way|as a method} of protecting your wine investment, not to mention a rewarding extension of your passion for wine over the course of decades, the hefty outlay begins to {make sense|seem sensible|sound right}.

What’s {in Their|within their|inside their} Cellars?

Mark DiPippa

Location: Huntington, N. Y.

Occupation: Advertising executive and television-show creator

Number of bottles: 750

Favorite producers: Caymus, Quintarelli

Notable wines: Pol Roger Reserve Champagne (salmanazar); Ornellaia 1999 (double magnum); Castello Banfi Centine 2006 (methuselah); Châ teau Haut-Brion 1995 (magnum); Châ teau Lafite Rothschild 1995; Châ teau Latour 1999; Châ teau Margaux 1999

Harlod and Irene Jablon

Location: Charleston, S. C.

Occupation: Dentist

Number of bottles: 800 in cellar; 400 off-site

Wine Spectator Wines of the Year: Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta 2005; Clos des Papes Châ teauneuf-du-Pape 2005; E. Guigal Châ teauneuf-du-Pape 1999; Shafer Relentless 2008; Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 1994; Fonseca Vintage Port 1994

Other notable wines: Châ teau Haut-Brion 1975, Châ teau Latour 1980, Châ teau Margaux 1983, Châ teau Mouton-Rothschild 1983 and 2001, Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 1985 and 2007, Opus One 1999

Dina Given

Location: Lebanon, N. J.

Occupation: Pharmaceutical executive and fiction writer

Number of bottles: 800

Birth-year wines: Châ teau Pontet-Canet 2005 and Joseph Phelps Insignia 2007, for children when they turn 21

Notable wines: Penfolds Grange 2001 and 2008, Casanova di Neri 2001, Harlan Estate 2012, Schild Shiraz 2004

Kevin Theroux

Location: Lone Tree, Colo.

Occupation: Orthodontist

Number of bottles: 700

Prized bottles: Châ teau Lafite Rothschild 2003, Opus One 2001

Large-format bottles: Châ teau Kirwan 1996 (methuselah), Pelissero Nubiola 2011 (jeroboam), Col d’Orcia Poggio al Vento Riserva 2006 (magnum)


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