Taking it Up a Notch
The earliest form of wine storage was a clay jar, or amphora, buried in the earth. The first primitive wine cellar was no more than a hole in the ground. During the time of the Roman Empire, Vetruvius noted it was common practice to orient a wine cellar to the north because the northern edges of a dwelling were believed to be less prone to fluctuations of temperature and humidity.
What would the ancients have made of today’s cutting-edge wine cellars? Peter Cimino, whose company, North Fork Wine Cellar Designs builds high-end wine storage rooms, says collectors are increasingly asking for ultra-modern designs to complement the style of their home.
“Previously, there was a high demand for mahogany and redwood–dark and heavy materials,” says Cimino. “Now many of our clients go for lighter maples or cherry or white oak.” Racking methods have also undergone a shift–literally. Back-lit metal racks that hold bottles horizontally in Lucite cradles so that the labels are readable–hence the name, Label View–are much in demand. “Traditionally, all you would see was the head of the bottle,” explains Cimino. But with Label View, you can display the bottle.”
For some collectors, display is what it’s all about, which could explain the current predilection for situating a “cellar” on the main floor. Such storage spaces are often adjacent to a dining room or a media room. According to Cimino, “The newest facilities are entertainment and design pieces as much as they are wine storage facilities. Typically, these spaces have a lot more glass than a traditional cellar does and they employ racking arrangements that can be very dramatic.”
Locating a wine cellar in the heart of a home isn’t without its technical challenges, though. Natural light, the scourge of vintage bottles, is one concern. And since temperatures in living areas are warmer than they are in basements, the refrigeration requirements for a wine storage room–in which the optimal temperature is in the 55 to 57 degree Fahrenheit range–are greater. One way to reduce the heat load on a space is by installing LED lights. Another solution that Cimino often recommends is to treat a wine room on a main floor as an auxiliary storage space and install a primary cellar below ground level.
No matter where you intend to locate your wine cellar, it’s wise to plan ahead. Cimino says a very modest space with basic refrigeration takes around four months to complete and starts at $40,000 dollars. A more elaborate cellar with space for 1,800 bottles can take over a year and a half from conception to installation and could set you back over $200,000. Because there is so much variation in bottle sizes, Cimino doesn’t submit the final rack measurements until the room has been built.
“People don’t realize how complex it is to build a proper wine cellar,” he says. As a cautionary tale, he recounts the story of a client who came to him after having ripped out an elaborate cellar in the basement of his multi-million dollar beachfront home. The problem? “Mildew and mold.” And the lesson? As Cimino puts it, “Get it right and take your time.”