Continuing from the review of wine storage options, we now turn our attention to at-home wine cellar options. As Pascal Marchand, director of Eurocave put it, “building a wine cellar is a step towards taking your passion further. The further you go with your passion, the more space you’ll need. But certainly, the next real step will be realizing, I need a cellar, somewhere I can be inside, not outside of, with my wine.”
A Cellar of One’s Own
It appears, much like the demand in wine cabinets, there is a surge in creating home wine cellars. Sebastian Riley-Smith, director of Smith & Taylor, concurs his company has seen an incredible rise in demand for wine rooms. “Perhaps this year people have had more time to think about their interests.” Another motivation he offers is the concern over holding a life’s collection anywhere other than in your home. “Nobody will look after your wines as good as you,” he cautions. “In these uncertain times when, unfortunately, a number of merchants have not been able to continue trading, it’s important to ensure your wines don’t get seized as trade stock. At least if you do store elsewhere, make sure your name is clearly written on your cases and they are stored together!”
The rise in demand for home wine cellars is not only attributed to serious collectors. Interior designers are ever frequently on the other end the phone with new enquiries revealed Ben Austin, Managing Director of Tanglewood.
“When you’re developing a high-end home, you can expect a gym, art gallery, swimming pool,” says Riley-Smith, “the wine room is another tick in the box.”
Marchand agrees, “A clear trend I have noticed is the demand for including a wine cellar or wine space by property developers. Architects are incorporating them into the design of high-end properties, or at least including a wine space in the kitchen.”
From Cellar to Space
What’s reassuring is that neither a pre-existing cellar space nor a high-end home is required to create a dedicated wine room. In fact, this is the biggest trend reported across all the specialists; the wine cellar has not only moved above ground, but has become a ‘wine space’.
“We used to call them cellars,” Austin explains, “and that implied an established underground space, where wine enthusiasts could store their wine collections. But for a number of reasons, wine cellar isn’t the right term anymore. We call it ‘wine room’ or better yet, ‘wine space’ to reflect that it can be created anywhere in the house- from upstairs loft to kitchen cupboard.”
Indeed Riley-Smith adds, “There are many subterranean spaces in country homes, but in the cities living spaces have grown upwards, not downwards. With the correct environmental controls (light, humidity, temperature) nearly any space can become a wine cellar.”
“We have made a lot of cellars in Shanghai that are up to the sky, but when you go inside you feel you are in Burgundy. Especially after a tasting,” laughs Marchand.
Identify the Space
Austin says at Tanglewood, “with 95% of the projects we do, the space is ready for us. But if a customer calls and says, ‘I have a dream of building a cellar, but I don’t have a cellar.’ We can help them build a cellar.”
They connect the customer with the necessary specialists to create the right flooring, walls, electrics, and then complete the project by fitting the wine storage element and temperature control.
He assures that almost any space can be converted to cellar conditions. “There’s no reason a loft can’t be used, as long as we can replicate underground conditions to ensure stability of temperature. Windows or sky lights would need to be covered to eliminate the risk of light strike.”
Marchand advises that depending on where you live it might be wiser to organize a wine cellar than to buy a wine cabinet.
“You might have a room or a space that is naturally insulated. I recommend you measure the temperature over the year, and you might be surprised if the temperature stays stable. You’ll see this is a good location for wine storage.”
“Start small, you might add gravel to the ground to help with natural humidity control. Add furniture to the space to store the collection in, either in original boxes or by bottles.”
We’re all in agreement that a wine cellar is open to interpretation. The space can be created if needed, and doesn’t have to be underground. The most innovative wine spaces are in fact a hybrid of storage, display, and even entertainment.
“We’ve converted cupboards under the staircase into temperature-controlled glass fronted wine spaces that hold 250 bottles all the way up to a 12,000-bottle wine vault at Annabel’s, a private member’s club in Mayfair, London,” says Austin.
In between those extremes lie a plethora of options to ponder. Inspiring ideas like a ‘fine wine dining room’ with wrap-around wine storage behind double-glaze argon filled glass brings wine to the forefront of entertaining. Short on space? Then how about a two-bottle deep kitchen wine wall with 800-bottle capacity.
A garage installed with a Fondis temperature control system and a glass fronted wall to serves the dual purpose of holding 1,000 bottles and a vintage car collection.
As long as the four main storage elements long-term wine storage are met (heat, vibration, UV and humidity) then the space is largely a matter of personal taste.
There are many different options with designing a wine space in your property. Deciding between maximum storage or creating that wow factor to show off your wine collection is an important step.
“It can take 12-16 weeks from the initial phone call to the completion of the wine space,” says Austin.
This time frame will include an initial consultation, a site visit to take measurements, creation of concept sketches using CAD software, and finally the installation and finishing.
The build time is actually quite short according to Austin, “one to three weeks is our construction time on site, but it’s not like building a kitchen extension. Most of the time taken on the process is on the design and getting it agreed.”
Wine cellar specialist Sorrells offers a virtual reality experience at their Essex show room before sign-off. Allowing customers to ‘walk through’ their chosen design – moving around the space and getting a sense of the look and feel of the material and shelving configurations.
Marchand subscribes to a form of Socratic questioning to help clients decide what they want from their wine space. Questions ranging from consumption habits, entertaining ambitions, and safety requirements will give shape to the cellar design. “It’s a slow journey of discussion and realizations to come up with the right design.”
Bespoke but flexible
“We try to tailor the cellar design to the customer’s collection,” says Austin, “but there’s not a lot of point in creating a cellar for your exact collection today. Some degree of flexibility is important. The cellar you have now may look different as you drink and replace the wines. Be flexible, don’t design a cellar specifically around one type of bottle or region. Your tastes may change. I like to design cellars around what you have now and what you might discovering in year to come.”
The racking system is another decision to cover. Bottle sizes and shapes in the collection will guide the design, but Riley-Smith recommends creating flexibility where possible. “Whether the collection is dominant in Bordeaux or Burgundy, joinery can be crafted to hold both bottles. Triangular bins offer a less restrictive space for storing everyday drinking wines without the limitations of bottle format.”
Creating multiple racking systems will cover different purchasing habits. Runner shelves are ideal when buying in original wood cases, while wines from cardboard boxes should be removed and stored in bins or individual bottle spaces. Rare single bottle purchases can go on display in bespoke metal cradles.
However, the beauty of going bespoke is the option to tailor the space to your specific interests. Former-professional polo player, and one of the UK’s biggest Champagne collectors, Peter Crawford has two cellars that are primarily used to store his 6,000-bottle collection of old Champagne. “My two cellars in Scotland are natural cellars. I am not concerned with label preservation so the humidity of 90% is perfect, as for Champagne you want it as close to 100% humidity as possible. Temperature is naturally around 10C, for long term storage of old Champagne you want to keep it as low as you can.” Referencing Pol Roger’s cellars that are known to be the coldest in Champagne, and his experience tasting 1907 Heidsieck Monopole, Goüt Américain that had spent 81 years in the icy waters of the gulf of Finland, “that wine was astonishing, it tasted like it was 20 years old, and it was stored in 100% humidity in around 2-4C temperature.”
These conditions might not suit a more varied collection, or someone that prefers to preserve the labels. Yet it’s a distinct benefit of cellaring at home versus an off-site storage facility if you want to fine tune the parameters to your specifications.
Taking the plunge
Still unsure whether it’s worth taking this step then Marchand advises to take stock. “If you have 50 bottles it would be a burden, but if you have 200+ bottles then it’s worth thinking about creating a cellar.”
But beware that the global rise in demand combined with a global pandemic can throw up some hurdles right now. “In the last year, coping with demand for materials is very challenging across all stages,” warned Austin. “A lot of the manufactures we work with have reported delays in sourcing raw material.”
Those concerned about the upkeep of a home cellar will be glad to know the maintenance is low and specialists like Tanglewood offer remote monitoring to keep track of temperature and humidity levels.
Austin also revealed plans to expand on their home cellar services, “We hope to offer a wider service around the upkeep of the wine cellar, such as regular stock takes. This would be ideal for clients that are very busy and have a lot of wine deliveries happening regularly, perhaps they don’t have time to count through everything and keep it organized.”
It could be considerably costly to go from a cabinet to a complete cellar, but keeping a beloved collection within easy reach as well as the possibilities for organizing, creating a tasting room, and inviting your friends in with you is certainly appealing.
“At the end of the day it comes down to how passionate you are about wine,” says Marchand. “The location and budget can be adjusted, but the desire to set this up in your home all comes down to the passion for wine.”
Is it worth it?
At Octavian, it costs £19.80+ VAT per case per wine for 0-30 cases.
(the charge per year decreases to £18.74 for 31-99 cases, and to £17.31 for 100 cases+)
With the 20% UK tax the price is £23.76 per case.
The annual rate is based on one to twelve bottles of one product line packed together, and no credit is applicable for stock removed during the invoice year.
Comparing to a 250-bottle cellar built for a modest £3,000 would take just over 6 years to break even if storing the equivalent 21 12-bottle cases in stock at Octavian.
This of course does not take into account the considerable flexibility allowed in your own cellar. If storing 42 6-bottle cases it would come to £944.50 per year in storage fees, thus just over 3 years of storage before the home cellar becomes more economical.
However, the price of building bespoke cellars ranges widely from £10,000-£40,000 depending on the size and specifications.
When money is no object
LED lighting solutions and air conditioning units will generally vary according to the requirements of the cellar’s size and layout, than to their inherent virtue. Therefore materials are the area to splurge on.
It’s important to choose high-quality materials which are resistant to damp and reduce the amount of contamination in the air, such as wood or steel, but the flourishes are in the details.
Leather backing, black walnut, English oak, Wenge, gold, brass, are all expensive to source and prepare rather than more simple oaks and redwoods.
“Quite often for projects of this calibre, the wine room is part of a wider interior design of the home,” says Riley-Smith. Recalling one of his more interesting cellar designs, he mentions Manor House in Oxfordshire. “There is a long history of cellars with active streams where the watercourse helps both ventilation and humidity. We restored and lit the stream in this cellar. The low ceiling height encouraged us to design the wine storage on metal hoops within blue framed painted boxes, with bevelled solid oak pillars which increased the visual height of the room and created the look of floating bottles. It was truly theatrical, and fitting for a famous British film producer.”