Wine Storage … Uncorked

Whether you have four or 400 bottles of wine, a “cellar” is not out of reachA Wine Room of One’s OwnThe Wine Lover’s Guide to Proper In-Home Storage

By Ashley Kahn

Wine is becoming an integral part of the American culture, and Bacchus couldn’t be happier. The new consumer is proud to eat, drink and be merry, because nothing pairs better with a good meal than a great bottle of wine.

With fine living more accessible than ever before, it’s no wonder more Tallahassee residents have begun to collect wine. But as the number of bottles increases, so does the need for storage. Whether a collection includes four or 400 bottles of wine, a wine “cellar” is not out of reach.

Planning and constructing a wine room is a collaborative process, usually requiring the efforts of a builder, a designer, a wine specialist and the homeowner. This can be a costly and time-consuming venture, so choosing the right moment is essential.

 

Knowing When the Time is Right

“The only way you can have a wine collection is to have more than you can possibly drink,” said Craig Richardson, wine director at Market Square Liquors. If that is what a consumer has in mind, there are many options to consider, depending on his or her budget and aspirations.

Wine enthusiasts can start small with a refrigerator unit for as few as six bottles, or create an entire room to house a collection. Because wine often is associated with entertaining, many homeowners are choosing to build special wine rooms where the wine both is stored and consumed.

When building or expanding a collection, it is important to be sure of your tastes. Attending local wine tastings may help to determine a personal palate.

“Every time you open a bottle, it’s an education,” Richardson said.

If this is true, SouthWood homeowner and wine collector Sam Wasko must have a Ph.D. in wine appreciation. At one time, his collection boasted nearly 3,000 bottles of wine.

When it’s finished, his self-constructed wine room will hold around 5,000 bottles.
“When I started collecting wine, it was because I was starting to cook a lot and pairing wines with foods,” Wasko said. “It just snowballed on me.”

 

The Benefits of Proper Wine Storage

Richardson, whose own wine is kept in his converted garage, heralds the versatility of such a space.

“You have the proper wine for the proper event,” he said. “You have the ability to lay it down and forget about it.”

As thrilling as it may be to forget a bottle of wine, the real pleasure is in the remembrance. But patience with vino is a virtue. The purpose of storing wine in its ideal conditions is to allow it to age slowly so that all of its components come together.

“When a wine is young, it’s got a lot of big fruit up front and a lot of tannins in the back,” said Richardson of Market Square Liquors. “Open a bottle of wine at its ideal, and it’s just seamless . . . a pure delight.”

Even more delightful is the prospect of opening a long-anticipated bottle. Whether it be a Tuesday night in front of the television or the celebration of a marriage proposal, the wine becomes the occasion.

Wasko, whose collection ranges from a 1961 Spanish burgundy to post-millennial California chardonnay, has clearly adopted this attitude. In fact, he enjoys wine so much he installed a 40-bottle GE Monogram refrigerator in his master bathroom. Special occasions may not be prerequisite for wine consumption, but Wasko is prepared.

“My daughter is 4 years old,” he said. “I’m going to find some wines that will mature well and buy a few cases for her wedding.”

 

 
Ideal Conditions Produce the Ideal Wine

The average home maintains a temperature of 70 degrees and a humidity level of 55 percent. Unfortunately, the proper storage of wine requires the opposite of these conditions. A wine room, or cellar, should be kept around 55 degrees and 70 percent humidity.

In addition to temperature and humidity specifications, light and movement also need to be restricted. The designated space should be away from direct sunlight or heat-producing lamps, with minimal vibrations from appliances.

Simulating cellar-like conditions can be accomplished by several methods, depending on the building or budget constraints of the homeowner. Freestanding cooling cabinets or refrigerators, offered by companies from KitchenAid to EuroCave, are feasible options for new collectors.

More serious wine enthusiasts may want to invest in one of three types of cooling units designed specifically for wine cellars: through-wall, water-cooled and split-system. Through-wall systems require ample space outside the cellar for ventilation, which can be noisy. Water-cooled systems are quieter and less obvious, but may be prohibited in residential neighborhoods.

The best bet is a split-system unit, which works like a regular air conditioner but incorporates a humidifier to balance both temperature and humidity levels in a wine room. While the price is higher and the installation more involved than with self-contained units, the split-system method gives the homeowner more control over the room’s conditions and can withstand a more erratic climate, making it perfect for Tallahassee.

“Storage is especially important in Florida because of the extreme temperatures,” Richardson said. “The biggest thing you need to consider is your moisture barrier.”

Proper insulation and a vapor barrier are crucial to preserving the distinct environment of a wine room. The air in the cellar must be kept separate from the air in the rest of the house. Doors are equally important, a fact with which Sam Wasko is very familiar.

Wasko researched, designed and built his own wine room.

“The first thing everybody comments on is the wine cellar door,” he said.

In addition to installing the proper vapor barriers, Wasko caulked every seam of wood, then sprayed foam insulation before he bricked the walls. The door, made of glass and brushed steel that twists into grapevines, was custom-ordered and insulated upon its arrival to Tallahassee.

 
Advice from Local Wine Collectors

Though his still-unfinished cellar has taken a lot of time, money and hard work, Wasko considers it a labor of love.

“I’ve always wanted it, I designed it into the house, and I love it to death,” he said.

But another Tallahassee resident is rethinking his wine storage decision. Ed Stafman houses his bottle collection in a true underground cellar that he built as an addition to his home in the early 1990s.

“Back then, good wine was reasonably priced, and now it is outrageously expensive,” Stafman said. “I probably wouldn’t do it again at today’s prices.”

Even so, he does recognize the benefits.

“I’m still able to enjoy (the wine) now, 15 and 20 years later. I couldn’t do that if I didn’t have a wine cellar.”

Today, in-house wine rooms are more fruitful than ever before. If the improved quality of wine isn’t incentive enough, look to the real estate market. Cellars can lead to profits for sellers.

Local real estate investor Casey Lauer added his wine room to increase the resale value of his home, a goal easily attainable if potential buyers could find it. This is the stuff of spy thrillers. What appears to be a bookshelf is actually a secret door to the hidden cellar.

Lauer proves you don’t have to be an experienced collector to have a cellar in your home. Sometimes, the room precedes the impressive collection.

“I’ll enjoy having the wine room, just the idea of it, and it being hidden,” Lauer said. “It’s made me buy more wine because I have to fill it.”

Having done the work himself, including lining the walls with cultured stone and purchasing racks from The Wine Enthusiast’s online store, Lauer offers some advice that others considering installing a wine room might wish to consider: “Hire somebody to do it.” If it’s within budget, this is the best way to ensure that the cellar will increase your home’s value, he said.

It is important to weigh all the options before making plans for a dedicated wine room.

“I think a cellar is only for people that really, really enjoy the wine and really enjoy entertaining,” Wasko said. Stafman would recommend a cellar to “people who intend to collect more than a couple hundred bottles.”

One strategy to avoid regret is to start with a small wine refrigerator before upgrading to a full cellar. As long as your dreams are realistic, a basic wine room can be had for a relatively small expense, with minimal renovations to your home.

Consider it an investment you can enjoy for years (and cases) to come. At best, you’ll end up with a cherished collection of wine; at worst, a cool retreat for Tallahassee’s hot summer days.

Parker Quinby contributed to this story.

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