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If you're a serious wine collector—or just dream of being one—a wine cellar will preserve your wine and enhance your home's value
A serious wine collection can be an enjoyable investment and add a personal touch to your home, but it can just as easily sour your financial grapes when it is not properly cared for. Jamie Ritchie, who heads Sotheby's U.S. wine department, as an appraiser sometimes has to break the bad news to collectors who have poured thousands of dollars into vintage wines, then failed to take storage precautions.
"The most important thing you can do for your investment is to make sure the storage conditions are absolutely correct," he says. So it's no surprise that wine cellars, once thought of as a simple rack in a dark, musty basement, are getting luxury makeovers that stress perfect function as well as elegant form. Think of them as insurance policies, on the one hand, and showrooms on the other.
Many custom wine cellar designers around the country can assess your collection and your space, and build a room that suits your budget and the way in which you intend to interact with your collection. Novice collectors with fewer than a thousand bottles will typically opt for a cellar with basic racking and a high-performance climate control system that ensures proper aging. An adequate startup cellar begins at about $8,000.
But for connoisseurs with larger collections there are no limits on what these designers can build. Custom racks built from cherry, teak, or mahogany with curved corners, low-voltage display lighting, stone-tiled floors, hand-painted artwork, and fully furnished tasting rooms are a few of the most in-demand extravagances you can have—for a price. For a wine cellar that would make any Frenchman envious, expect to pay between $25,000 and $250,000.
"A properly built wine cellar is the foundation to the security and aging of your vintage wines," says Matthew Germano of Germano Wine Cellars. The Nashville-based designer's first priority when building a wine cellar of any size or cost is installing vapor barriers, insulation, cooling systems, ventilation, and weather-tight doors. All of these are essential to creating and maintaining a stable temperature of about 55 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity of about 70%—wine's preferred climate.
Once climate control is in place, designers can begin to shape the room around the collection and your tastes. Says Ed Loughran of Wellesley (Mass.)-based Charles River Wine Cellars, "The more valuable the collection, the more likely the client [will] want to showcase it."
A Roman Fantasy
For a 2,000 bottle collection estimated to be worth more than $150,000, Loughran and his team built an elegant yet modern cellar with custom display shelving, low-voltage display lighting, and mahogany casework which accented the most cherished bottles of the collection. To make the space more functional, they added a tasting room complete with flat-screen TV and sound system. In all, the cellar and tasting room cost the client about $75,000.
Frequently wine collectors prefer to make a bold statement about their collection by commissioning a themed cellar. Recently the Portland (Ore.)-based designers of The Wine Outfitters were given a family photograph taken in front of a Roman aqueduct in Provence to use as a launching point for a new cellar. The designers lived up to the challenge, creating a rustic Roman feel in the two-room space by using wall frescoes, stone arches, mosaic-tile floors, and murals.
Jim Deckebach, founder of Wine Cellar Innovations, the country's largest custom wine cellar business, built his first wine cellar in 1984 and has watched the industry come into its own over the 22-year period since. "When I started, a fraction of 1% of the population wanted to own a wine cellar. Now the income level at which people are investing in a wine collection is going down, and there's a lot of interest in cellars," he says.
Climbing the Stairs
Though no definite numbers are available, Deckebach estimates that the industry is worth about a half a billion dollars, and says it has grown by at least 35% a year for the past five years. This growth has led to some surprising changes in people's attitudes about the function of the wine cellar.
All of the wine cellar designers BusinessWeek.com spoke with for this article reported an increase in business with new home builders, and most pointed out the growing trend of wine cellars coming out of the basement and inhabiting first floor areas in closer proximity to the kitchen or living room.
In some cases, people trying to sell their homes will install a state-of-the-art wine cellar as an attractive lure for buyers, regardless of whether or not they have a collection of their own.
"A wine collection doesn't look like much, but properly presented it shows its true colors," says wine cellar designer Paul Wyatt. "My clients understand that a wine cellar is far more than a place to store wine. It is a specific symbol of power, of success."
Whether you're a hard-core collector or an aspiring oenophile, to see a range of wine cellars to complement nearly every budget click here for the slide show