Wine cellars are meant to preserve aging wines, but they can function differently to suit the needs of the owner. Wine is a living, breathing thing, aging from infancy to maturity to old age; therefore, there is specific criterion to consider when building a wine cellar. There are two types of cellars: active, which are controlled environments, and passive, which are built underground.
ELEMENTS OF A WINE CELLAR
The elements of a wine cellar are similar to that of a cave. The average temperature for a wine cellar is around 55 degrees, and the humidity ranges from about 45 to 70 percent. If there is too much fluctuation in the temperature, it can increase the speed of spoilage. Higher temperatures actually cause the wine to “cook.”
The cellar must also have minimal lighting, and the bottles should be laid at an angle, keeping the cork in contact with the wine. The wine should be stored away from any appliances that may cause vibration. Vibrations can affect the chemistry of the wine. These are all factors to consider when designing a wine cellar.
I met with three local people with vastly different wine cellars or ways to store their wine. We found that wine storage racks and cellars can be customized to suit the needs of the owner.
AN INTIMATE HIDEAWAY
Tami Berg’s wine cellar is an intimate space tucked in her basement. She affectionately calls her wine cellar the wine cave. “My husband built the cave jokingly so I would have a place to socialize with the girls.” Berg’s cave is magical. The walls are draped with black fabric, and there’s a long grapevine with a string of lights curling across the front wall. When she entertains, she lights dozens of candles throughout the room, making it a cozy retreat.
Berg’s love of wine began in college when she took a European wine tasting course with a friend. “I learned about wines from specific regions and pairing food with wine.”
Her cellar is stocked with small production wines from California. “I like to travel to vineyards off the beaten path to discover wines that are ready to drink rather than wines that need to age for 30 years.” She is also a member of several wine clubs that ship her cases of wine periodically. She currently has about 500 bottles in her wine cellar, but they are not all on display in her wine tasting cave.
WOMEN AND WINE
Berg invited a few women to her cave to experience the magic. She had three different bottles of red wine, each paired with a unique appetizer. The wines she selected for us were from Jeff Cohn Cellars and Turley Wine Cellars. As we tasted the wine, Berg described the characteristics and made sure we tried the appropriate appetizer.
“For me, wine is another food group, so I enjoy creating recipes that bring out the flavors of the wine.” Although Berg’s cellar is used as a place to chill with friends, it remains dark, with the proper humidity, a steady temperature with minimal vibrations. Her cellar is known as a passive cellar. Our next stop is a wine cellar constructed strictly for chilling and housing wine.
CUSTOM DESIGNED WINE CELLAR
Julie Domaille and her husband love to entertain and love having the perfect bottle of wine for every occasion. Domaille designed the wine cellar in her home and chose Mike Allen Homes in Rochester to construct it.
Allen says, “It’s easy to construct a wine room, but when you are a collector of wines, especially red wines, you need to have the appropriate place to care for the wines, to let them age.” Allen and Domaille worked together to essentially construct a cave-like room to store wine. “I had to do a lot of research beforehand because I didn’t know a lot about storing wines,” says Allen.
Allen spoke to Andrew Hightower, owner of Foxwood Cellars in the Twin Cities, for the details in constructing a wine cellar. Hightower is an engineer with a passion for design and craftsmanship. He designs, builds and installs wine cellars throughout North America. With the knowledge Allen gained from Hightower, he had a starting point for creating the appropriate environment for Domaille’s wine.
Once Allen felt confident enough to build the cellar, he worked with Domaille on the aesthetics. Domaille’s creativity is evident when you step inside the 55-degree wine cellar. “I wanted the space to be artistic and beautiful. I chose a deep golden paint color, rich mahogany wood for the wine racks that span from floor to ceiling and cool grey slate tiles for the flooring because the slate retains the cold air.” She says lighting was also an important selection for the cellar. “I wanted the lighting to function as an accent, not the main focal point, so I went with recessed lighting and one small light fixture hanging above the white wine cooler.”
There is one decorative metal wall hanging illuminated on the back wall and a small black wall unit that controls the humidity called the WhisperKool Extreme 8000ti. The final touch is the weather-sealed glass door to keep the environment stabilized. Her cellar is known as an active cellar.
KEEPING THE CELLAR STOCKED
Domaille’s cellar holds about 680 bottles of wine. Currently, it’s only about half full. Domaille’s husband, Dr. Jack Gross, is in charge of stocking the cooler. Both he and Domaille love wines from Napa and Sonoma, along with Pinot Noirs from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Typically, the wines they purchase are recommended by the magazine, “Wine Spectator,” and have a rating of 90 points or above. They also consult Robert Parker’s “The Wine Advocate.” And, because they house so many wines, they subscribe to the website, Cellar Tracker to track the wine they purchase. The tracker enables them to drink wines at the appropriate time.
Additionally, Domaille and her husband are members of wine clubs and often order cases of wine and split them with their friends. They, furthermore, shop local and purchase wines from Andy’s Liquor, Apollo Liquor and Hy-Vee Barlow. Domaille says, “We purchase drinkable wines, wines that may need to age 25 to 30 years and futures.” Futures are wines that have not yet been produced.
Lastly, I spoke to Steve and Debra Berland of Rochester. They have about 100 bottles of wine on display in their basement. They wanted their wine storage to be a visible point of interest. Berland says, “We looked at doing a wine cellar, but our collection is small and the cost didn’t match our objective for storing wines, so we decided on smaller shelving units under the stairs leading to our basement. Our wine racks blend into the ambiance we created downstairs. We have a couple of bistro chairs so we can sit and enjoy our wine.” Berland says they aren’t big entertainers; they are low-key and simply enjoy drinking wine together.
Beyond Kitchens designed and constructed the custom, light-colored, solid wood shelves for the Berland’s wine display. The shelves are built into the wall and hold several bottles of wine. Below the shelving unit is a small bar with a quartz counter top and a tile back splash spanning from the counter top to the ceiling. Below the counter top, there are two small wine refrigerators, one for red wines and the other for whites. Berland says, “We keep our higher quality in the wine refrigerator, so they can age appropriately, but most of the wines in our collection are ready to drink.”
The Berlands love California wines and have been on several wine tours and tastings. “We like visiting the wineries because it makes the experience more interesting. We enjoy the smaller, quaint, family-owned vineyards, and in certain wineries, you can sit in the tasting room and converse with the owner. Although we tend to have a high percentage of U.S. wine from California, we also have a few French and Australian wines,” says Berland.
Collecting wine is different for each person. Whether you are a hobbyist, entertainer or simply love drinking wine, you want to protect each bottle to enjoy it at the appropriate time. There are endless options when it comes to building the perfect place to store your wine.
Nicole L. Czarnomski is a local freelance writer who loves learning about wine from the grapes to the glass.