If Robert Louis Stevenson was right, and wine is ‘bottled poetry,’ shouldn’t your favorite vintages have their own library?
“If you’re going to have a collection—and it doesn’t have to be worth a fortune—you really should consider a wine cellar,” says Rick Palank, a homeowner with a custom-built wine room in his St. Louis Hills home. Palank designed the room as part of a major remodel last year. “It was a gut rehab and the same contractor did all the work. I researched wine racks, bought and assembled them, and told him, Build a wine room around them. It turned out great,” he says.
Palank says that wine sometimes gets stacked in a basement closet, but there is always the risk that it will deteriorate without proper storage. Insulation and refrigeration equipment keep his collection at an optimal 55 to 57 degrees and, although the wine room is large enough to accommodate furniture, Palank believes that is not realistic. “You know, Wine Spectator magazine features photos of furnished wine rooms, but I have to wonder,” he comments. “Why would you sit in there to enjoy a glass of wine? It’s cold, there are no windows and no view. I think it’s a lot of hype.”
A copy of Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate might turn up in his study, but oenophile Tony Sansone Jr. prefers to make his own wine discoveries. “That’s the fun part! I don’t ever get caught up in the rating system reports,” he says. “I like to understand the regions, appreciate the climate and enjoy the wine experience for what it is. If you like what you taste, then that’s the grape you should seek.” This emphasis on personal preference includes his advice to any homeowner planning a wine cellar. “Make sure it’s an extension of your personality.”
Meticulously crafted from hand-cut Missouri stone, Sansone’s wine cellar took months to create, and the space is an elegant expression of his passion. An Ulla Darni chandelier hangs from the tongue-and-groove mahogany ceiling, illuminating a massive stone table in the center of the room. With a 1,500-bottle capacity, Sansone promises, “Don’t worry—you won’t ever be thirsty!”
For homeowners who aren’t sure where to begin, John Seitz, of the Magnum Company, advises finding a contractor with experience in this type of project. After 20 years as a general home builder, Seitz took his career in a new direction and began studying wine cellar construction. Now, 15 years later, he’s built them for celebrities and restaurants from coast to coast and is described by Wine Enthusiast magazine as a ‘master wine cellar builder.’ He tells new clients that in the beginning, he was “one of the people I would advise you not to use!”
Seitz says the addition of a vapor barrier is critical to the proper construction of a cellar or wine room, and omitting it is the most common mistake of inexperienced contractors. “It should be on the outside wall, because it keeps the moisture both in and out, all at the same time,” he explains. “Keeping the moisture in helps to maintain the 70 percent humidity necessary to keep the cork moist. If the cork dries out, air is infused into the wine and it turns to vinegar.” Too much moisture, Seitz cautions, can lead to mold and mildew, which can also penetrate the cork and cause damage.
Although they are most commonly found in lower levels, Seitz says homeowners aren’t limited to that area. “A wine room can go anywhere you want to put it,” he says. “I installed one in a fifth-floor condominium.” He encourages homeowners to incorporate architectural elements into the design. “Do you have crown molding in your home? Incorporate that into your wine room—it gives a very elegant touch. Consider buying stock tile and breaking it up for a cool mosaic floor. And hand-painted murals can make your space very personal.”