Sign up for our newsletter
Housing / Residential construction

A cellar of one’s own: Urban construction down under

Building a home cellar? Where should it go? How big (or small) does it need to be? What features are essential? And who should take care of construction?

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 realising, ‘I need a cellar, somewhere I can be inside, not outside, with my wine.’”

(Photo courtesy of Smith & Taylor)

It appears that, just as demand for wine cabinets has grown recently, so there has been a surge in creating home wine cellars. Sebastian Riley-Smith, director of Smith & Taylor, concurs, his company having seen a steep rise in demand for wine rooms: “Perhaps this year people have had more time to think about their interests.”

Another motivation, he suggests, is the concern over holding a life’s collection anywhere other than in your home. “Nobody will look after your wines as well as you will,” 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 that your name is clearly written on your cases and that they are stored together.”

The rise in demand for home wine cellars is attributed not only to large and serious collectors. Interior designers are ever more frequently on the other end of the phone with new enquiries, revealed Ben Austin, managing director of Tanglewood.

White papers from our partners

“When you’re developing a high-end home, you can expect a gym, art gallery, swimming pool,” says Riley-Smith, “so the wine room is another tick in the box.” Marchand agrees: “A clear trend I have noticed is the demand from property developers to include a wine cellar or wine space. 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 very 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; it 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 a ‘wine room’ or, better yet, ‘wine space’, to reflect that it can be created anywhere in the house – from an upstairs loft to a kitchen cupboard.”

Indeed, Riley-Smith adds, “There are many subterranean spaces in country homes, but in cities, living spaces have grown upward, not downward. With the correct environmental controls (light, humidity, temperature), nearly any space can become a wine cellar.” Marchand adds, “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.”

Identify the space

Austin says of 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 one.” His company connects the customer with the necessary specialists to create the right flooring, walls and electrics, and then complete the project by fitting the wine-storage element and temperature control. He insists that almost any space can be converted to cellar conditions.

There are many subterranean spaces in country homes, but in cities, living spaces have grown upward, not downward. Sebastian Riley-Smith, director of Smith & Taylor

“There’s no reason a loft can’t be used, as long as we can replicate underground conditions to ensure [the] stability of temperature. Windows or skylights 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 organise 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.”

He further suggests, “Start small. You might add gravel to the ground to help with natural humidity control. Add furniture to the space in which to store the collection, 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 lies a plethora of options to ponder. Inspiring ideas like a “fine-wine dining room”, with wrap-around wine storage behind double-glazed argon-filled glass, brings wine to the forefront of entertaining. Short on space? Then how about a two-bottle-deep kitchen wine wall, with an 800-bottle capacity. A garage installed with a Fondis temperature-control system and a glass-fronted wall serves the dual purpose of holding 1,000 bottles and a collection of vintage cars.

As long as the four main criteria for successful long-term wine storage are met (regarding heat, vibration, UV and humidity), then the space is largely a matter of personal taste.

Design journey

There are many different options when it comes to designing a wine space in your property. One fundamental question is whether to opt for maximum storage or to show off your wine collection and create a wow factor. “It can take anything from 12 to 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.”

(Photo courtesy of Smith & Taylor)

Wine-cellar specialist Sorrells offers a virtual-reality experience at its Essex showroom 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 to entertainment ambitions and safety requirements will give shape to the cellar design. “It’s a slow journey of discussion and realisations 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 be discovering in years to come.”

The racking system is another crucial decision. Bottle sizes and shapes in the collection will guide the design, but Riley-Smith also recommends creating flexibility wherever 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 wooden 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.

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, because for Champagne you want it as close to 100% humidity as possible. Temperature is naturally around 10°C [50°F]; for long-term storage of old Champagne, you want to keep it as low as you can.”

He references Pol Roger’s cellars, which are believed to be among the coldest in Champagne, and his experience of tasting a bottle of 1907 Heidsieck Monopole Goût Américain that had spent 81 years in the icy waters of the Gulf of Finland. “That wine was astonishing,” he reminisces. “It tasted like it was 20 years old, and it was stored in 100% humidity at around 2–4°C [36–39°F].”

These conditions might not suit a more varied collection or someone who prefers to preserve the labels. Yet it’s a distinct benefit of cellaring at home that you can fine-tune all of the parameters to your specifications.

Taking the plunge

If you’re still unsure whether it would be worth taking the plunge, Marchand advises you to take stock. “If you have 50 bottles, it would be a burden. But if you have 200-plus bottles, then it’s worth thinking about creating a cellar.” Beware, though, that the global rise in demand for wine spaces combined with the Covid pandemic has raised hurdles. “Over the past year, coping with the demand for materials has been very challenging across all stages,” warned Austin. “A lot of the manufacturers we work with have reported delays in sourcing raw materials.”

Those concerned about the upkeep of a home cellar will be pleased and relieved to know that the maintenance is low, and specialists such as 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,” he says. “This would be ideal for clients who are very busy and have frequent wine deliveries, since they may well not have time to count through everything and keep it all organised.”

It could be considerably more costly initially to go from a cabinet to a complete cellar, but keeping a beloved collection within easy reach – as well as the possibilities for organising, 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 your passion for wine.”

This article originally appeared in The Word of Fine Wine.

Victoria Daskal is the founder of Mummy Wine Club, a UK monthly wine subscription club, and Cellar d’Or which offers virtual and in-person wine tastings.