Fellers and their cellars: Toasting a trend
Kelvin Browne | Aug 29, 2012 8:00 AM ET | Last Updated: Aug 27, 2012 12:57 PM ET
I like wine cellars even more than I like wine, which is saying something. I used to have one in the basement of an 1870s stone house. This fantasy cellar had the ancient stone walls of the home’s original foundation, new rough-hewn granite floors and wine racks made from reclaimed oak by a perfectionist craftsman. It kept wine at the requisite 56F to 57F, with humidity about 70%. Who knew cellars were in basements for a reason, as temperature and humidity didn’t need much mechanical assistance here to be ideal for wine?
I loved the cellar and bought cases for it to make sure the room was picturesque — right out of a French château. The room had a 600-bottle capacity. Practically speaking, my partner and I would have been fine with a 24-bottle wine fridge, but antique chairs and an elaborate tasting table don’t suit such a setup.
After we sold the farmhouse, we disposed of the wine to friends, also indulging in a massive liquidation binge ourselves, starting with wine at breakfast.
The enduring lesson: If you like wine, you’re likely a sensualist who loves the total experience, and that includes where you store your horde. I was reminded of this connection of the palate and the eye by a friend, Robert Cameron, who is a wine sommelier, certified by the International Sommelier Guild, which I know is quite an accomplishment. He’s also a designer, and he successfully merges these skills when he creates cellars.
“When people take great care with how they choose wine, they usually want to store it properly and have a cellar that also reflects their design aesthetic,” Robert says. “So many cellars are ordinary, functional spaces that often haven’t been given the same careful design consideration as the rest of the house.”
Robert says “creating a cellar isn’t just about how it looks, but rather begins with how it works. Controlling temperature and humidity is no easy technical accomplishment, especially when you’re adding a cellar to a house and have to be concerned about how to exhaust an air-conditioning unit, or combine a less frigid wine-tasting area in an otherwise chilly cellar.”
Robert continues that, “new technology makes surmounting these challenges possible,” (though, I assume, not inexpensive).
Much like people who want to bring the glamour of contemporary spas they visit to their own homes, I imagine many are inspired by the beautiful cellars in restaurants that celebrate wine, as well as keep the establishment’s assets potable. They want the same kind of design finesse for their wine storage.
Looking at a rendering of one of Robert’s recent projects, I understand why he’s the go-to guy for big-deal cellars. This particular 6×6-foot cellar with 470-bottle capacity — give or take — is for a basement of an Annex house. It incorporates monolithic slabs of travertine and solid wenge shelves; the wine has been suspended with tensioned aircraft cables, both for the minimalist aesthetic as well as for maximizing bottle capacity. Bronze mirror is behind the Champagne for an intoxicating impact. When I question why the Champagne is upright, instead of on its side like the other wine, I am informed — nicely but firmly — that “that is the way it should be kept.”
Robert also points out that he also plans to install LED lighting, and that lighting is often neglected in cellars.
The problem I had with how to fill my stone farmhouse cellar once it was built isn’t one you have when Robert designs yours. When he’s done, it’s on to the wine store with him. Unlike my choices of wine where the appearance of the label is paramount, Robert switches hats and has taste, not style in mind, when it comes to accessorizing a cellar with bottles. Which is why, you built it in the first place, right?