Jeremie Souteryat for The Wall Street Journal
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Nigel Slydell can enjoy his wine throughout the day—without ever taking a sip.
His ultramodern 1,400-bottle cellar is visible through a glass hatch on the floor of his kitchen-dining area. Bottles are accessed via a spiral staircase that extends 8 feet underground. An array of LED lights at the bottom gives off a warm glow. Mr. Slydell, a 68-year-old real-estate developer, paid about £70,000 for the cellar, or about $86,100, saying that it’s more than just a place to store wine. “It’s a great piece of art—that’s the best way to describe it.” The cellar is just one element of his “unashamedly modern” five-bedroom, five-bath home completed in 2017 in Chichester, West Sussex, England. (He declined to disclose the price.)
Like Mr. Slydell, many high-end homeowners now want sleek modern cellars that are design showpieces. Falling from favor are traditional cellars—dimly lit underground spaces with wood shelving, wrought-iron sconces and wine-barrel tasting tables. But this new vintage of wine cellar can be costly and some designs, especially glass-walled versions on the main level, require extra measures to protect the wine from harmful ultraviolet rays and temperature fluctuations.
Nigel and Vanessa Slydell at the opening of their ultramodern 1,400-bottle cellar in their home in Chichester, England.
To maintain airflow and a constant temperature, Mr. Slydell’s cellar, made by a London company called Spiral Cellars, is vented with pipes that extend to an outside wall. The cellar’s reinforced concrete walls also help maintain temperatures and block UV rays, says Lucy Hargreaves, managing director of Spiral Cellars.
Even though spiral cellars are underground, they still have the modern look that’s popular today. “We have a lot of chaps who just go down into the cellar and like looking at their wine collection,” Ms. Hargreaves says.
When Alan Looney was commissioned to build a custom home in suburban Nashville, Tenn., his clients said they wanted a wine cellar on the main level that was a visual delight. They left the specifics up to Mr. Looney, president of Castle Homes. The home builder came up with an almost 6-foot by 9-foot glass-walled cellar that’s the first thing you see when you walk in the front door. Inside the cellar, 325 wine bottles are suspended with cables that extend from floor to ceiling. (The cabling alone took four days to install, Mr. Looney says.) The 5/8-inch glass walls—treated to limit UV rays—are held in place using channels built into the floor and ceiling, and the internal temperature is maintained by a WhisperKool chiller.
In all, Mr. Looney estimates the modern cellar cost about $30,000 in materials alone. It was part of a roughly $2.6 million project, completed in 2017, to build a 5,500-square-foot home for a couple in their 50s and their three children.
The Slydells’ home is set in about 12 ½ acres of pasture land and formal gardens and overlooks South Downs National Park.
A $43 million home in Los Angeles that sold earlier this month features two wine cellars—one off the kitchen and another, larger one in the basement with display space for over 1,000 bottles. The cellar includes two stone plinth serving platforms and bottle-temperature monitoring systems.
“Today, buyers want a clean aesthetic in wine rooms, which allows for functionality and the ability to view the bottles as part of the home interiors,” one of the developers, Max J. Fowles-Pazdro, said in an email.
The eight-bedroom home, in the Beverly Hills Post Office area, measures around 24,000 square feet.
“Cellars in America are going through great renaissance with design and functionality,” says Jörn Kleinhans, founder of the Sommelier Company, a wine consulting firm based in Huntington Beach, Calif. “The wine cellar nowadays isn’t hidden away downstairs somewhere. It’s now a central feature of the house on the same level as the living and eating area [for homeowners] to show off their taste.”
Mr. Kleinhans, whose company advises clients on cellar design and wine selections, adds that despite the popularity of modern cellars, there is still a lot of confusion about functionality. “The design should focus on storing wine, sometimes for decades.”
Recently he was called by a distraught homeowner in Los Angeles with a “very nice” glass-enclosed wine cellar. The glass panels weren’t properly sealed—air was circulating freely and the temperature and humidity were fluctuating widely. The collection looked good, but the wine was compromised.
To get a modern cellar that both looks good and protects your investment, Mr. Kleinhans recommends walls of tempered glass that can be controlled to block UV rays. The temperature and humidity should be controlled with a dedicated AC unit, along with a backup in case of a breakdown or power outage. The construction should be mindful of flood and earthquake risks, and because cellars are now prominently located, they should include security cameras for theft protection.
All of this, of course, costs money, Mr. Kleinhans says.
But, he notes, “if you can afford to have a wine collection, you can afford to build a proper cellar for it.”
Tips for Creating a Wine Cellar
Wine is one of life’s greatest pleasures, but it’s also an investment, an asset class, says Jörn Kleinhans, founder of the Sommelier Company, a wine consultancy based in Huntington Beach, Calif. Here are some tips on designing a cellar to protect that investment.
• Ensure that you’ll have enough space. Mr. Kleinhans says his clients typically have collections ranging from 300 to 2,000 bottles of wine, with values starting at about $200 a bottle. The cellar should have space for the collection to grow, as well as an area for accessories, such as wine glasses and decanters.
• Shelves, brackets or cables should hold the bottles in such a way that you can read the label. At the same time, the wine must lay down or lean to keep the corks from drying out.
• A good cellar will have a constant temperature of 55 degrees, with humidity at 65% or higher. Install main and backup air-conditioning units that are larger than what you need. A system that operates at only 50% capacity can handle temperature spikes that sometimes occur in the summer. It also gives you the ability to expand the cellar if your collection grows.
• Consider installing a white wine compartment within the wine cellar to keep the whites at around 40 degrees.
• Minimize UV rays—both direct and indirect. Even reflections on the glass have impact, which isn’t good if you plan to store something for decades.
• Every shelf should be labeled, with each bottle logged into a spreadsheet. (Some clients have a computer in their wine cellar to track their inventory.) A spreadsheet helps you understand when wines should be opened and enjoyed. It also helps you keep track of which wines are ready when deciding what to drink with your meal.
Wine cellar graphic
Wall Street Journal
Looking for a high-end home with a wine cellar? Head to California. Currently, 634 luxury homes with a wine cellar are on the market there, with a median list price of $2.795 million, according to an analysis by realtor.com.
Los Angeles, California’s top city for in-home wine cellars, currently has 16 luxury homes on the market that list a wine cellar in their description. For its analysis, realtor.com looked at six months of luxury-home listings—those in the top 10% of the market—that had wine cellars in the property description. (News Corp, owner of The Wall Street Journal, also operates realtor.com under license from the National Association of Realtors.)
California makes more than 90% of all wine in the U.S., leading the country in wine production, according to the Wine Institute, a trade group that represents the state’s winemakers. The Golden State also tops the list of wine drinkers, with 18% of all bottles consumed in the U.S.
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