Cool wine cellars are hot additions to homes


Case Design/Remodeling worked with Walmer Enterprises in Alexandria on the design of the mahogany cabinetry in the Brendleys’ Fall Church wine cellar. (Case Design/Remodeling)
September 13, 2013

Renovating their Falls Church home — a former broom factory built in the 1890s — led Keith and Greta Brendley to add the ultimate luxury: a specially dug basement for a wine cellar.

“It allows my collection to grow and allows me to buy deeper, younger reds that need significant time to age,” says Keith Brendley, 55, president of a defense systems analysis company. Lining the walls of the underground room are mahogany racks and shelves, many filled with California wines.

Temperature-controlled, dedicated wine storage is becoming more common as the beverage gains popularity among consumers. A recent Gallup poll shows that about as many Americans prefer wine as they do beer, which has dropped over the past two decades as the alcoholic drink of choice. As a result, homeowners are investing in coolers, closets and rooms for their chardonnay, cabernet and other varietals.

“A wine refrigerator is something that a lot of our clients add when they renovate their kitchens,” says Jim Wrenn of Bethesda-based Case Design/Remodeling, the firm responsible for the Brendleys’ renovation. Most under-counter fridges hold about 50 bottles, leading serious oenophiles to step up to larger spaces where the temperature and humidity are kept steady to protect their investments.

“Many of my clients build wine cellars because they are collecting and buying wine at a rate they can’t keep up with and growing out of their wine refrigerators,” says Lisa Weiss of the Wine Cellar Co. in McLean.

Steve Goldstein of Classic Cellar Design in Vienna says the demand for wine cellars is on the rise, particularly in newer spec homes. He notes that the increase has resulted, in part, from “the loosening of the interstate shipping laws over the last few years, providing access to many hard-to-find wines and the ability to ship home wines from vacation experiences in wine country.”

With the typical wine cellar costing about $40,000 to $60,000 — the Brendleys spent about $80,000 on their 10-foot-by-13-foot basement room — some homeowners are opting for smaller, less expensive storage spaces, Weiss says. “Closet cellars are hot right now and run about $15,000 to $20,000,” Weiss says. Another trend she sees is to craft the bottle racks out of reclaimed wood from wine barrels and tanks.

Most important to a wine cellar, experts say, is the proper infrastructure for storage. “It’s absolutely critical that you prepare the room for refrigeration with the right placement of insulation and vapor barriers,” Weiss says. “If you miss a step, you may end up with condensation or mold.”

Insulation must cover the floor and ceiling in addition to the walls for controlling environmental conditions. Doors should be exterior-grade to ensure a tight seal and lighting kept low to reduce heat. The goal is to keep the temperature at 55 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity at 55 to 70 percent so that bottles are kept cool and corks don’t loosen or dry out to spoil the contents.

“You are building a walk-in refrigerator for your wine,” Goldstein says. “A wine cellar can be located anywhere as long as all of its surfaces are considered. Most people put them in the basement because that’s the coolest place in the home and where people have extra room.”

But don’t plan on hosting guests inside the cellar. Says Greta Brendley, 52, a school psychologist: “It’s way too cold for dining or hanging out. We were thinking more about storage than a place to entertain.”

Deborah K. Dietsch is a freelance writer.

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