For Joe Sciamarelli, it began 20 years ago when a client asked him to build a wine cellar. “Being a remodeler, I said, ‘Of course,' because we remodelers believe we can do anything,” Sciamarelli says. He quickly learned the ins and outs of creating wine cellars and decided that this was a differentiator his company, Sound Design Construction, in Ocean, N.J., could take on.
It may be a niche you never previously considered, but wine cellars are trendy and not necessarily relegated to the basement. Sciamarelli has built them underneath staircases and in linen closets. And although it seems like they're an amenity only for high-end homeowners, modular fabrications make them more affordable and easier to install.
There is an up-front learning curve. Cellars require as much thought regarding mechanicals as they do aesthetic and functional aspects. The goal is to maintain the wine at the right temperature — consistently. “Everything else comes second,” says Sciamarelli, who created a separate wine division at his company called Cellar Creations.
Cellars are designed primarily for red wines with a goal temperature of 55 degrees and humidity of 60%. White wines and champagne also can be stored in cellars, usually lower in the room, where it's colder. The latest trend is a cellar with multi-temperature zones — room-temp reds, long-term storage reds, and chilled whites and sparkling wines.
Cooling systems range from $1,500 for a through-the-wall unit, to a controllable split system for higher-end projects for $4,000 and up. In extreme cold climates such as that of Wisconsin, heaters are added to the chiller systems. In dry heat climates like Arizona's, humidity control is added.
There are three basic types of wine cellar:
- Basic storage facility for people who want to grab a bottle and go. “You can build simple shelving units and racking to store bottles in a nonhabitable environment,” Sciamarelli says.
- Highly functional and attractive cellar, strictly designed for storage. This usually has visible glass doors fronting the chilled wine space, which can be seen from a bar or entertainment room. Sciamarelli says that such cellars make up 90% of his work.
- Cellar with entertainment area. This is the most difficult to do because of temperature. Either it's too cold for guests, or a lot of people and lights will raise the temperature.
The bulk of Sciamarelli's cellars are the visible-storage type. He advises against cellars with an entertainment or tasting area built in because the cold temperature and high humidity make it uncomfortable. He recommends that the tasting space be separate from the refrigeration area.
Stephen Miller of Lone Star Remodeling, in Rowlett, a Dallas suburb, says he has seen wine cellars go from the “huge ones we did in the '90s” to smaller, 6-by-8-foot rooms. “It's not so much high-end like it used to be,” he says. “Average people want to get into wine collecting and so do a lot of younger people.”Miller has been building cellars in his full-service remodeling business for the past 20 years and, he says, “it's been a steady thing” for his company. Although, like Sciamarelli, he has built custom cellars, Miller likes the premade ones for the kind of work he's doing now. “The cost is more affordable. You get a lot of variety — from basic units to elaborate cellars — and we can modify it if we need to fill in.”
Miller learned about wine cellars during the early 1980s from IWA — International Wine Accessories; www.iwawine.com — when it was still just a startup business. Now IWA offers training for remodelers, builders, and architects.To learn more, also visit www.Apexwinecellars.com, which is similar to IWA; and www.Eurocave.com, for high-end products.“It's a great niche,” Sciamarelli says. “And it has led to other projects in my wine-cellar customers' homes.”