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Pamela Pennington is a contemporary designer well ahead of her time

Located in Kentfield, California, this vaulted brick ceiling and spiral staircase are among the major focal elements that highlight a hand-distressed, walnut wine cellar that can hold up to 1,800 bottles. Design: Thomas Warner Wine Cellars. Photo: Joel Weiss

Collector’s Notebook: Vintage Style

From wine cellars and wine pantries to wine caves, architects and designers are creating a new generation of personalized luxury

Written by Kathy Chin Leong  
Summer | Fall 2011

In an age when homeowners are pushing the envelope of personal luxury and refining residential details no less unique than their own DNA — think high-tech media rooms and spa-like sanctuaries to in-home art galleries — elaborate wine cellars are becoming de rigueur and are yet another way to express decidedly personal tastes. 

Addressing the needs of investors and connoisseurs alike, indeed, residential wine cellars have come of age.

Take for instance Jordan and Peggy Rogers of Tiburon, California. Tired of hiding their libations under an ugly crawl space of their two-story home, Peggy decided to build a formal wine cellar beneath the stairwell. “I wanted something that would store about 800 to 900 bottles of wine, and we wanted a cave-like feeling to go with it,” she explains. 

The result is a small, but elegant 6-by-9-foot cellar, located on the first floor of the home. The couple turned to architect Thomas Warner, a wine cellar designer and builder. Hence, the owner of Thomas Warner Wine Cellars in Novato, California, knew exactly what to do. The space follows the rules of thumb for serious wine archival. It maintains an ideal 55-degree temperature and 70-percent humidity conditions, thanks to a digital thermostat and humidity gauge. “A wine cellar design also needs to allow for proper air flow and insulation as well as beautiful display elements for bottles and cases of wine all complemented by dramatic lighting,” he adds.

Walls are textured with straw and hand-singed for an aged effect. Peggy ordered a tile floor mural from Lebanon as an artistic centerpiece. Warner installed wine racks made from salvaged redwood and placed a mirror on one wall to create the illusion of depth. A light dimmer and barrel ceiling add a romantic touch, and a custom door with glass panels makes the small room seem more spacious. 

“It’s a pleasure to walk in there, grab a bottle of wine, decant it on the table and take it back to my guests,” says Peggy. “We enjoy it all the time, and our friends think it is great.” 

Says Warner, “If you have a collection of wine that is valued at thousands of dollars, then preparing a cellar that insures and protects your investment is well worth it.”

As the Rogers’ home proves, wine rooms can be built anywhere in the house, not only underground. They can be large and voluminous, or they can be tiny and closet-sized. For those blessed with land, wine storage can mean building an entire wine cave to house their passion. 

When Glen and Levone Bauder of Napa, California, realized their collection of wines was outgrowing their existing crawl spaces and wine refrigerators, they did what several residents in wine country have already done: They dug a wine cave. With hills on their property, they commissioned builders Hawks & Hawks Wine Cave Inc., in nearby Calistoga to create their dream cave, large enough to hold hundreds of bottles and spacious enough to hold up to 24 guests at one time.

Excavation and cement work required three months. A pair of doors shaped from old-growth redwood wine-storage barrels took another three months to build. Giant iron bolts to secure the doors had to be hand-forged in Russia and required the couple to wait even longer. The nine-month construction process, which ended in 2008, was well worth it, says Bauder. 

Since then, the cave has brought nothing but sheer delight. “We have all kinds of events,” relates Bauder. “We have loaned it out to friends who want to host parties. My nephew got married in March, and we had the family dinner in the cave. When it is hot in the summertime, we like to go inside and just cool off.” 

In Fredericksburg, Texas, one family opted for a most unusual wine cave that would be placed inside of the home, rather than outside. According to architect Rick Burleson of Burleson Design Group Architects, a 14-foot-high water cistern made of cypress wood with plaster walls was sitting on the historic property, blocking the client’s original home. Instead of removing the 1880 cistern, Burleson offered to build an extension to the house around it, so the cistern could be a focal point. 

The family agreed, and today it sits across the entryway of the home addition. The circular cistern resembles a giant butter churn with a steel funnel at the top. At 9 feet in diameter and 24 feet in circumference, it has been converted into a wine room with a sink and countertops, a wine refrigerator, cabinet storage and a small table and chairs. It is not sealed nor chilled at 55 degrees, notes Burleson, because the owners wanted it to be used as a regular room for wine tasting. “It’s a building within a building,” remarks Burleson. “It’s a cozy place, and when people come into the house, it is like looking at a museum piece. It is a great conversation piece.” 

Warner notes that as the love affair with wine catches on around the world, enthusiasts in unlikely places such as Hawaii and in China are requesting wine rooms. And for clients in urban settings, he has built cellars from San Francisco to New York with materials ranging from stainless steel and polished stone to stained and lacquered hardwoods with clean lines for a contemporary vibe.

In Utah, Montana, Colorado and Wyoming, homeowners and developers are discovering wine cellars are an exceptional bonus feature in vacation homes and rentals. On the market for $8.5 million, Paintbrush Ranch is a 9,100-square-foot estate in Moose, Wyoming, with exquisite views of the Grand Tetons National Park. The five-bedroom house comes with a 200-square-foot, European-style wine cellar with rough-cut stone floors and redwood racks. The ancient image belies its high-tech organization: In fact, it features a computerized inventory control system that monitors location and detailed statistics on every bottle. According to John Pierce, partner at Hall & Hall real estate, the software system will send a computer alert to the owner in New York, for instance, when the liquor has reached its prime and is ready to be consumed.

In Park City, Utah, Resorts West development teamed up with Ski Magazine and Deer Valley Resort to conjure up the crème de la crème of ski houses. Built in 2008, the 13,000-square-foot, six-bedroom, 10-bath “Ski Dream Home” is listed on the market at $21.9 million, and boasts not one, but two wine rooms. 

Since the home’s inception, Resorts West has also rented the house for $16,500 per night. Those with gold pocketbooks have certainly indulged, frequenting the two wine cellars, one of which is situated half a flight below the entertainment center. According to architect Michael Upwall of Park City, his team created an Old World atmosphere so the room looked as if it were an antique wine cellar that had been there for many years. With warm gray walls with water stains painted on them, the 1,000-bottle room was fashioned with enough space for a tasting table so that folks could immediately enjoy a glass of port or pinot noir from the racks. 

The second wine room, which holds up to 500 bottles, is situated on the same level as the dining room. “You don’t always have to have a wine cellar tucked down in the basement,” says Upwall. “You can set it up near the dining room and have it as a backdrop so the glow of the wine bottles can add to the experience. If you are thirsty, you don’t have to go far to grab another bottle.”

Whether it’s a mega-wine cellar in Park City, Utah, or one that is the size of a kitchen pantry in Tiburon, California, architects and designers agree that wine rooms offering convenience and safe keeping are more glamorous and popular than ever. Architect David Ellison of D.H. Ellison, Cleveland, Ohio, encourages homeowners to enjoy the process. “Try to have fun when you are designing and building your cellar without being trite or pretentious,” he says. “Wine is transcendent and is something that ought to inspire mystery and ambiguity.” 


Journalist Kathy Chin Leong does not have a wine cellar, but she does appreciate a smooth glass of merlot with a juicy steak. Her latest musings on architecture, food, and travel can be found on her online magazine, BayAreaFamilyTravel.com.

In Fredericksburg, Texas, the owners of the Fredericksburg Stone House retained the charm of this 1880 water cistern and converted it into a wine tasting room that features a sink, countertops, table and wine refrigerator. Photo: Greg Hursley

In Fredericksburg, Texas, the owners of the Fredericksburg Stone House retained the charm of this 1880 water cistern and converted it into a wine tasting room that features a sink, countertops, table and wine refrigerator. Photo: Greg Hursley

This Tiburon, California wine cellar sits under the unused space of the homeowner’s stairwell featuring salvaged redwood racks and a tile floor mural from Lebanon. Photo: J. Rogers

This 200-square-foot wine cellar at the Paintbrush Ranch luxury estate in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, features a computerized inventory control system that alerts the owner as to when a bottle is at its peak for consumption. Photo: Photos courtesy of Hall and Hall

The Ski Dream Home in Park City, Utah, consists of two wine cellars in a 13,000-square-foot mansion with a private ski bridge linking Deer Valley Resort. This intimate tasting room features 10-foot-high ceilings and temperature and lighting settings that are programmed via remote control. Photo: Dan Campbell