It’s no secret that collecting wine is a favorite pastime amongst coastal Californians, from the rolling hills of Napa Valley to the beaches of San Diego. In fact, wine collection is only gaining momentum as more people are exposed to the endless flavor profiles and histories of different vineyards and grapes. This is exactly why some architects have started to integrate wine cellars into both their design and build techniques – as homeowners’ collections grow, they’d like to have a place where they know they can safely store their wine for years, even decades.
In-home wine cellars provide an unparalleled opportunity for aficionados and hobbyists alike to cultivate their passion for all kinds of wines. By building a cellar into their custom home, homeowners create an endless wellspring of entertainment for guests and themselves alike, and they’re ensuring that their collection can maintain – or better yet, accrue – its value. So whether you’re planning on building a new custom home or considering adding a wine cellar to a dwelling you already know and love, here are the major factors you’ll want to consider before taking the leap:
Purpose: In simplest terms, there are two types of wine cellars: short-term and long-term. Short-term cellars are built for the hobbyists who aim to keep a smaller collection and work through their entire stockpile within six months. It gives casual collectors the chance to tastefully curate, catalog, and present their wine, without demanding a large amount of space or maintenance. Since the wine is only being kept for a limited period of time, there’s no need for the homeowner to concern themselves with the minutiae of climate control, light exposure, and humidity.
Long-term cellars, on the other hand, demand a much larger commitment in terms of both time and resources – typically, you can expect these kinds of cellars to cost about twice as much to build and maintain. These are for those enthusiasts and connoisseurs who would derive a sense of fulfillment from watching that coveted bottle mature over the course of decades, gaining flavor complexity and value along the way. Some long-termers may see this as a passion project, while others could frame it as a savvy financial investment – instead of having to spend $5,000 on a bottle that’s been stored in someone else’s cellar for decades, why not get ahead of the curve and start storing your own more affordable bottles now? The upfront cost could easily be recouped in the years to come, as the younger wines you purchase are aged to perfection.
Location: When figuring out where to place your wine cellar, consider the fact that any wine storage unit – especially the long-term cellars – should be cool, dark, and somewhat humid (50-70%, to be exact). With this in mind, where you place the cellar in your home will be the single most important design decision: basements are typically best, since they don’t have natural light and tend to be cooler and darker, but the space underneath staircases can also prove a hospitable home for short-term collections. After you’ve determined whether you want a long- or short-term cellar, its location in your custom home will be the next crucial design consideration; once you’ve finalized both of these, all other details will follow suit.
Insulation: Having figured out where the wine cellar will be placed in your custom home, it’s now time to take the necessary steps to ensure your wine is kept in optimal environmental conditions. The first and most important step is lining the walls with closed-cell foam insulation, which has low vapor permeability and will help keep moisture from getting into the walls. This kind of insulation makes it easier to regulate the cellar’s temperature and humidity.
Cooling: In order to keep the unit at the proper temperature, long-term wine cellars in custom homes will have to have dependable climate control mechanisms. 55 degrees Fahrenheit is the sweet spot for wines. There’s a wide array of cooling systems that are specifically designed for wine cellars, from ducted systems to through-the-wall ventilation solutions. Conventional ACs – both central AC and window units – will not be sufficient, largely because they pull too much humidity out of the air.
Sealing: If you’re going to guarantee that the wine cellar’s climate stays in perfect equilibrium without demanding excess energy consumption, you’ll need to make sure that all sides of the room, not just the walls, are properly sealed. This includes the floors and the door, both of which should be made of the right materials to make sure no air leaks in or out. For long-term cellars, the ideal floor materials are concrete, porcelain, and stone since they are all relatively impermeable.
As far as doors go, you’ll want to install one that’s specifically designed with wine storage in mind. These doors are typically exterior-grade and come with several features that are intended to keep your cellar completely sealed, including snug jambs, weather stripping, dual-pane glass, and automatically closing door bottoms.
Finishing Touches: Wine cellars are primarily a storage facility, sure, but they can also serve as a gathering space and a source of aesthetic inspiration for whomever is in the home. When designing your wine cellar, it’s important to consider how you want to use it on a day-to-day basis. Do you see yourself going inside with a friend and taking your time as you peruse the many bottles, or do you view it as a walk-in closet devoted exclusively to wine? Many homeowners love to have a mini-bar with seating in their cellar so that they can spontaneously choose which wines to drink with company over. Once the room itself is fully built out, another important consideration is the racks: where they go, what they’re made of, and how they’re organized will all help shape the room’s general atmosphere.
Wine cellars are always an exciting addition to a custom home. As seasoned designers – not to mention wine enthusiasts! – we take pride in our understanding of the time and attention necessary to craft a storage facility that’s both practical and tasteful. If you’re considering a wine cellar in a new custom home, we recommend you reach out! We’d be happy to hear exactly how you want to integrate your love for wine into your California beach home.
Brett Malkin is the Director of Operations at White Sands Coastal Development. He handles contracts and business admin—all the legal and numbers stuff. His background is finance and large-scale residential development, and his degrees are business and psychology. That psych degree helps him figure out what motivates clients and how to give them what they really want. He and his wife are raising two kids in the boho-enclave of Hermosa Beach.