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When storage alone won't do

As rooms for wine collections become more popular, so does the notion that they should be more than just dark basement cellars.

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 11, 2002

TAMPA -- There are those who choose a wine because the label looks cool.

And then there are those who choose a wine because it's fine, a superior vintage or year. They often are collectors, owning many more bottles than they could possibly drink in even a year and some that they may never drink.

For those people there are wine cellars.

Not down-the-creaky-steps, into-the-damp-dark-basement wine cellars, but beautifully crafted rooms where collectors can display and properly store their prized bottles.

Tampa builders say wine cellars have become common in luxury homes.

Bob Gross, co-owner of Windstar Homes, said each of the 14 homes his company has under construction or on paper include a wine room.

"It's another feature in the high-end industry that if people are not asking for, we show it to them, and if we show it to them, they want it," he said.

Gross said he typically locates the cellars underneath staircases, and tries to give the room a subterranean feel by going at least a few steps down.

"It's not technically air-conditioned space, so it can be below the flood line," Gross said.

General contractor Don Hughes incorporates wine rooms into all the homes he builds. They range from under-the-stairs rooms that accommodate a couple hundred bottles to rooms that will fit more than 1,000.

He usually covers the walls with brick and installs a worn-looking wood floor, distressed shelving, wrought-iron light fixtures and a copper ceiling, giving the room an Ybor City feel.

"They're a pretty cool designer touch," Hughes said.

Mike Colleary, owner of Palm Harbor-based Southern Wine Cellars, said, "They've really evolved from simple storage to an elegant showplace for their wines."

Glass doors with accent lighting complement the collections.

"People want to be able to showcase their wines without having any detrimental effects on the wine," Colleary said.

Overhead lighting is a no-no, he says. Too much light, in general, is bad for wine, and overhead lights create heat.

Recently, Colleary has been putting windows in wine rooms so the bottles can be seen through more than just the room's door. In one house, he placed a window in the kitchen backsplash and an angled display with accent lights in front of it.

In another, he put an arched window in the dining room so that the cellar could be viewed from the dining room table.

Hughes says he's seen the wine rooms inspire people to become collectors.

"At first they just think the room is a cool-looking thing," he says. "A year later I'll be over there and, it's nicely stocked."

The most important factors in proper wine storage are temperature and humidity, Colleary said. Wines do best at around 53 to 58 degrees F and 50 to 70 percent relative humidity. Their storage space needs to be air tight. Colleary uses exterior grade doors with a full weather seal around them.

"We're recreating cave-like conditions," he said.

A built-in wine cellar can cost from $6,000 to more than $60,000. Do-it-yourselfers can convert a closet into a 100-bottle wine cellar for dess than $1,000. Colleary builds wine cellars all over Florida. The largest was in Lakeland and had the capacity for 11,000 bottles.

In her last house, Leslie Kirkpatrick had a built-in wine cooler in her kitchen that held a couple dozen bottles. She upgraded when she moved 18 months ago into the Bayshore Beautiful home that Hughes built for her.

The room, just off her foyer, holds slightly more than 100 bottles. It has a wood frame glass door that is backlit, and marble lines the walls and floor of the room. On a counter in the center of the room, she displays crystal decanters and wine-related artwork.

Southern Wine Cellars designed the wine room in Liz O'Connell's Avila house. It can store 1,200 bottles of wine. Two glass doors allow access from either the mahogany paneled cigar room or the formal living room.

She keeps about 600 bottles in the room, including 200 that were bought in 1985, the year her son was born. Those, she says, she doesn't plan to open any time soon.

"Maybe on a special occasion for him -- when he turns 18, when he gets married," she says. Her wine room does double duty: She keeps her furs in it.

John and Lana Lum created a 130-square-foot wine room in their newly built Bayshore Boulevard home. Located off the dining room, it has glass doors and a tasting table.

Corks from bottles long-since enjoyed are embedded in the floor, preserved with a thick coat of polyurethane. The room can accommodate 2,200 bottles of wine. The couple regularly attend tastings at the Tampa Club and visit wineries all around the world.

They take their wine collecting seriously. The wine room's door is made of double-paned glass, and a remote alarm alerts them if the room's temperature or humidity change to damaging levels. The interior is wired and equipped with a computer so Lana can search the Internet for wine ratings. Eventually, she says, she'll use it to keep track of her inventory. The Lums have collected 1,700 bottles so far.

John Lum says he's partial to wine from the Cote du Rhone, in southern France, and their oldest bottle is a 1978 Bordeaux.

Their most valuable is a bottle of champagne that Lana bought in 1990 when she was in Russia as a member of the U.S. Olympic shooting team. It's no longer produced, and its worth could be determined only by selling it at an auction, says Lana. She assumes it could sell for more than $1,000. But she has no intention of selling it.

Or drinking it.

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