High-rise Sarasota condos on the Gulf don’t often evoke thoughts of a wine cellar as part of the floorplan, but Conrad Kenley and Mitchell Epstein's personal wine collections will tell you differently.
The two men don't know one another, but they are both wine freaks who love to keep their beloved bottles close and coolly cared for at 55 degrees. All 2,300 of them, combined.
Kenley, who lives at The Ritz-Carlton Residences, and Epstein, who bought a unit at the Epoch Sarasota, had cellars custom made since neither condominium included one. But more and more, says Brian Loebker, a luxury listing agent with Michael Saunders & Company, luxury home shoppers want them.
“Even if it's not on their initial list of must-haves when they see a private wine cellar, it becomes increasingly important to them,” he says.
And with a diversifying feeder market of new incomers hailing from California, New Jersey and New York, broker associate Peter G. Laughlin of the Peter G. Laughlin Group with Premier Sotheby's says he's also seen an increased demand for dedicated wine storage space.
Julie Lanning gets it. Even without a website to market her business of the same name, the St. Petersburg-based wine cellar designer and consultant stays busy. Over the years, she helped design three–yes, three–personal wine cellars for Michael Klauber, co-owner of Michael’s On East and Michael’s Wine Cellar. Each time Klauber moved, he needed to create a safe haven for the roughly 750 bottles he keeps on-hand (there are more in specialized storage facilities). Dozens of wine aficionados Klauber knows through the business and wine community then hired Lanning to design their cellars.
“I've had wines for over 40 years and some publications will say a bottle is past its prime—but I’m consistently surprised when they’re opened because they hold up beautifully," Klauber says. "Proper storage makes a difference."
There are plenty of great stand-alone wine storage options homeowners can incorporate into their existing kitchens, but Lanning often works with new home builders on custom projects, and the styles are moving away from their Mediterranean origins. They usually start at $25,000, and "go up from there," she says, "sometimes over six figures."
“We did the Spanish-Med look for so many years. Now it’s a lot more glass, metal and modern racking, which is a welcome relief. There’s still lots of wooden racking too, but in a sleeker, cleaner style,” she says.
With more than 10,000 bottles in his collection, Kenley could be called "the awesome wine guy."
That's how employees described him when they worked behind the bar at Selva Grill on Main Street. He never ordered wine on-site, yet never went without. With every visit, he’d bring a rare bottle to open, and he always insisted whoever was serving him have a glass. Whatever it was, employees said it always went down like velvet and solved the mystery of why anyone would spend more than $50 on a bottle of wine. It was just that good.
Kenley now splits his time between Sarasota and Washington, D.C., where he runs an IT company; he moved into The Ritz-Carlton Residences in June. With more than 10,000 bottles in his collection, a wine cellar was as necessary as the kitchen sink.
With Lanning's help, it's in the works. Kenley's wine cellar will be made of brushed nickel and black walnut wood enclosed in glass on three sides. It will end up costing around $100,000 and store roughly 700 bottles; it should be done in time for the winter holidays.
For now, he’s using a small wine fridge to tide him over, but “I don’t have the tactical experience I need. It's like art; you want to admire your art,” he says. The rest of his collection is stored in D.C., Chicago and California, with bottles ranging anywhere from $25 to $20,000.
Epstein, a retired entrepreneur and author of Mr. Lucky, moved from his home on Harbor Drive, just south of downtown Sarasota, to the 12th floor of the Epoch in April. “We wanted to downsize and simplify our life,” he says—but, at 5,700 square feet of living space, “I failed miserably.”
But true to his downsizing promise, his new custom cellar holds 1,600 bottles compared to the one he had on Harbor Drive, which held 3,000. The new cellar is made of natural sapele mahogany and ice marble.
Amid all the different moving pieces it takes to build a custom wine cellar–refrigeration, lighting, insulation and design–he says he doesn’t quite recall what the budget was to build it, but he loves that its placement makes wine more of a centerpiece in his daily life. At the previous home, “it was more tucked away,” he says.
As for favorite bottles, both Epstein and Kenley list some swanky-sounding names. Epstein favors Ciacci Piccolomini and Dumol wines, and Kenley says about a third of his collection is made up of burgundies, both red and white.
But as for choosing just one, “that’s like choosing your favorite child,” Epstein says.