The Stellar Cellar

By staff April 1, 2005

There are people who enjoy a good bottle of wine and then there are oenophiles: connoisseurs with an unquenched proclivity for fine, and often expensive, wines. These people are easily recognizable; they are the ones swishing and swirling and purchasing by the case.

Ken and Chris Pfahler are oenophiles. When they moved into their Pelican Pointe home in Venice, they realized it needed a wine cellar-a big one. Ken enlisted Michael Colleary of Southern Wine Cellars in Palm Harbor to custom design the 111-square-foot cellar, sacrificing part of their three-car garage and tearing down a wall to create a front-and-center space right off the dining room.

Colleary has built hundreds of wine cellars throughout Florida-nearly 60 cellars each year, 80 percent of them for custom home builders. "It used to be that something like a wine cellar would never be put into a budget, but now luxury home builders wouldn't think of designing a home without one. In fact, once you pass 5,000 square feet, it's pretty much a given," he says. "There are also many homeowners like the Pfahlers who want to add a cellar, people who are willing to lay down anywhere from $8,000 to $75,000 to have it done right."

Engineering is critical. "Our top priority was to see that it was properly constructed," explains Ken. "But we also wanted it to look beautiful because it's one of the first things you see when you enter our home."

The Pfahlers spared no expense, choosing a high-end racking system and top-of-the-line equipment and fixtures, to the tune of about $25,000. Mahogany and glass doors allow a clear view inside. The Pfahlers are part of a group that hosts a rotating wine tasting dinner each month, and their intention was to allow their guests to enjoy the wine cellar while dining. Indeed, the view from the long dining table is enticing. "We can't keep people out of there," Chris jokes. "We try to sit down and eat, but everyone wants to hang out in the wine cellar."

Ken, a cardiologist, developed his interest in wine while attending college. "I took a wine tasting course and enjoyed it, so I kept it up," he says. Their collection now includes more than 2,000 bottles of California reds, French Bordeaux, ports, champagnes and dessert wines, plus some rare vintages, including a priceless bottle of 1912 Taylor Port that's one of only two bottles remaining on the planet. The Pfahlers plan to drink it in 2012 when it is 100 years old.

Form versus Function

Although a wine cellar doesn't need to occupy a large space (Colleary can put one in a four-foot closet or small niche), its location is key. And while some people want a showpiece, others simply want utilitarian storage for a valuable collection. Either way, the design-everything from location to racking and cooling-requires a great deal of thought. Michael Klauber, co-proprietor of Michael's Gourmet Group, often consults with people regarding wine cellar design.

"People need to think about how they are going to collect. Do they buy mostly in bulk? Some people buy cases and don't necessarily want to unpack them," he says. One such aficionado is Mark Salzberg of Siesta Key. "I knew Mark had a huge collection and would want room to stack boxes inside the cellar. He was not as concerned with making a statement as he was with achieving a functional design that would protect the 6,000 bottles he currently stores."

Klauber recommended APEX Wine Cellars in Clearwater to build the spacious cellar on the bottom floor of Salzberg's waterfront home. "I have had several wine cellars, so I knew what I wanted," Salzberg says. "Initially it was going to be half the size, but my wife said double it, because you're going to fill it up." Donna was right. In no time, the cellar had reached capacity; in fact, crates are now stacked everywhere, but Salzberg knows right where to find a particular vintage. His collection is heavy in Bordeaux, burgundy and California cabernets. "I'm on all kinds of lists for highly allocated wine. It's hard to say no, but I'm trying to have discipline."

At one point Salzberg owned 13,000 bottles. He sold 7,000 to a casino and auctioned thousands more off. Now he buys only what he loves. "I don't think about the value. We drink it. I just go down there and grab whatever I want, whenever I want it. I have more than I could drink in a lifetime," he says. Although Salzberg is in the collection business, this is something he does purely for enjoyment. He estimates he spent around $30,000 in design and construction costs, but shrugs it off. "It's fun to have a wine cellar in the house."

Wine Cellars 101

Michael Colleary, president of Southern Wine Cellars, offers 10 tips for designing a great wine cellar.

1. Do find a local licensed rep who exclusively builds custom wine cellars as opposed to using mail order and doing it yourself. Manufacturers will sell you anything without consideration of how the room was constructed. In general, wine cellar design and construction is not a DIY job.

2. Do avoid vibration, which leads to sediment in your wine. Have a specialized refrigeration system professionally installed, ideally a split system with an evaporator in the room and a condenser outside the house. This takes all the noise and vibration out of the cellar.

3. Do maintain a constant temperature between 54 and 58 degrees and 50 to 75 percent relative humidity (this is where most home wine cellars fail). Temperature should never fluctuate more than a few degrees, and humidity must remain constant to keep corks from drying out. Florida cellars should operate at the low end of that range since the climate is humid.

4. Do properly insulate and provide a vapor barrier in the room. Without proper insulation, the chances of mold and mildew are greatly increased.

5. Do use an insulated exterior-grade door that has a full 360-degree weather seal. Glass doors must contain insulated, double-pane glass.

6. Do avoid direct sunlight and heat. Light accelerates the aging process and is detrimental to wine, so install dimmer switches that enable you to turn the lights up for stocking, labeling or turning, and down (or off) at other times. Low-voltage lighting can be used for effect while entertaining.

7. Don't use carpet or vinyl flooring. Your best bet is stone, ceramic tile, brick or hardwood.

8. Do consider how you purchase wine in order to get the best racking system. Do you buy cases or individual bottles? Are you looking to maximize bottle capacity or maximize form? There are countless design options depending on how much bulk storage you want, and display options for vintage bottles and large formats.

9. Do use a non-aromatic stable wood such as clear, all-heart redwood. Wine is a living organism that breathes through its cork; any odors introduced to the cellar are breathed in through the cork and can taint your wine.

10. Do consider extras to make your cellar more functional and beautiful. Items such as rolling ladders, tasting tables, corking stations and cabinets might come in handy, while architectural details like archways, special lighting, tile inlays, mosaics and etched glass designs will make the cellar truly unique.


Michael A. Colleary

251 Sweetgum Court

Palm Harbor

(727) 771-1713

Michael's Gourmet Group

(941) 308- 1212

APEX Sauna & Wine Cellars

15201 Roosevelt Blvd.

Suite 102, Clearwater

(727) 536-1875

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