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Beyond wine racks

| Saturday, Nov. 5, 2005

More people today are drinking wine — and many want stylish cellars or appliances to store it in instead of less costly racks.

Mark Morrison, a Baldwin kitchen and bath designer, says the average wine cellar he installs runs about $27,000 when temperature and humidity controls are considered. Those on a smaller budget can take heart: There are more conservative options. Jim Pelino, manager of Bridgeville Appliance Co., says he deals with the customers who don't have enough to put in a cellar, but find practical storage with his cooling units that range from $350 to $6,000.

"It's getting pretty popular," Pelino says. "A lot of new homes are putting them in."

But Morrison and Bob Guillen of Mt. Lebanon, a representative of a Cincinnati-based wine storage firm, see this line of work as in its early stages in Western Pennsylvania.

"I wouldn't pay the bills just by doing the wine business," says the owner of Morrison Kitchen and Bath. He has done just three major jobs in his two years in that line of work.

"It's is still a little new in this area," says Guillen, who works for Wine Cellar Innovations , which has grown into a 350,000-foot headquarters since it started in 1987 under a different name.

"We're not quite in the mainstream yet," he says. "People with a budget don't care about wine cellars."

Wine cellars are a feature that have popularity in high-level homes, says Susan Highley, a Realtor from Howard Hanna's Upper St. Clair office.

"But you never see them in the $300,000-to-$400,000 homes," she says.

Some people are rather practical about their storage. Rob Kimble, a speciality wine buyer at the wine and spirits store in McIntyre Center, McCandless, says he keeps his wine supply in a darkened, cool area of his basement. He looks at that space as being all the cellar he needs for his "modest collection."

Dedicating a space as a cellar appears to make some home owners feel awkward. Three local owners who have done that all declined to talk about them, wanting to avoid looking unusual to their neighbors, as one said.

Morrison and Guillen, however, believe it is only a matter of time before interest in wine storage gets bigger in Western Pennsylvania. Guillen says he joined Wine Cellar Innovations two years ago when it saw a need to beef up its staff in the northeast. He had been a self-employed, interior designer for 34 years before that, he adds.

Wine Cellar Innovations makes rack systems for residential cellars or for small storage areas within a house. It also produces huge rack rooms for retail firms. Morrison deals with that firm as his primary supplier.

He uses the firm for the pricy cellar-like home installations, but also points out a 5-foot-wide rack that has no cooling units. Made of redwood, it costs $5,800.

He says small rooms or large closets work nicely as cellars. Coal cellars in many of this area's homes are perfect in size, temperature and placement, Morrison says.

He started selling Wine Cellar Innovations' products because he had seen interest developing elsewhere.

"If you go up and down the east and west coasts, it gets pretty big," he says,

For instance, Tom Harvey says interest in the best ways to keep wine has grown steadily since he founded his Portland Wine Storage Inc. six years ago in that Oregon town. He has 270, mostly noncommercial customers who use his cooled space.

"Some people just have a lot of wine and need a home for it," he says.

Additional Information:

Cool storage solutions

Wine can be stored almost anywhere, as long as the temperature is relatively constant, preferably between 55 degrees and 60 degrees Fahrenheit and not higher than 75 degrees. Fluctuations in temperature are harmful to wine.

  • Use a cellar space under the house, or choose a space on the north side of your home • a closet will do • that is free of walking traffic or other vibrations. Wine ages better when kept still.

  • Another storage option is a wine refrigerator built into a kitchen or placed in a corner of the garage.

  • Make sure the humidity level stays at least 70 percent for long-term storage.

  • Store wine on its side so that the cork does not dry out.

  • Keep the wine out of direct sunlight. The darker the storage conditions, the better.

  • Strong, long-lasting woods such as redwood, red oak or mahogany are ideal for wine racks.

  • Wine keepers, coolers, lockers and cabinets are essentially refrigerators, although they are not as cold as the usual kitchen variety and have horizontal slots for wine bottles.

  • Typically, wine lockers have smoked-glass doors so owners can see their stashes without letting in ultraviolet light, which damages wine. Prices range from $150 for an eight-bottle countertop cooler to $6,000 for a 1,000-bottle armoire-style cabinet with roll-out shelves. Leading brands include EuroCave, Avanti and Sub-Zero.

  • Some wine cellars can be installed by homeowners by purchasing prefabricated units.

    Sources: Kendall-Jackson, New York Times

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