Edited by guest estate manager Martha Lockie featuring Estate Managers Coalition member Thomas Warner Wine Cellars.
For clients seeking a unique and elegant way of accommodating significant wine collections, many top international sommeliers refer Thomas Warner Wine Cellars (TWWC) to design, fabricate and install their wine cellars. This ensures that the special vintages are housed securely in a climate-controlled environment and displayed in a visually stunning manner, complimenting the architecture of your principal’s home.
I sat down with Tom Warner, Founder of TWWC to ask the questions that every estate manager should when performing their due diligence prior to installing a wine cellar.
What type of wood do you use to build your wine cellars?
We use a wide variety of hardwoods, including mahogany, walnut and oak, which can be stained and finished in different tones, including opaque. We also fabricate with metal, including bronze, stainless steel and blackened steel. For highlighted features such as framed displays, counter tops and freestanding islands, we often use other metals such as pewter, copper or nickel. Stone and colored glass can be used as well.
Is there one material that is better or worse for controlling the temperature than another?
No, all materials perform equally in a fully climate-controlled room.
Do you have a favorite and why? I feel all materials in our palette have applications when they reflect the architectural style of the home and highlight the content of the collection.
What is the least amount of space needed to build a wine cellar?
I have built in small utility closets approximately 3′ wide x 18″ deep x 7′ tall, holding as few as 200 bottles.
What is the largest wine cellar TWWC has designed?
The largest cellar housed about 20,000 bottles; the size of the room to house that collection measured approximately 16′ x 50,’ with 12′ high ceilings.
Above is a photo of the Colgin Winery in Napa, built by Tom Warner. It holds about 18,000 bottles and measures 12′ x 75,’ with 14′ ceilings.
Do you build according to how the wine will be organized (i.e. whites with whites, year by year)? Is this a preference of the principal or will the client leave this up to you?
All clients organize their collections differently and most often by varietal, such as chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, cabernet, syrah, etc. I often see additional organization by nation of origin or region. For instance, the French portion of a collection may be organized and displayed separately for Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhone Valley and Loire.
What is the perfect temperature for a wine cellar?
Most cellars are held at 55 degrees and 70% relative humidity for aging the collection. Occasionally clients separate their white wines and age them at 53 degrees and 70% humidity. Champagnes are most often aged at 55%.
What types of wines will stand straight up and what types will lie down?
The information we receive from most of our sommeliers and other wine experts suggests that wine should be stored prone. Some can be displayed at a slight angle, as long as the cork is still immersed in liquid and the air bubble stays in the shoulder of the bottle. Occasionally, large bottles or other special wines are stood up for display in the cellar and should be rotated regularly. These decisions are usually made between the client and their sommelier or cellar manager.
Can you give me an example of a unique home you had to match a new wine cellar to? Perhaps a modern home that is mostly glass and white?
Recently, I completed a cellar for a very historical home in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. This particular mansion with classic architecture on the outside had one floor that was highly contemporary and accommodated the wine cellar. Since the glass-faced wine cellar was adjacent to a gallery of art, I chose to design and fabricate the entire cellar in statuary bronze. The result was quite dramatic.
Marble and concrete?
Over the years, I have found that conditions in long-term storage sometimes create a pH balance that makes the air a bit acidic. Over time, this can cause marble to become pitted, as the calcium breaks down in these conditions. Therefore, I tend to discourage marble. More dense limestone, as well as concrete, slate, and granites, tend to be preferable stone materials.
We know that wine bottles should never be moved in order to clean or dust them off, how do you advise the wine cellar be cleaned and how often?
Generally, I find that wine cellars are not cleaned, except for the floor, windows and perhaps the lenses on the lighting fixtures. With climate controlled systems the air is filtered and continually circulates through the cooling system. Since wine cellars are closed and climate-controlled, little or no dust gathers.
When you go into a home where you are redesigning an established wine cellar, what are some problems you see with the way some companies have built or designed the cellar?
The main issues we usually see are sub-optimal cooling systems, lack of humidity control, vapor gain into the wine cellar, un-insulated heat sources and other poorly functioning materials affecting the quality of the envelope. Most often, I recommend removal of the existing wine racking and other materials, especially unfinished wood. This ensures that any mildew spores that may have been deposited are not allowed to grow. A mildew outbreak can destroy the paper labels on the wine, causing significant devaluation of the collection. I provide a carefully curated wine room checklist to be reviewed with the client and their building team before constructing the new wine cellar.
When lighting a wine cellar, is there a special type of lighting you use or recommend that does not generate too much heat?
I usually recommend LED lighting, which generates very little heat.
Do the fixtures need to be kept a certain distance away from the bottles?
Most of the lighting consultants and wine makers I have worked with suggest that LED lighting placed a few inches away from the bottles at a fairly low wattage, has no negative effect on the collection. The lighting decision, cellar materials and specifications are ultimately left to the client and their sommelier.
Do very old vintages need to be kept in a particular place in the wine cellar?
Occasionally, wine makers, sommeliers and well known collectors may suggest that older vintages be placed in the lower 4′ of the cellar, as warm air rises. However, we utilize a combination of several temperature sensors placed throughout the cellar to assure even temperature and humidity distribution. I recommend an AiroCide unit that utilizes internal ultra-violet light to kill mildew spores. A small fan continuously pulls air through the unit and washes the interior climate about once a day.
At the end of my visit with Tom, I was thoroughly convinced of the need to consult TWWC from the beginning of the project to ensure that the cellar is built properly. Our estates reflect the fine tastes of the families we serve and estate managers strive for nothing but the best. When there are so many crucial details to consider, we rely on professionals like Tom Warner to help us deliver the highest quality products and services.
Thomas Warner Wine Cellars offers a complimentary consultation to evaluate and make recommendations that will enhance your estate’s present wine collection and add significant value to the home. Thomas Warner Wine Cellars can then create a full-color drawing and personalized design for EMC family members.
Contact Tom Warner at email@example.com or call him at 415.883.8120 to begin creating a bespoke design that reflects the architectural style of your principal’s home.