Quick Sips — 31 March 2017
How to build an incredible wine cellar

By Eric Barton

City & Shore Magazine

There’s a little bump of a ridge that runs all the way from Miami to Georgia. It was a sand dune a few thousand years ago, when the Atlantic coast was a few miles west. It cuts through Rio Vista in Fort Lauderdale, Grandview Heights in West Palm, and, if you’re lucky enough to live on top of it, you might have a basement.

For the rest of us, we need to get a bit more creative about anything that ought to be stored in a cellar.

Don’t worry, though, because if you’re hoping to build a place in your South Florida home to store a collection of wine or spirits, it’s absolutely possible.

It’s actually a project that several contractors have mastered, says Patrick Sullivan, the wine guy at Total Wine in Miami Beach. Sullivan, also a judge this year at the American Fine Wine Invitational Competition, has helped many people build cellars over the years, from the construction to the fun part: stocking it.

First, he recommends, find a nice, reliably cool spot in the house. Most people use a closet that they can convert into a cellar. It’ll need to be well insulated and air conditioned. Tear out any drywall and replace it with wood, which will help decrease humidity and more likely survive any damage if a bottle leaks. The door will need to be solid and sealed. And, just to be safe, install a generator backup in case of power outages.

“If you’re in Florida, you have to protect against temperature variation and light and humidity, especially humidity,” Sullivan says. “There are a lot of things that can go wrong in a cellar, but if you’re careful, you can have an excellent one no matter where you live.”

Modular shelves would complete a sparse cellar, but Chip Cassidy recommends considering something more special. He teaches at Florida International University and has written a series of wine travel books. He says many wine-cellar owners understandably want to show off their wines to friends. That means perhaps attractive shelving and nice studio lighting and a little space for your dinner party to explore.

“Most people with cellars fill them with trophy wines – you know, the bottles that are really hard to find,” Sullivan says. “If that’s what you’ve got, you’re going to want to show them to friends.”

Before stocking your new wine cellar, there are a ton of factors to consider, says master sommelier Virginia Philip. She often gets customers to her store in West Palm Beach, the Virginia Philip Wine Shop and Academy, looking to stock a cellar, and she begins by giving them a survey. It asks about how often they drink wine, what they typically order, and how frequently they go for something special. A well-stocked cellar for someone who drinks wine several times a week, Philip says, might be close to 1,000 bottles, while someone who drinks once a week might be closer to 300. There ought to be a percentage of bottles you’re aging, and then some miscellaneous things, like ports and sherries and maybe a few special scotches.

Sullivan suggests that everything ought to fall into three categories: stuff you like, bottles experts say you should keep, and things that are special to you.

“There ought to be a few bottles that are just sentimental,” Sullivan says. “It’s not about whether they’re going to increase in value or something you want to show off. But when you finally open them, it’s going to be something memorable.”

Maybe it’s for your 10th anniversary or simply when friends drop by unannounced. Or picture that day, perhaps decades from now, when the last child goes off to college. You go back in that wine cellar – an actual Florida cellar – and find the bottle you’ve been saving since the kid was born. Even if it’s a dry champagne or spicy Italian super Tuscan, no doubt it’ll taste sweet.

IF YOU GO

American Fine Wine Charity Gala

You can talk with judges – and maybe find a few ideas how to stock your wine cellar – on April 29 at South Florida’s premier wine event, the 10th-annual American Fine Wine Invitational Charity Wine Gala. This year’s event will feature more than 800 bottles from vineyards in the competition. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Dolphins Cancer Challenge. Tickets cost $300. 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. April 29, at the Design Center of the Americas, 1855 Griffin Road, Dania Beach, 561-504-0206, americanfinewinecompetition.org

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