Wine cellars have staying power in Atlanta homes

A wine cellar might seem like the last item you’d expect to see being built in a down economy. But these domestic shrines to oenophilia-- the devotion to wine -- continue to do a brisk business in Atlanta homes.

Erik Kuehne, director of Southeast design and sales for Cincinnati-based Wine Cellar Innovations, installs between 20-25 wine cellars a year in the city.

“Atlanta is one of the fastest growing wine markets in the country,” said Kuehne. “Wine demand has just gone through the roof and people need places to store it.”

Local cellars range from baronial 10,000-bottle cellars designed by Wine Cellar Innovations to a relatively, modest 250-square-foot wine cellar in a Buckhead basement created by interior designer Carter Kay of Carter Kay Interiors as part of a whole house renovation. To give the look of a cellar that had always been in the home -- a common request from wine cellar owners -- Kay used salvaged brick and reclaimed wood to bestow a sense of character and history.

A good wine cellar performs a number of duties. It is, first and foremost, a functional space that requires practical features like refrigeration units with temperature and humidity controls. But they are often also social spaces where homeowners and their guests gather to sample wines.

For a wine cellar he created in the basement of a '30s-era Buckhead home, Castro Design Studio owner Rodolfo Castro created plenty of places outside the refrigerated cellar itself, including a wet bar and seating area, where the homeowner could have wine tastings and socialize with friends.

Kuehne, who is based in Chamblee, has been designing wine cellars, principally in the northern suburbs, for almost 10 years. Although he has built cellars from the $5,000- to the $250,000-range, with as many as 10,000 bottles, he has seen a trend toward more smaller-scale (under 2,000 bottles) cellars in recent years. To keep track of their personal catalog of wines, Kuehne said clients often use a free online service called

Along with the trend toward smaller cellars, the location of wine storage has shifted too, said Kuehne.

“It used to be that the wine cellar went in the basement. These days with the proliferation of refrigeration systems ... we’re able to do wine cellars in pretty much any area of the house” said Kuehne. “Were taking little nooks in walls that are 15 to 20 inches deep and we’re building in a custom cabinet that is refrigerated.”

But the basement is still the least expensive and classic place to locate a wine cellar. Kuehne worked with a master craftsman from Ohio to install a wine cellar fora 5,000-bottle collection for vascular surgeon Chuck Moomey and his wife, Michelle, a nurse, in the basement of their Suwanee home.

“It’s meant to sort of mimic an old dungeon,” said Chuck Moomey. “It’s got a huge 12-foot stacked-stone wall with exposed timbers and then you go through this big iron door into the cellar itself and you’re greeted with storage on all four walls for wine bottles.”

Moomey was inspired by a trip the couple had taken to the Italian wine community of Montalcino and the historic cellars they encountered there. He used 100-year-old timber in the cellar’s ceiling to lend that antiqued ambiance.

Though the Moomeys’ cellar was designed primarily for storage rather than socializing, it often becomes the social hub when guests visit. “Invariably people end up migrating into the wine cellar and that seems like where most of the conversation and fun goes on,” Moomey said.

“What I love about my cellar is that it’s more than just bricks and timber and concrete and wood. To me it is sort of a catalyst for friendship,” he said. “I don’t go downstairs just to admire the cellar itself. To me it’s more important to have something to share with others.”

Interested in a cellar?

Erik Kuehne of Wine Cellar Innovations offers his tips for clients thinking of adding a wine cellar to their home.

  • Because so many cabinetmakers and other non-specialized contractors have gotten into the profitable wine cellar business, Kuehne advised talking to a wine cellar professional first. "You can end up causing mold issues and spend a lot of money on refrigeration systems that aren't adequate or are not going to work properly," he said. Ask for a recommendation of a professional installer from your favorite sommelier or wine shop.
  • A big misconception is that because they have walls that are subterranean, basement cellars will achieve the 55-58 degree temperature and 70-75 percent humidity required for optimal wine storage. But in Georgia, temperatures even below ground drop into the 60s.
  • Air quality is crucial in a wine cellar since wine breathes through the cork. Using oil-based stains, harsh finishes, aromatic cedar, fibreboard or plywood can all affect the air quality and refrigeration equipment. Kuehne prefers to use a custom formulated water-based, low-VOC (volatile organic chemical) stain and woods like redwood and mahogany that are stable in high humidity.
  • Lighting will affect the refrigeration system, which is another reason to consult with a professional. Kuehne prefers LED lighting.
  • Flooring needs to be unaffected by humidity. Kuehne likes tile, cork and -- a new trend -- reclaimed wine barrels for flooring.
  • Glass is also a big trend. Kuehne has seen more and more clients choosing seamless glass walls, the sort you would see in a high end steak house, for their cellars.
  • Many clients are choosing a more modern look for their wine cellars, with contemporary racking that more often incorporates metal and curved elements to mimic the look of a wine barrel.
  • There has been a move away from tasting areas, said Kuehne, as people are choosing to use all of their available space for wine storage.

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