Inner Sanctum

Dan Wexler 4

Dan Wexler 4

Wine collecting almost as popular as wine tasting

By Jim Peters

For many of us, storing our wines lasts about as long as the trip from the liquor commission to the living room. Others like to display their bottles in one of the many appealing wine racks available on the commercial market—at least temporarily.

Whatever your preference, the popularity of all things wine has seen a corresponding increase in the popularity of large-scale wine storage. And if you’re looking to give some unused space in the house a makeover, there’s nothing quite like the beauty of today’s contemporary wine cellars.

Among wine aficionados, Winnipeg’s Genuwine Cellars is well-known for the quality and beauty of its storage designs. Rhae Redekop, director of wine cellar design, says, “Genuwine is a perfect example of a great business idea beginning in a garage. Several years ago, a friend approached founder and carpenter Lance Kingma and asked him to build a storage area for his wine collection. Co-founder Robb Denomme saw the potential in Lance’s designs and suggested a partnership—resulting in the birth of Genuwine Cellars in 1995.”

The love of wine and fine woodworking formed the nexus for their business model—Robb and Lance are also alumni of the prestigious International Sommelier Guild. From its humble origins, Genuwine has grown into a global manufacturing enterprise with state-of-the-art facilities designing and building custom wine cellars for locations around the world.

Redekop says, “The owners play to their strengths. Robb fronts the business end and Lance works behind the scenes as the cabinet designer and builder. Our business model includes certified distribution centres—there’s currently 25 across North America—that rely on us for the design and engineering of wine cellars that meet a huge variety of individual tastes.

When we work locally we act as the design centre, project manager and engineering firm. In the near future we’ll also be introducing our products into the European market.”

Although the creation of a wine cellar begins in a multitude of ways, Redekop describes a typical approach, “A client will come to us with the simple wish of having a professionally-finished wine cellar. Some people have a rough idea of what they want and others will look to us for guidance. So we start the process by investigating the kind of space available and ask a lot of questions, such as: Are there floor plans for the space and adjoining areas? What about esthetics and design preferences? And of course there’s budget—clients usually have no idea about budget and it’s often not easily answerable because every job and space is different.”

In terms of controlling cellar temperature, clients opt for one of two basic types: passive systems or climate-controlled. Redekop adds, “The majority of our wine cellars are temperature controlled but we do get requests for passive cellars. We recommend a climate-controlled cellar for proper storing and aging—it clearly enhances the overall wine experience.”

Climate controlled cellars use cooling units similar in appearance and function to air conditioners. The units are typically water-cooled for most basement applications and can be located in the wine cellar itself or with wall mounts for smaller spaces. Genuwine deals with a variety of manufacturers and purchases each unit based on the individual wine cellar.

On the subject of budget, Redekop often directs potential clients to Genuwine’s website, which provides a starting point based on a per bottle cost. She says, “We’ve evolved our product lines into a range of choices where there’s really something for everyone.” For example, Genuwine’s website lists several options under the custom wine cellar tabs, such as “collector’s edition custom” or “sommelier select custom” wine cellars—starting at $2 to $4 per bottle respectively.

In addition to personal consultations, Genuwine offers ready-to-go products and kits. The company originally built its name on custom wine cellars but also took advantage of another market niche where people could take a cellar kit and build it themselves.

The evolution of wine storage

Dan Wexler 1

Another local player in the wine cellar market is Evolution Wine Rooms. President and founder George Addis says, “I think what makes us unique is that we handle both the design and the manufacturing of all of our products. We’ve stayed away from doing any modular or kit form wine racks and focus on high-end custom mill work. Ninety-eight per cent of our sales are out of province, in bigger centres such as Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and especially Montreal. We also do a lot of commercial work—such as the cellar we just completed at the new Grand Winnipeg Lakeview Hotel near the airport.”

Addis says that because Evolution’s custom work is mostly done sight-unseen, clients have to provide very specific measurements and understand that the millwork is built to within one mm of accuracy. He adds that he rarely deals with clients directly—it’s usually an interior designer or site contractor. In terms of what’s trending materials-wise, there’s been a real resurgence in the popularity of walnut. Addis says, “At one time redwood was almost exclusively used in wine cellars, then mahogany had a long run. Now walnut is by far the wood of choice—all we do is lacquer it, there’s no staining because clients overwhelmingly prefer the natural look.”

Contemporary designs also form a part of the esthetics from Evolution and Addis frequently works with glass and steel—particularly in the commercial market. He adds, “I embrace a challenge. So when a job is presented to me that requires some research and innovation, I like rolling up my sleeves and dipping in. Having a few unknowns at the beginning is the favourite part of the design process for me.”

If you’re contemplating a wine cellar for your home, both Genuwine and Evolution emphasize the importance of allowing enough lead time. Redekop says, “We have racks you can walk away with immediately, but for custom projects the industry standard is roughly six to eight weeks from initial design to completion.

Whatever your reasons, adding a wine cellar to your home is obviously a highly personal decision. As Mark Twain once said, “High and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water—but everybody likes water.”