Wine Cellars 101: With Expert Winemaker Matt Crafton

Chateau Montelena

It’s no secret that wine cellars instantly drive up a home’s value. But if you just purchased a home without a wine cellar and are looking to install your first customized space, you may be unsure where to start. Elliman Insider sat down with winemaker expert Matt Crafton, from Chateau Montelena, to discuss everything from a cellar’s aesthetic to the most common misconceptions homeowners have when building their first cellar.

Matt Crafton

Elliman Insider: Our markets span across the nation, with buyers and sellers in very different climates. What is the ideal climate for a wine cellar, and if you don’t live in that temperature, are there special controls you need to set in place to make the cellar optimal?

Matt Crafton: The easiest way to think about it is to consider a wine cellar as a separate, temperature-controlled space just like a home office or guest house. In this case however, the guests prefer a consistent temperature in the 58F-68F range year round. That temperature consistency is key because large swings can cause the wine in bottle to expand and contract, leading to leaks at first and then spoilage. No special controls are needed outside of whatever method has been selected to control temperature. A basic $20 thermostat would work as would something like a NEST if wifi access/monitoring is of interest. In areas where temperature fluctuations are extreme throughout the year, I’ve seen mini-split HVAC systems installed that can heat or cool a single space depending on need, without ductwork. In most parts of the continental US however, a simple air conditioner will do.

The second misconception is assuming that any bottle of wine will improve with age.

Matt Crafton

EI: What are some common misconceptions that homeowners have when building their first wine cellar?

MC: The biggest one is underestimating how many bottles they intend to store. I always recommend doubling the capacity of the cellar beyond what the owners think they want. It’s considerably more cost effective to build it right the first time compared to an expansion project later.

The second misconception is assuming that any bottle of wine will improve with age. I’ve seen cellars stocked with cases of $6 sparkling pineapple Moscato. There’s nothing wrong with drinking that (if that’s your fancy), but those wines are made to show their best upon release and will only degrade over time. They won’t improve. It’s important to find a producer that’s specifically dedicated to producing age-worthy wine before stocking up.

EI: You mention that most wine sold in the US won’t benefit from aging. Why is that and where do you tend to source the majority of your bottles?

MC: There are really two reasons: one has to do with consumer behavior and the second is a function of the difficulty in producing age-worthy wine. Recent data from Sonoma State University indicates that 90% of the wine purchased in the US is consumed within 2 weeks of purchase. I’d wager that has accelerated with the COVID lockdowns.  Wineries understand that and follow suit accordingly with production.

The second reason is that age-worthy wines are considerably more difficult to produce as they’re very dependent on the vineyard site and winemaking expertise. There’s certainly a scarcity component to both. We source our bottles from here in California as we’re willing to pay for quality, locally. But the bottles themselves don’t contribute to the aging potential of the wine. That’s a function of the wine itself and the closure (cork, screwcap, etc). We use the most advanced, reliable, guaranteed cork closure on the market to ensure our wines age gracefully for decades.

EI: You’ve said that the cost for building your own wine cellar can range from $1,000 to $100,000.  What is the average cost that you typically see most customers/clients incur once they’ve built the cellar of their dreams?

MC: Capacity, aesthetics, and functionality all have to be considered. A large portion of the cost also depends on the actual location inside the home and the type of buildout required.  Is it possible to effectively store 1,000 bottles for less than $10,000? Absolutely. But it will be a simple refrigerated locker. Likewise, I’ve seen “cellars” that store 100 bottles but are equipped with a wet bar, a large flat screen and a pool table. The owner simply wanted a place to relax with a glass of wine and he paid to get that.

If I had to benchmark a price range, I’d compare it to a comprehensive kitchen remodel. Moreover, my recommendation would be to begin with priorities such as: how many bottles you want to store; is the cellar something you want displayed or will it live in the far corner of a basement; and do you only plan to store wine, or do you want to use the space for entertaining. The answers to those questions will drive the cost.

Cellar at Chateau Montelena

EI: What’s your favorite look and feel of a wine cellar? Simplistic, ornate, modern? How might one achieve their look if they’re not sure where to start?

MC: I find that most owners tend to follow the motif of their residences and design accordingly, which isn’t a surprise. Interestingly, I do find in general that the collectors who are really serious about wine tend to spend more on their bottles than they do on their cellars. Those cellars tend to be quite utilitarian but meticulously arranged. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone unearth a rare, aged Bordeaux from a highly modified, but spacious walk-in closet. That said I’ve been in highly ornate cellars that instantly transport you from Austin to Alsace. Personally, I tend to lean toward simple and functional, preferring a well-organized space with capacity. We have over 25,000 square feet of caves underground at Montelena, so I’m spoiled.

EI: Lastly, why would your chiller operate more efficiently and effectively when full?

MC: Good question. For the same reason your refrigerator does. Objects inside (like wine) have thermal mass and resist changes in temperature better than air. So once they’re cold, they tend to stay cold. An easy experiment to observe this is to put a single cold can of beer in a cooler and wait to see how long it takes to get warm. Then do the same thing with 12 cans and note the difference. If you don’t like beer, you can try ice cream with a more visually disheartening result.

On the Market: For a little inspiration, we’ve rounded up some of our homes with the best wine cellars:

California

5046 Carbon Beach Terrace | $49,995,000

As Featured in the WSJ, is VILLA SPLENDIDO perched high on the hillside where land meets sea, above the highly sought-after “Billionaire’s Beach,” a fully-furnished brand new Architectural Masterpiece by Doug Burdge (AIA) that’s incredibly sleek. Boasting a private drive off of PCH, this secluded estate delivers a dual-gated entry that leads to a tropical oasis with over 17 acres of native landscaping. The dramatically lit driveway leads to a gracious front door that welcomes you in with breathtaking 180-degree sunrise-to-sunset ocean views for quintessential Malibu living at its finest! This “smart home” also offers a full wellness center (personal gym, massage room & adjacent steam/sauna,indoor Jacuzzi w/overhead skylights), chef’s kitchen,large fridge,elevator,office,standalone guest house,infinity pool & bar,outdoor pizza oven, & even an entertainment center w/bountiful bar inspired by a boutique hotel.Deeded to the La Costa Beach & Tennis Club.

Colorado

10687 Evans Ridge Road | $12,900,000

Privacy, over the top luxury. Originally built as a family/corporate retreat, this stunning residence on 35-acres has approximately 45,212 sf with an elegant floor plan suited for entertaining on a grand scale. Features include impeccable furnishings, exquisitely detailed finishes, an entertainment wing, formal and informal dining areas, world-class sized wine cellar, and garage parking for 29 cars. Horses allowed. 11 minutes to Colorado Horse Park.The remarkable gated grounds encompass a long private driveway, stocked pond, expertly manicured gardens, and separate caretaker’s residence, all set against sweeping panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains. Property Includes furnishings, art collection, and wine. Steinway and Faziolo pianos excluded. www.serenityridgecolorado.com

Florida

7215 Fisher Island Drive | $19,500,000

Encompassing over 12,000 Square feet of interior and exterior living space on exclusive and prestigious Fisher Island. Unique Ground Floor unit with Over-sized terrace accessible from every room with spectacular Ocean views, Government Cut, and Miami Beach. Customized in its entirety, this plush 5 bedroom/5.5 Bath residence features White-Oak Wood and Limestone floors, custom kitchen and lavish bathrooms with Watermark fixtures, Apparatus lighting and impressive 1,500 Temperature controlled wine cellar. This unit sets a new benchmark for luxury and quality Designed by Ford Interiors and exquisitely furnished with Holly Hunt, Christian Liaigre, and Bespoke furnishings. Complete with state-of-the-art, fully automated Crestron Smart-Home system, Gym and Custom eco friendly fire place.

Connecticut

429 Taconic Road | $14,750,000

Turn-key equestrian estate includes magnificent home w/pool, Indoor and Outdoor riding rings, state-of-the-art stable and housing for grooms/trainer. One of the only indoor riding rings in Greenwich!! You never need to leave your home to ride 365 days per year. Would also be wonderful for a car collectors!

Westchester

7 Carlton Road | $6,975,000

Chateau isle de France in the middle of historic Lawrence Park West, Bronxville. Fall in love as you enter through the custom designed gates to find this brand new architectural masterpiece. Impeccable attention to detail, over 8600 SF w/ 5 br, 6 full & 1 half baths. Smart home technologies, (lynx) outdoor kitchen, heated pool & spa. Jaw dropping foyer w/ custom designed floating staircase, mill work, railings & front door. 1st flr features 12 ft. coffered ceilings, show stopping kitchen, library/family rm, living/dining rm w/ 1 of 3 custom designed fp mantles. Home office plus master w/ en-suite bathrm. 2nd level has 17 ft. ceilings, bonus family room w/ fp, sliding glass doors to deck, & elegant master suite w/ a closet & bathrm fit for royalty. 3 add l brs, 2 bathrms & laundry complete the 2nd level. 4400 add l SF in LL includes wet bar, wine cellar, movie theater w/ state of the art 4k projector & gym. The entire house can be controlled w/ a touch of a button. Sonos system & stealth (invisible) Triad speakers hidden in the walls, infrared cameras, 2 car garage designed for a lift. Landscaped to perfection, low taxes, only 28 minutes to NYC.

New York City

60 Jane Street | $10,950,000

60 Jane Street is on the market. Situated on the quintessential tree-lined cobblestone street in the charming West Village, this 5-story Greek Revival style home has 3 spacious en-suite bedrooms (with room for a 4th bedroom, also en-suite, on the penthouse level), and three outdoor spaces including a large terrace on the top floor.

Starting with the strong bones provided by an Adam Gordon and Steven Harris ‘gut’ renovation, the current owners further transformed the home with statement-making custom millwork, substantial storage, chef’s kitchen, hand-crafted stairway, wine cellar, cedar closet, and landscaped courtyard dining.

Cellar
The built-out cellar features a custom milled 1,260-bottle walk-in wine cellar, large walk-in cedar closet, laundry, and expansive additional storage.

Long Island

7 Upper Drive | $1,975,000

A lovely French chateau-inspired 1906 home with exceptional historical value. Once inhabited by William Randolf Hearst, this home makes you feel like you are in a stunning 15-room French castle, complete with arched doorways, carved limestone French Provencal fireplace, European-inspired moldings, 10 foot ceilings and breathtaking veranda/gazebo/ garden/pool. Side by side living rooms open to create a magnificent great room flanked by two fireplaces. Master ensuite with a large dressing room and working fireplace. Two additional en-suite bedrooms, one with a working fireplace. English basement featuring exercise room, billiard room & large wine cellar. A true family compound, where you can host visitors or offer them private comfort in a charming separate two bedroom cottage. A not to be missed opportunity to enjoy European-style luxury, within the beautiful neighborhood of Huntington Bay; 2 blocks from a private beach, with deeded mooring rights and a short distance to The Bay Club.

Hamptons

288 Halsey Neck Lane | $18,995,000

This beautifully appointed, mint condition, recently updated home, with mahogany decks, and brick patios is available at a very reasonable price in heart of the estate section of Southampton Village. This home has four en suite bedrooms, office, eat-in kitchen, den, formal dining room, air conditioned and heated pool house with bath and large room and a two-car, detached garage.

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