French rock, said John Lennon, is like English wine. In other words, pretty bloody awful. But a lot has changed in the last couple of decades and even serious wine snobs are now grudgingly enjoying British-grown vino. Red wine, meanwhile, has overtaken beer as the nation’s favourite tipple to drink at home after a hard day’s work, with 30 million saying it’s their favourite form of booze. But where to put it all? Especially – if your habit gets serious – the finer specimens that need to be kept in the dark at specific temperatures.
Where once climate-controlled wine coolers were the preserve of sommeliers and oenophiles, now every show apartment in the capital has one. Interior designers build them into integral kitchens as standard and specialists, like Spiral Cellars, which has offices in London and West Sussex, say they’ve noticed a definite up-turn in business in recent years.
“All wine, but especially vintage wine, needs to be carefully handled and stored,” says managing director Lucy Hargreaves. “A wine rack in the kitchen just won’t do the job. There are a range of cellaring solutions available, but you need to ensure they have proper climate control as wines should be stored in a cool, humid environment.”
For a collector just starting out, the options can be overwhelming. Hargreaves says the bottom rung of the ladder starts with wine wardrobes and walls, made-to-measure spaces that can be squeezed into existing rooms for anywhere between £12,000 to £20,000. Next up are cellars fitted under the ground floor starting from approximately £19,000; and then, once you’ve got a really impressive bounty on your hands, bespoke wine rooms can be tailored towards specific collections, with artful displays in humidity-controlled environments for ageing and ready-to-drink wines, costing from £30,000 upwards.
And while you’re making space for all those bottles, make sure you carve a nook for paperwork, says Hargreaves, a necessity that’s often overlooked by amateur wine collectors. “Always keep all the paperwork, whether it is an original purchase receipt, auction catalogue text or any other related documentation. Take pictures of each bottle and keep note of any distinct features or marks that make your bottle unique.”
If you’re already a paid-up plonk enthusiast looking for inspiration, you could do worse than the cellar at Villa René Lalique, a hotel and restaurant in the Alsace region of France. It houses over 20,000 bottles from around the world in a 200sqm space underneath a two Michelin-starred restaurant, including 500 original cases from the great châteaux of Bordeaux and Burgundy and a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem that dates back to 1865, the year of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
It was designed by renowned Swiss architect Mario Botta who tells us the idea was “to create a vault in a unitary space with two connotations; a part for the ‘treasure’ and a space for tasting, but also for meetings, discussions and celebrations… We designed a huge bespoke table for the centre and a support for the register of each wine available.”
There were a number of factors to consider in the design, including how to accommodate bottles of vastly different shapes and sizes; keeping lighting to a minimum so bottles could be stowed in the dark in a drawer or case; keeping the cellar at an optimum 60 per cent humidity; and heating two areas, one at 11 degrees for white wines and another at 15 degrees for reds.
The result, says Botta, is practically divine: “Within this sacred space, a contemplative landscape is evoked by the story of wines and their origins. Similar to a place of worship, it is a place that should allow quiet contemplation, where visitors can re-live the memories and feelings connected to different vineyards and terroirs.”