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Master of the Cellar

Don Cochran.

Don Cochran.

There’s an existential “chicken or the egg”-type question for anyone who wants a wine cellar: 

Does the collection dictate what the cellar should look like, or does the cellar dictate the evolving size and nature of the collection?

Don Cochran, who has been outfitting wine-cellar storage for 13 years, understands these emotional dilemmas—and he’s prepared to help.

The person with a cluttered collection stored in boxes, closet corners or under the basement stairs dreams of an organized system of shelves and racks. But once an organized system has been installed and the bottles put in their beds, another dilemma emerges: All those yards of empty wine racks that you’ve put in place to allow plenty of room for expansion now make the cellar seem somehow incomplete and unfinished. So you need to rush out and buy more wine to take care of that feeling of emptiness.

Cochran is the Pennsylvania regional design consultant for Wine Cellar Innovations, a firm that designs and outfits storage throughout the country.  The company also offers wine racks custom fitted to each cellar.

“We work with customers who are doing home improvements by adding a cellar, as well as with builders and architects designing cellars for new constructions,” Cochran says. 

_JEG6283If you’re friends with people in the Brandywine Valley who have wine cellars, chances are some of them were designed and outfitted by Cochran. From his Downingtown base, Cochran services customers across the Mid-Atlantic Region. “In New Jersey, having a built-in wine cellar is as trendy as having an extra powder room in new homes,” he says. 

Cochran points out that it’s not just rich older people who are primary cellar clients, adding that very few old-money foxhunters are big wine drinkers. They prefer spirits. “Our customers are getting younger,” he says. “Before, it used to be people in their 50s and 60s with Aston Martins in the garage. Now, millennials are drinking wine like crazy.” 

Cochran’s stock-in-trade is the wooden rack configurations that stack in various ways from three to six feet, custom-fitted to the space available. “Most people want refrigeration and humidity control as well as storage, so we’re completely prepared for HVAC (heating, ventilation and air condition) work,” he says.

Although the architect may be involved from a total-design aspect of a new home, “the construction is usually driven by the builder,” he says. “We have lunch-and-learn sessions to explain wine-cellar needs for interior designers, builders and architects.”

Recently, Cochran expanded his offerings by partnering with Kim Zellers, whose company, Cellarium, uses the services of East Earl-based cabinetmaker Mark King of MK Designs to create custom wood designs. The arrangement provides both Cochran and Zellers with much broader offerings for their customers.

A wine cellar in a Main Line home.

A wine cellar in a Main Line home.

Of course, there are many decisions that potential cellar owners need to make before Cochran or Zellers can go to work. So, if you’re planning to install a first cellar or redesign a current one, here are some questions to consider:

What type of cellar do you want? A standard cellar is primarily used to store wine until you drink it and is usually more compact and less expensive than a lifestyle cellar, which may have tables and chairs for tasting or even for dining, as well as artwork and accessories.

What is your long-term vision? You’ll probably want to design a wine cellar differently if you are young and job-mobile than if you’ve purchased a large home for raising a family. If you, like your wine, are mellowing with age, you may want the cellar on the main floor or accessible by elevator. Additionally, older collectors moving into 55-plus communities may want something simple and convertible if they decide to quit buying and drink up their cellars. These and other big-picture plans should enter into your decision as to type of cellar. 

Do you have a limit on how many bottles to stock, or are you open-ended? A cellar is not that different from a museum. Are you planning an expansion of your current collection, or do you want to stay constant in size, adding new wines as dinners and parties deplete your collection?

Will you need special cooling? It may come down to whether you’re a fan or a fanatic. Wine can survive quite well in a _JEG6375basement that’s moderately cool with little temperature fluctuation. But if you’re into buying wine at auction or have an area that doesn’t have natural cooling, then, by all means, install a special refrigeration system.

Do you want to entertain in your cellar? The owner of a cellar built for entertaining may want to have trophy wines on display or, if less trusting, safely locked away from guests with a penchant for bottle-lifting. Do you need a sound system—one that will minimize vibrations? 

What’s your shelve-to-bottle price ratio? There’s no special formula, but basic collectors often want inexpensive racks that will hold a lot of bottles, spending their disposable income on wine, not wood.

Is the cellar to be off by itself, or do you want it to fit in with overall décor? This is a valid question if you’re having an architect or builder construct a new home for you. If the wine cellar is air-conditioned, it doesn’t have to be stuck away in the basement. It can be accessible—visually and practically—behind glass walls. This is also a good question if you’re having an old place renovated.

As Cochran explains, every cellar is different, and every cellar owner is different. “Believe it or not,” he says, “one of the most-common questions I get is, ‘What color should I paint my walls?’”

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