Vintage Points

Three New Jersey homeowners—wine lovers all—create cool cellar spaces to store and enjoy their bottled bounty.

Michael and Lori Feldstein’s eco-friendly wine cellar features a cork ceiling, slate-topped tasting table, and storage for 2,500 bottles of wine.
Photo by Mick Hales Photography.

For some, wine is not just a beverage to bring to parties or consume at the occasional dinner.

It’s a way of life that requires extensive knowledge of tannins and varietals, and it calls for a precise climate-controlled environment in which to store one’s carefully built collection.

Here’s how three New Jersey couples created personalized, functional wine-storage spaces in their homes, whether they hired a pro to plan the project or found inspiration in something as unlikely as a picture window.

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GREEN-MINDED

“I’m really not a wine snob by any means,” insists Michael Feldstein, owner of Surface Technology Inc., a high-tech chemical company based in Robbinsville. “We like to have nice wines and a variety of wines that suit our meals. We like to entertain, so you can’t have one bottle of this and one of that. We wanted not just a variety, but also a significant quantity of each.”

Feldstein and his wife, Lori, owner of Cogent Medical Marketing in Robbinsville, hired Princeton-based architect Joshua Zinder to design a space in the basement of their Princeton home for 2,500 bottles, with cubbies for magnums and dessert wines as well as the standard 750 ml bottles. Feldstein also wanted the wine cellar to be as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible.

The basement was basic to begin with—“raw concrete blocks with exposed ceiling,” says Zinder—and was to be renovated. The layout would match the unconventional floor plan of the upstairs space, with distinct areas that would become a home theater, a gym, and the wine cellar. The rest of the basement would be made into a playroom for the couple’s children.

The wine cellar is located under the breakfast nook, on the southern side of the home. It has five angled walls with a tasting table in the middle. Since the multiple exterior walls are in direct contact with the earth outside, the room is naturally chilled and requires minimal energy to maintain its 50- to 55-degree year-round temperature.

The wine room, like the rest of the basement, draws its power from solar panels on the roof. Zinder also specified energy-efficient cooling and humidifying systems and non-toxic paint. The wine racks are made of redwood certified by the Natural Resources Defense Council as sustainably harvested. The slate top for the tasting counter came from within 500 miles of the home, reducing the amount of fuel needed for transport. For the ceiling, Zinder used cork, a sound-absorbing, rapidly renewable resource.

“I wanted to give it rich character,” says Zinder about the cork ceiling, which is doubly functional. “Moisture is always a concern in wine rooms, and since cork naturally can take moisture, it seemed like the ideal material.”

Zinder wanted lighting that would keep the cellar from looking like a “dungeon.” He chose an elongated light fixture with amber lens for the middle of the room and track lighting along the perimeter. The result, says Zinder, conveys “a warm rich feeling, instead of a cold, dark, cellar-like feeling.”

Feldstein’s favorite feature (aside from the basement dishwasher) is the center tasting table, which he says he copied from a wine bar in Zurich. He got the idea for the slate top from another wine bar in Greenwich Village. The Feldsteins host frequent wine tastings, so they mark the types of wine with chalk on the slate.

“The kids love it, too,” he says. “They come to keep me company and draw on the table.” 

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CEDAR CELLAR

When attorneys Jim and Linda Hamilton first met, they didn’t bond over the fine details of the law, but rather over their passion for wine. After they wed, they decided to build a real wine cellar.

When they bought their custom-built Moorestown home, they initially installed a climate-controlled wine closet near the kitchen, but their collection quickly outgrew the space. They solved the problem in 1996 with the construction of a three-story, 1,000-square-foot addition to the house, including a custom wine cellar with room for 3,000 bottles.

To equip the cellar, the couple hired Scot “Zippy” Ziskind, owner of ZipCo Wine Cellar Services, a wine storage and design company based in Philadelphia. He installed commercial systems for temperature and humidity control.

As finishing touches, the Hamiltons chose heart of cedar for the wine racks and the tongue-and-groove ceiling. “The concern one can have with cedar is that it’s somehow going to infiltrate the wine,” says Jim. The Hamiltons have not found that to be the case in the thirteen years they’ve had their cellar. They had tried redwood in a cellar at a previous home but didn’t like how easily it stained.

“The whole idea was to make it functional and attractive,” says Jim.

Even with its ample capacity, the cellar can get crowded. Except in summer, the couple use a separate, non-refrigerated rack in the basement to hold bottles they know they will drink sooner rather than later—bottles that won’t need the temperature control of wines that are stored for longer periods.

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PICTURE (Window) PERFECT

When Robert and Brenda Catalanello bought a new home still under construction in Madison in 2006, they had the option of putting a home gym in the basement. They opted instead for a wine cellar.

The couple got into wine through Catalanello’s business. He now works for a subsidiary of a French banking firm, but his old job required him to make frequent trips to Northern California.

“Everyone out there loves wine, so you learn about it through the client, and I got introduced to a few wine brokers out there,” says Robert.

The couple had a wine cellar in their previous home, also in Madison. “It was fine for the space, but we kind of outgrew it,” say Brenda.

Brenda designed the room. They hired Tony Butera, the Chatham contractor who renovated their old house (and is godfather to the couple’s youngest son). It was the first time both Brenda and Butera had created a wine cellar. “Luckily, it worked out, because it could have been a very expensive mistake,” she says.

Brenda started with aspects of the old cellar that she liked: mahogany racks, red marble floor. She mapped out enough room to store 2,200 bottles, including tailored spots for magnums and Imperials as well as traditional 750 ml bottles.

One of Brenda’s goals was to provide views of the rest of the basement—to keep tabs on the couple’s three children and to keep the wine cellar from feeling cave like. The couple also wanted to be able to sit by the gas fireplace in the basement and gaze at their collection.

“We had a window left over from the renovation on our old house—a big picture window that was ordered wrong,” says Brenda. So she had that installed in an interior wall of the wine cellar. The insulated window helps maintain the room’s set temperature and humidity.

Brenda also added a counter for tastings. To save room, she decided not to put seating around the counter. After all, sitting is what the fireplace area is for.

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