Previous blogs have been more about the wine within the world’s greatest wine cellars, as opposed to the cellar itself. This issue will be dedicated to the cellar, and more specifically, the design of a great cellar. Full disclosure is a must here – I am not impartial on the topic. Revel Cellars was founded on a premise that the basic concepts of wine cellar design needed to be re-envisioned, and specifically from a collector’s perspective.
We know that there are a wide range of design considerations, but our take on it starts with the tried and true notion that form follows function. If you ask the world’s greatest designers to define what great design is, the most common response is that great design is a solution to a problem. How should we approach the problem? We think it begins with the user interface, which is the racking, cabinetry, or whatever apparatus is used to contain the wine, so it is here that we will begin.
This is what would best be described as a “typical” wine “rack”, and has been the primary method used to contain wine for a hundred years or more. Is there a problem to be solved here? These racks certainly do hold wine bottles, but for the collector, how do they perform?
Let’s look first at the basics — how do you find the bottle you are looking for? Obviously not very easily, since all we can see is the cork end of each bottle. Over the years, very clever people have developed a variety of “work-arounds” for this problem, such as labels that fit over the neck of the bottle, software programs that identify bottles and map them, etc., but none of them address the problem effectively.
What about bottles that don’t happen to fit within the very specific and uniform spaces provided by this type of racking? The two images below illustrate what can happen – half bottles can either fall through the gaps altogether or get stuck in between. Other bottles may be too large – the image here is of a standard size (750 ml) bottle of Burgundy that will not fit into the rack. This happens to be my own bottle, and when I tried to make it fit, I tore the label. The world’s best wine cellars have sizable portions of bottles that will not fit into the very specific geometry of the standard racking systems.
Bottle handling – with the traditional wine racks, the collector needs to physically remove bottles in order to identify, inspect, show others, etc. In searching for just the right bottle to drink, or in taking inventory in a cellar, bottles must be removed from its position, rotated 180 degrees twice and then returned. Every time we handle a bottle, we run the risk of damaging a label, dropping it, getting finger prints on it, staining the label, etc. In great wine cellars, handling of bottles should be minimized in order to maintain the collection and its provenance.
Storage capacity – this may seem obvious, but when designing a wine cellar, collectors either need to fit the collection into a given space, or a space needs to be designed that is sufficient to accommodate a given collection. Either way, we need a system that offers a way to fit a large number of bottles into what is often a relatively small space. This density ratio can be expressed in terms of the number of bottles per square foot of cellar space. Serious collectors are generally looking for pretty heavy duty capacity in their cellars. Again, the standard racking approach has some issues. When capacity needs to be increased in a cellar design using this approach, one of the most common workarounds is to make the racks twice as deep, so that the collector needs to put one bottle in first, and then put the second one in front of it. This makes the design almost comically dysfunctional from the collector’s perspective.
So it is clearly fair to say that the typical wine rack that has been the standard forever has some problems. A wider range of alternative designs have been developed, and many if not most of them have been created as a way of addressing these problems, each with varying degrees of success, and none successfully addressing all of them.
Revel Cellars was created by a collector, for collectors who care about design, and who have limited tolerance for the kind of problems described above. Our designs use a variety of systems that:
Allow the collector to see the bottles and their labels, making it very easy to find the specific bottle(s) being sought.
Accommodate in standard configuration all bottles, from half bottles to magnums, and everything in between (plus twelve or six bottle cases!).
This is a much more elegant way to get greater storage capacity than the “place one bottle into a slot and place another in front of it” approach.
This is our take on great design. If you are a collector we encourage you to consider these issues in planning for your cellar. If you are a designer, we encourage you to explore these issues with your clients in the very early stages of your planning. We certainly do not wish to minimize other aspects of cellar design such as lighting, finishes, environmental systems and controls, security, etc., but we do believe that great design needs great storage solutions.