The goal: Wine connoisseur Tom Votel was thirsting for a cellar where he could collect and enjoy his favorite vintages. He’s partial to pinot noir, he said, “but I like them all. I’m an omnivore. If it’s made from grapes, I’ll probably drink it.”
After raising their two daughters, Votel and his wife, Barb, decided it was time to repurpose the kids’ “hangout area” on the lower level of their longtime home in Sunfish Lake. There was a smaller horseshoe-shaped area off the main room. “I always had the notion that it would be fun to convert it into a wine room,” he said.
Cool idea: Votel had a vision for his cellar. Most wine rooms are cut off from the rest of the home — and too cold for comfort, he said. “They have a table, but they’re freezing, so it’s no fun. I want a drinking cellar.” He envisioned the wine in refrigerated cabinets, integrated into a seating area. His wife wasn’t so sure. “She was afraid it would look like a 7-Eleven,” he said.
The challenge: The horseshoe-shaped area wasn’t large, and there was a lot Votel wanted to fit into it. “It was tricky,” said TreHus project manager Dave Carson. “He wanted 750-bottle capacity, plus a refrigerator, dishwasher and sink, all in a 9- by 11-foot space. It was a jigsaw puzzle to get it all to fit.”
Votel’s vision of a cellar that combined cold storage with comfort also presented a challenge, Carson said. “With most wine rooms, the whole room is chilled. When he explained what he wanted, we said, ‘We haven’t done one like that before, but I’m sure we can figure it out.’ We had to come up with a plan to make it come true.”
Together, the architect, the heating contractor, the cabinetmaker and Carson collaborated on a system that includes custom cabinets with spray-foam insulation, ductwork mechanicals and seals on the doors — “like a refrigerator.”
“It took a couple of iterations, but we found a solution that works,” said Carson. The cabinets hold their temperature — about 50 degrees on one side and 58 to 60 on the other. “It’s not perfect — 55 degrees is optimal,” said Votel, who stores his whites on the colder side and his reds on the other.
Wood and glass: To avoid the institutional look Barb was wary of, Votel opted for custom wood cabinets with glass fronts that reveal the wine. “The cabinets are beautiful,” he said. The wine room project was part of a larger lower-level makeover, and the Votels had selected alder wood for the cabinetry in the adjoining family room. They initially wanted alder for the wine cabinets, too, but were advised to use cherry instead because it’s harder and more warp-resistant. The cherry was then stained to match the alder.
Rustic elements: Votel was seeking an Old World aesthetic for his new wine room. With that in mind, he chose ceiling beams made of reclaimed lumber from a barn in southern Minnesota.
“It’s a cool look. It gives you that wine-cellar feel,” said Carson. The wet bar’s sink was set into a real California wine barrel. A slate floor, Italian tile above the sink and an antique carpenter’s bench used as a table complete the rustic vibe.
The result: “We’re having fun with it,” said Votel of his distinctive cellar, which has been showcased in Wine Spectactor. “It turned out pretty fabulous. It’s a nice area for us to entertain. We can comfortably host a dozen people.”
But even when they’re not uncorking for guests, the Votels find themselves spending a lot more time on their lower level than they used to. “It’s not a grand space,” he said, “but a clever, smartly designed space.”