Forget meaningless one-night stands. An increasing number of Canadians are having a hot and heavy love affair with wine — a passion that rages on, long after the red roses have wilted and the Valentine chocolates are gone. According to Statistics Canada, “the intake of wine has continued to increase over the last 10 years reaching 13.9 litres (per person) in 2006.”
Ottawa wine writer Natalie MacLean says in the last two years alone, wine consumption has increased seven to eight per cent, edging out beer as the alcoholic drink of choice.
“Definitely, it’s trending up,” says MacLean, author of the award-winning Red, White and Drunk All Over, who attributes the rise in wine drinking to the increasing popularity of in-home wine cellars.
From handy under-counter coolers in the kitchen to large humidity- and temperature-controlled rooms in the basement with moody lighting, stone floors and custom-fitted racking, wine storing options are as varied as the oenophile’s palate.
“Wine cellars can range from simple racks from IKEA in a closet that is cool and dark for a couple hundred dollars — to $50,000 for the den of Dionysus (the god of wine),” says MacLean, editor of a free online wine newsletter. “Consumption and budget will drive decisions.”
At C.A. Paradis on Bank Street, dishwasher-size wine cabinets that hold 50 bottles start around $799. For owners of larger wine collections with bigger bucks to spend, there are upright fridges with multiple temperature settings and high-grade compressors to maintain humidity and elaborate furniture-style cabinets featuring vacuum-sealed wooden doors with textured glass inserts that run as high as $10,000.
“We offer solutions for people just starting out to those who have extensive collections,” says retail manager Candace Diaz who admits Ottawans have a strong love connection with wine. “It’s becoming more of a passion.”
To help determine what a customer needs, Doug Gerro, sommelier at C.A. Paradis, says he asks two key questions: How much space do you have in your home to store wine and how many bottles of wine do you want to store?
Other important considerations to keep in mind are the length of time you plan to keep your wines in storage — just a few days or will you hang on to them several years? — and how much surplus space you’ll need to expand your private stash, Gerro says.
“You want to be able to add to your collection so you have to have space to grow.”
Though not intended for long-term storage, built-in wine coolers and fridges are gaining popularity in kitchens. Ottawa designer Ernst Hupel estimates “in nine out of the 10 kitchens we do, we’re incorporating under-counter wine fridges.”
It all comes down to convenience and having easy access to your favourite bottle of Sauvignon Blanc at the end of an exhausting day.
“Wine fridges are being used as much as we’re using microwaves,” Hupel says. “After a long day at work, a good bottle of wine is a nice reward.”
When it comes to cellaring wine, location is crucial, says Rolf Thorhauge, owner of Rolf’s Wine Cellars, a small company he and his wife Charlene run out of their Barrhaven home.
“You have to keep the wine in dark spaces where the sun don’t shine,” says Thorhauge, a retired RCMP inspector who has been designing and building basement wine cellars for the past 12 years.
But forget about tossing a few cases of Chianti in a cold storage room under the front porch.
“It has to be a temperature-controlled space,” insists Thorhauge, who says the ideal temperature for aging wine ranges between 10*C and 13*C.
His cellars, which start around $8,500, are fully insulated, panelled in pine or oak and with ceramic tile floors. Redwood racks, which he orders from Vintage Keeper in Toronto, are custom fit to the space and cradle the bottles horizontally to keep the corks from drying out.
Cooling units, which retail for about $600, are installed to control the room’s temperature and humidity levels and the cellar is vented into the house rather than outside to prevent drastic temperature fluctuations during the changing seasons.
For do-it-yourselfers, C.A. Paradis sells two styles of racking. There are wire racks commonly found in liquour stores or restaurants and natural redwood racking that is resistant to rot and odourless to prevent smells from leaching into the wines.
Costs are determined by the number of bottles: the wood racking ranges from about $1.50 to $8 a bottle while the wire racks sell for $3 to $4 a bottle.
Gerro cautions against installing racks in small niches under the basement stairs to cellar wines because the vibration of going up and down the steps will affect the aging process.
“It’s not a quiet space,” he says.
Note: Please see the story below this one for more information on wine cellars.