Woodbury’s Home Wine Cellars

For wine hobbyists, a wine cellar is an excellent way to keep the collection growing and the knowledge expanding.

For those of us who like wine, it’s nice to have a bottle on hand at all times just in case the occasion calls for it. But what if you want a few more options?

Home wine cellars can range from a small space under the stairs to full-blown, climate-controlled rooms, and there are some of both right here in Woodbury. Here we feature two wine cellars to give you some ideas if you’re considering starting your own collection, and show that wine is more than just a special occasion drink.

Fred and Heidi Conrad

When the Conrads bought their home in 2009, the basement was unfinished but the plumbing was rigged for a wet bar, and the realtor told Fred the bathroom would go in the room behind the bar. Fred, without thinking or consulting his wife, Heidi, said, “’No, that’s the wine room!’ … It just came out of my mouth,” he recalls.

Happily, Heidi was on board. In their previous home, they kept their small wine collection in a space under their stairs, and Fred was ready for an upgrade. He read some books, and then consulted Ray Zemke, wine buyer (and expert) at The Cellars Wine & Spirits in Woodbury, whom he considers a mentor.

In the books, he read that years ago, wine was stored in caves, “so there was some natural fluctuation in temperature from season to season,” Fred says, so as long as there weren’t huge changes in temperature, it was all right. With that in mind, the back wall of his cellar, a foundation wall, is cement, along with the floor. The other walls were insulated to keep the temperature consistent.

When it came to organization, it took him a while to get started. “For the longest time I actually just had wine stored here because I was trying to figure out … how we buy wine and how we drink wine,” Fred says. Creating storage that makes sense with your habits is part of creating a cellar. Once he figured this out, he spoke with Zemke.

“Ray had the idea for having a little showcase of the bottles,” Fred says, which allows the owner to see the labels of the wine bottles that are stacked in that row. Then the larger diamonds below are for wines they buy a lot of, and drink a lot of. “I designed it to what I wanted it to look like, then [the builder] did the measurements,” Fred says, adding that someone from the builder's company did the installation.

Surprisingly, Fred wasn’t always a wine guy. “I grew up drinking beer, playing softball, that whole thing,” he says. “But I’ve always been a guy who liked food.” So about 20 years ago, he started drinking wine to pair with his food, mostly Napa Cabernet.

“I’ve moved to the point where I probably have a half-dozen bottles of Napa Valley in here, then the rest is French, Italian, little bit of the southern hemisphere,” Fred says. He and Heidi enjoy wine from the Rhone region of France, and a range of Italian wines. He’s definitely upgraded since his Napa Cab days, as his wine cellar now holds between 400 and 500 bottles.

There are many reasons to have a wine cellar, including never being without wine, but Fred says his favorite reasons revolve around sharing what he has. “It’s great; I have friends come over and we come down and I say, ‘Let’s pick something.’ It’s a cool reason to have a cellar. You can introduce them to something they haven’t had.”

Dan and Pam Hoeffel

Dan and Pam Hoeffel had three wine refrigerators full of wine when they decided they needed to do something different. “The bottom line is … how much am I going to spend on wine refrigerator style units versus how much am I going to spend to take some space in my house and make more of a wine cellar?” Dan says.

Their basement contained a large fitness room, “and we decided we didn’t need that large an exercise room,” Pam says. “So the size of the cellar was more due to the load-bearing walls and where we could actually put a wall and a doorway.”

What resulted is a glass door encasing what looks like a small wine cellar, but is actually a hallway that opens into the real deal. More than an extra room retro-fitted to hold wine, the Hoeffels' wine cellar holds roughly 1,000 bottles. The walls had to be insulated, and an outside cooling unit was installed to keep the room at a low temperature—low enough to need a heavy sweater. And because we live in Minnesota, the cooling unit actually needs to be heated during the cold winter months.

Dan admits, “I don’t think it’s something you can do without assistance. If you want to build the racking and you’re good with woodworking, sure.” But the mechanics of insulation and cooling should be done by people who know wine cellars, he says.

The Hoeffels’ wine cellar is designed in a rustic style, and the second door to the cellar was a way of separating the cellar’s style from the modern family room outside. The space under the stairs was designed to look like a cave, and used for extra storage or for bottles that have yet to find a home in the racks. The rest of the cellar has, like the Conrads' cellar, space for displaying bottles, space for larger bottles and space for extras.

Ray Zemke was a huge help for the Hoeffels, too. “Ray has been a guide and a source of information,” Dan says. “You don’t have to listen to what a publication says,” Zemke has told him. “You either like it or you don’t.”

Adding to that sentiment, don’t build a wine cellar if you don’t like wine. “Don’t do it unless you have wine as a hobby or passion,” Dan says. And for him, it truly is a passion. Each bottle holds the story of what that part of the world eats or drinks, he says. “And it becomes fascinating. It’s like having a library.

“The hardest part,” Dan says, “is drinking them. Because they all have a story.”

(Pam and Dan Hoeffel)

Building a Cellar?
Wine expert Ray Zemke has some tips.

  • Keep wine in a cool, dark place with no vibrations. Closets and basements work great. (On top of the fridge is a definite no.)
  • If you’re storing wine, know the time frame to drink it. Now through 2020? In five years? Right now?
  • Consider how many bottles you drink a month, what varietels you like, and what prices you'll pay for your everyday bottle and your special occasion wine.
  • Buy two “because if you drink it and you love it, you [want another]," Zemke says. “If you drink it and you don’t love it, bring it back. We’ll exchange it for something else.”
  • Typically what happens when you have wine on hand, you may drink it more. Be aware [your drinking habits] may change.
  • Fred and Heidi Conrad

To expand your wine knowledge, The Cellars Wine and Spirits hosts a wine tasting seminar every Saturday, and a food-wine pairing at a restaurant the first Saturday of every month. For more information, visit the website here.