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Cellars in the Sky: Creative New York City Wine Collections

In the space-starved metropolis, wine collections take myriad forms
Photo by: Courtesy Joseph & Curtis
Cellar design firm Joseph & Curtis created this sleek wine cabinet to house up to 500 bottles.

Ben Lasman
Posted: January 3, 2018

Housing a personal wine collection in New York City poses a host of challenges: Limited space, sky-high rents and draconian building codes all impede the dreams of Big Apple bottle hunters. But as wine culture becomes ever more engrained in America's most densely populated metropolis, savvy designers and property managers are finding new ways to cater to local enophiles intent on cellaring their treasures.

"It's becoming second nature to have some kind of wine storage in your apartment," says Curtis Dahl of cellar design firm Joseph & Curtis, which recently completed spaces for the New York Athletic Club and basketball star Carmelo Anthony.

Roger Fortune, vice president of real estate developer the Stahl Organization, agrees. "There are people for whom the process of cooking and serving food and drink is the main social activity," he says. "Adding wine storage to kitchens sets the tone." The open-plan kitchens in two of Stahl's properties, the recently renovated Brooklyn Trust Company building in Brooklyn Heights and the Laureate on the Upper West Side, come ready-equipped with Liebherr 24-inch Vinidor wine cabinets.

Nadine Iris Kim, a Brooklyn Trust resident, speaks highly of the amenity. "I keep it around 55° F, which is a great temperature to store many different types of wine—in particular reds, which can be tricky to store," she says.

At AKA Sutton Place, a hotel residence located on a tree-lined East Side block, long-term guests are given complimentary access to purpose-built, refrigerated wine lockers in the building's basement recreation area. Wines can then be brought up by staff or patrons and uncorked in AKA's in-house bar and lounge.

"This is something our residents have really been talking about," says Larry Korman, president of AKA Hotel Residences. "We wanted to do this the right way." In the original plan for the property, the wine lockers were on the same floor as the lounge. But guests—some of them celebrities who especially value privacy—voiced a preference for arrangements better suited to cellaring valuable wines safely and discreetly.

"I appreciate being able to store my wines in a climate-controlled environment and using these wine lockers when I'm entertaining guests," says one AKA resident who requested anonymity. "The lounge is the perfect extension of my living room. Nothing is better than a nightcap with close friends to end a long day in the city."

However, given the space constraints inherent to life in New York City, many urban collectors opt to divide their bounty, maintaining a smaller store at home while keeping prized or ageworthy bottlings in off-site storage. Chelsea Wine Storage occupies 10,000 square feet in Manhattan and houses approximately 25,000 cases, while Mana Wine, across the Hudson River in Jersey City, N.J., offers cellar management services in addition to hosting wine and cultural events.

The 22,000-square-foot Vintage Wine Warehouse, in Ridgewood, Queens, houses some 39,000 boxes of wine in a secure, temperature-controlled setting. The clientele is largely private collectors, with some restaurants in the mix. Storage manager Ronnie Seward identifies three main categories of patron: the hardcore wine enthusiast, the speculator buying wine to invest or flip at auction and the more casual collector without the space to store bottles at home.

Over his nearly two decades at the warehouse, Seward has seen a marked shift in the sophistication of the clientele. "It's a lot easier to be a wine consumer now than it was in the '90s or even early '00s," he says. "If you look at the trends in the past 20 years of the American market, it's reflected in the kinds of wines stored here."

Seward says he sees "a lot of amazing things on a daily basis": 1921 Yquem, Bordeaux from 1949, large holdings of Romanée-Conti and Gaja. "Any seriously collectible wine you can think of, we have it here," he says.

But while hubs like Vintage Wine Warehouse offer nigh-unlimited space and meticulously monitored cellaring conditions, they can't offer the immediacy of selecting a bottle on impulse for dinner or company. Despite offering quick-shipping options and rotating deliveries to keep clients sated, off-site storage will never quite match the seamless interplay of wine and life achieved by a home collection.

Occupying the upper echelon of urban wine collecting is the bespoke apartment cellar. A far cry from modest wine fridges—not to mention the folding rack crammed in the back of an overstuffed closet—these installations operate as visually stunning centerpieces, capable of holding thousands of bottles of wine at a consistent temperature and humidity.

"People want art pieces, things that are metal and glass, clean and modern, and accentuate the rest of the apartment," says Dahl. "Storage itself is often secondary." The designer credits attention-grabbing wine programs at New York restaurants for fueling taste in apartment cellars: People see a cabinet while out for dinner and want to copy it.

But with this hunger for glamorous cellars come the logistical hurdles of installing such complex and labor-intensive projects in city buildings. Most have limited elevator access and set timeframes in which contractors can work. Often, Dahl and his team are forced to build a complete cellar in their shop, take it apart, bring it up to an apartment in pieces and reassemble it there. Occasionally, fragile components must be lifted on cranes and conveyed into the apartment from outside. "You have a lot of expectations but very limited ways you can work inside those buildings, so you have to be a professional," he says. "New York is its own animal."


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Joseph & Curtis Courtesy Joseph & Curtis Courtesy Joseph & Curtis Katherine Marks

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