Sign up for our Newsletter

Photo courtesy of North Fork Wine Cellar Designs

Being surrounded by acres and acres of vineyards on the North Fork, you might be contemplating how to get serious about storing and saving some of our local wine. Once considered an esoteric amenity for collectors and other oenophiles, a way to store or display prized bottles — or just things you’ve tasted, loved and want to stock up on and share over time — is now a must-have for anyone who appreciates wine.

“When you have a pool and a tennis court, you have to have a wine cellar,” says Bud Handel, owner of East End Cellars in Jamesport. “It’s a whole process that people think about if they’re really interested in wine.” Handel has been designing and installing wine storage systems since 1973 — back when North Fork wine county was in its infancy. 

Home wine cellars have been on the rise for a few years. In the 2019 edition of the National Association of Home Builders’ “What Home Buyers Really Want” survey, more than half (52%) of respondents indicated a wine cellar was a desirable feature in a home. Two years earlier, in households with incomes of $150,000 or more, 31% of new-home buyers cited a wine cellar as an attractive amenity.

More than a luxury, it turns out they’re not a bad investment, either. 

In addition to keeping your wines in good form, wine storage can also add aesthetic appeal to a room, using materials like metal, glass and LED lights.(Photo courtesy of East End Cellars)

According to, a virtual wine cellar management system, homeowners who install wine cellars can expect to see a 15% to 20% return on their investment. And according to a 2019 report in Market Watch, wine cellars or rooms were among the top features that can boost the price of a home, in this case, 31% higher than similar homes without the amenity. 

Handel says that while many clients choose to install the amenity as part of a home improvement project, others are tapping into a larger trend that makes the wine room an integral part of the home’s entertainment space. 

“What I find today, most of the time people are most interested in having a wine room in their house; [it’s] in vogue, like a charging station for your electric vehicle,” he says. That desire is often reflected in the choice of stylish materials, which Handel says range from traditional to ultra-modern.

“I think the look today here on the Island is more for people who are not big collectors. The big collectors still want wood racks, but [for] people who use it more for entertaining, metal wine racks are incredibly popular and price efficient,” Handel says.

“With metal, glass and LED lights, we can create some spectacular looking displays,” he adds. 

Sip Code

Regardless of aesthetics, Handel says having a purpose is the No. 1 consideration.  

“I ask folks how they’re going to use the wine room — as long-term storage or display or for entertaining?” he says. “Do you want a wall of beautiful wine and LED lights so you get the full effect or do you want a more traditional wine room with a bistro table and chairs, and a breakfront with glasses and decanters?”

In addition to good looks, he advises clients on the mechanics of keeping their wines in good condition, away from extreme temperatures and light, and on infrastructure issues such as electrical loads and backup equipment. 

And sometimes, he does a special request, like building a special heated closet in one client’s cellar for storing down vests for friends to wear while tasting wine in the 55-degree temperature recommended for wine cellars. 

Peter Cimino of North Fork Wine Cellar Designs in Southold says helping clients design their cellars is a lot like advising people on buying futures, anticipating not only current storage needs but space for acquisition. While he’s not in the business of advising clients what bottles to purchase, he says, “Tell me what you have and I can tell you what space you need now and in the future.”

Merlot and cabernet franc, grapes, for which Long Island is known, are particularly hallmark varieties to have in the cellar. (Photo credit: David Benthal)

An inventory of 400 to 500 bottles is not that complicated, Cimino says. “It’s the people who have a fairly good collection of wine and buy a fair amount of wine — that’s where it gets tricky … knowing what you’re buying versus [what] you’re drinking or storing.”

And, echoing Handel, he says, “I would want to know — what do you plan to do with the cellar and what are you looking for, contemporary, traditional or a combination?”

In addition to wanting proper storage, Cimino says someone with a with high-value cellar often wants to make it visually appealing. “We can create racking for special bottles to show that off. What has been very popular is label-view racking — horizontal instead of vertical, so you see the label when you walk in,” he says.

Those systems lean toward contemporary, with materials such as Lucite and metal. Combining lighter-hued wood and metal is another popular trend that can bridge the old and new, according to Cimino. 

“We have a lot of racking choices and you can go from A to Z on materials,” he says.

Both designers say budget should be top of mind, with Cimino noting that modest cellars could start at $75,000 to build out. Handel says some equipment manufacturers offer DIY assistance with details on cooling systems and insulation. But, he notes, “it’s hard to do it yourself if you want to do it properly.” 

One option he offers is a pre-fab glass-walled wine enclosure by a company called Vitrus — “basically a plug-and-play, well-designed and attractive unit,” Handel says. The modular system includes glass panels and doors and an insulated floor and can be installed as a stand-alone showcase or built in, with customized options such as wood-grain veneers. 

Systems like Vitrus illustrate how Cimino says people like to enjoy their wine—“with a glass wall so they can look at the inventory, and drink and taste in context.” Most cellars are not treated like basements, he says, noting that “if they are on lower levels, they are next to the home theater or recreation room and part of an entertainment lifestyle.”

“I ask customers, ‘Why are you collecting — for your own consumption or are you entertaining?’ ” says Deb Gove, owner of Greenport Wines and Spirits. (Photo credit: David Benthal)

Stock Up: Bottle By Bottle

Now that you’ve built the cellar, how do you stock it if you’re new to the game? Experts say approach your collection a lot like cellar design — know its purpose.

“I ask customers, ‘Why are you collecting — for your own consumption or are you entertaining?’ ” says Deb Gove, owner of Greenport Wines and Spirits. “If you’re building a cellar, you’ll want some things for aging, but you’ll also want a mix of wines you can drink every day for when you bring pizza home on Friday night, want to grab something for a barbecue or to bring to a friend’s house.”

Then, she recommends, think in progressive price points matched to the occasion of the wine. “A next-level step up might be up to $20 for everyday wines and those over $20 for when you’re having company,” she says. “And then beyond, special wines from $50  to $100 or more that have aging potential.”

Mix up the colors and styles, too, she says. And don’t forget the sparkling, for which Long Island is known. While most people think of reds for the cellar, Gove suggests having fresh whites and rosés on hand for seasonal drinking and a variety of reds — lighter styles that can stay the course year round. 

Merlot and cabernet franc, grapes for which Long Island is known, are “particularly hallmark varieties to have in the cellar,” Gove says, adding that coming to the store for tastings (most Saturdays from 3 to 6 p.m.) and getting to know local wineries is a great way to start stocking. 

“Particularly in the off-season, you’ll run into the owners and winemakers and can have a conversation, make relationships and start to collect from there,” she says. “It’s not that big out here, so you can really get to know everybody. It’s fun and interesting.”

At Vintage Mattituck, store manager Nate Mendelson advises starting out with what you know you like, then coming into the store for tastings (Fridays and Saturdays) that can expand your palate.

“It’s about being open to exploring lesser-known styles, and for us it’s a lot of fun and a way for us to share our passion with the community,” he says. A lot of that passion revolves around local wines, which Mendelson says can stand up to other world-class wines.

“We have been an established AVA [American Viticultural Area] for 50 years but we have no restrictions on what can be from where, so there’s a lot of experimentation on varieties and terroir, and a fun dichotomy between Old and New World styles,” he says.

And if you’re looking to go big, he advises, “there are premier offerings on Long Island that are flagship wines of our top producers. There’s no reason to look only to France: There will always be a Long Island equivalent to the big grapes.”