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Best Cellars

“People are starting to get into it,” says Tim Metzer, a branch manager for Apex Wine Cellars. He has built rooms to house “small” collections of 200 bottles all the way up to 13,000. These stellar cellars sometimes come equipped with wooden racks and bins, ladders, tiled floors and elaborate wrought-iron or stained-glass doors. They are cooled to precise requirements and are kept at the proper degrees of humidity and light. Computer databases can even keep track of what to drink (and not drink) when. Mad for that Merlot? Sorry, but it needs a few more years until it’s ripe for the sipping.

Metzer travels to cities across the Carolinas, including Fayetteville, sizing up spaces both small and large. He helped build the cellar at Luigi’s restaurant and, more recently, a personal cellar for Dr. Bruce Distell, a Fayetteville radiologist. The Distells added a basement to their home in the Summertime neighborhood. What started out as a plan to include a small wine room wound up as a cellar with enough space for 1,200 bottles. But Distell says he has never been a serious collector and doesn’t plan to become one.

“I love wine,” he said. “I’m not doing it for investment purposes, just personal use, just being able to enjoy different wines and have friends and family come over.”

Distell says friends are welcome to stash bottles in his basement with just one caveat: “One bottle per case to share.”

The basement now includes the cellar, a home theater, a small kitchen and an area to entertain guests. The floor is made of limestone from the Bordeaux region of France, and it’s said that the purple veins running through the rustic stone actually come from a local vineyard; crop after crop, juice from the grapes leached through the soil and into the rock below. Though the Distells are still putting the finishing touches on the cellar, it already has an Old World feel with its thick arched door and ambient lighting.

“It feels like you are going into a cellar when you walk in the door,” Dr. Distell said. “I enjoy drinking wine – I just wanted a place to keep it and store it.”

He’s not the only one.

Jerry Chamblee, of Williamson & Chamblee Interiors in Raleigh, helps design homes in Naples, Fla., and cities scattered around North Carolina, including Fayetteville. “Nine out of 10 projects that we do, there is a wine cellar,” he said. But Chamblee prefers the term “wine room” because he has seen wine basements, attics and garages not to mention chilled closets. Wine rooms can run the gamut. For serious collectors and connoisseurs, wine is an investment. Collectors often buy and sell wine “futures,” a way of purchasing wines early while a vintage is still in the barrel. They may invest in wines they won’t see for years, if ever. At the other end of the spectrum are wine enthusiasts with reach-in pantries. Chamblee has designed cellars with built-in tasting rooms, lighting to look like real torches, gates and tasting buckets recycled from Europe and a cellar so rustic it had sand floors.

But the best part comes at the end of the project, he said. “We open a wine that I ordinarily wouldn’t (be able to) come near. My palate isn’t that educated, but it’s fun nonetheless.”

The services supplied by Apex Wine Cellars and Chamblee’s design firm don’t come cheap. Not including the cost of construction or the wine itself, Chamblee says, it can cost anywhere from $3,500 to $100,000 to outfit a wine room.

So, what if you can’t swing a cellar? If you have champagne wishes and a Boone’s-size budget, there are plenty of special refrigerators to keep the booze cool. And some of them are quite high-tech – wine refrigerators range from the size of a microwave to 7-foot sub-zero behemoths with corresponding prices. But it might not be long before you add another fridge, then another. When you rent out a storage space for wine, as one Fayetteville collector did, well, it might be time for a cellar.

As for Dr. Distell, he says he’s looking forward to stocking his now mostly-empty cellar. It’s not likely to stay that way for long.