• Melissa L. Smith

The Man Behind the Most Awe Inspiring Wine Cellars in the Country

I was introduced to Thomas Warner through featured collector Joel Weiss, not realizing that I was very familiar with several of his cellars that I would frequent in awe, either in a client’s home, as a visitor to a famed retail shop, or as a guest at a winery. His wine cellars are like museums. Incredible details, utilizing the finest materials, and preserving and presenting bottles of wine as the masterpieces that they are. Through a series of phone calls, video chats, and offline research, I was given insight into the world of creating some of the finest cellars in the country.

Warner started out as a general contractor, and in the late nineties was asked to build a wine cellar for a cardiologist that was in a wine group of medical professionals. Soon, other members were asking him to build them cellars, and Thomas Warner Wine Cellars was born. Averaging 20-30 wine cellars a year, TWWC has a list of high profile clients, most of which he has signed non-disclosure agreements with, to prevent revealing their identities. One notable client that checks all of the illustrious wine collector boxes, is Ann Colgin, who has had three separate locations built by Warner. His clients find him almost strictly through word of mouth, which is how he prefers it, and for logistical reasons, restricts his builds to a 3,000 mile radius from his headquarters in Novato, California. The cellars he creates are completely customized to each client, taking into consideration their aesthetic and needs, incorporating combinations of exotic woods, metals, and stone, as well as cutting edge technology, and unique features like glass floors, and hidden entrances. Ranging from traditional to contemporary styles, he takes into consideration the number of bottles the client already has, and generally will plan to build a cellar half to twice as big, as well as unique needs i.e. a collection of large format bottles that will require specific storage dimensions and display options. He will incorporate thoughtful touches like sourcing Jarrah wood, a tree in the eucalyptus family, for a client from Australia, and Monkeypod, an exotic tropical wood, for clients in Hawaii. Warner did note that he enjoys working with reclaimed wood when sourcing materials for his cellars as well.

Working with the client, their sommelier, interior designers, and the architects, Warner coaxes out the stories of the collectors to design a cellar that will meet and exceed their expectations, oftentimes creating cellars in multiple homes for the same client. He remarked that there is a “meditative quality about designing wine cellars”, a sentiment that I echo in organizing a wine collection. Half of the cellars they build are room conversions, and the other half are new builds. Although he has done several retail establishments and restaurants, 95% of the cellars that they design and build are for private collectors.

While none of the cellars that he has built have been affected by earthquakes, the California wildfires have consumed entire homes containing his magnificent cellars. One notable build was to replace a widely available online metal racking system that was installed by the client, that came completely off of the wall destroying the entirety of the collection in an earthquake. When asked about the technical features of a wine cellar, he emphasised that beyond the design and racking, the climate control, both temperature and humidity are the most important investments, noting that there are systems with remote alarms to let the collector know if anything has been compromised by temperature fluctuations due to power outages, or equipment failures. Safety features like live feed remote controlled video surveillance, fingerprint and face recognition software integration to access the cellars are also integrated into many of the projects.

An interesting point that Warner brought up, was that it is not uncommon for those with in-home wine cellars, to store many wines off premise in a wine storage facility, and to keep the wines in which are meant to be drunk within a set number of years, and those that they wish to display, on premise. This allows the collector to have access to the wines that they wish to drink, as well as surrounding themselves with their most prized bottles, while allowing others to safely mature and gain value out of sight, and out of mind.

The average cellar done by TWWC was roughly estimated at 2,000 bottles, and a complete build costing roughly $60,000 between materials and labor, although the sky's the limit for both size and cost. To get a glimpse of the incredible work by TWWC, please visit their website, and check out the book Living with Wine by Samantha Nestor and Alice Feiring, a stunning coffee table book in which several of his cellars are featured.

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