3000 Bottles of Wine on the Wall

This article appears in the February 2008 issue of Housetrends – Cincinnati

Stunning cellar holds more than wine bottles

By Sarah J. Dills

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A priceless treasure is buried in the lower level of Tom Huff’s home. It is not found underground or within the concrete. Instead, it is camouflaged among 3,000 bottles of wine. It only takes Tom a few seconds of browsing to put his hands on the bottle of champagne that has remained corked since the wedding reception for The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer on the 29th of July 1981. Tom received the bottle as a gift from a family friend, and he admits it belongs to his wife. The champagne was created with grapes frozen the year Prince Charles was born—1947—and then thawed the year before his wedding to Princess Diana. Tom is relatively certain that his is one of the only unopened bottles left from that historical event. “I wouldn’t sell it for any amount of money,” he quickly announces.

On the bottle

The homeowner’s ease in finding this rare bottle was aided through his wine storage system that showcases the label of each bottle instead of the cork. “I don’t know why wine storage is created to show the top of the bottle,” Tom says. “I enjoy seeing the labels.”

Tom is not alone in his attraction to the labels on wine bottles. It is believed that several first-time wine purchases are triggered by the label. Dave Osmundson has worked with several companies to create wine labels since 1983. In Wine Label Design: What Makes a Successful Label, Osmundson is quoted as saying, “The label is the first contact you have with the product. It’s the most important factor in making that initial sale. As label makers, our job is to get the first sale. After that, it’s up to the product.”

The less-than-conventional wine cellar in the Huffs’ basement was built out of necessity. The couple originally included an 800-bottle cellar on the first floor of their home during construction nine years ago, but it was quickly outgrown after they closed two of their restaurants in Denver. The wine inventory was shipped back to Ohio, and the Huffs needed a place for storage. The lower level of the home had remained unfinished. “We needed an entertainment room anyway, so it was perfect timing,” Tom explains.

Eye for design

Due to his work in the design and construction of retail stores and centers, Tom was ready to design his lower level wine cellar and entertainment space. “The Napa style room downstairs is authentic—from the design to the furnishings,” he explains.

Tom was drawn to the Napa style on his many trips out west. “It’s a great place for anyone to go, even if you don’t enjoy wine. There are great restaurants, great destinations.”

The Huffs worked with Neal’s Design–Remodel to complete the project. “Neal’s was great,” Tom says. “It was very smooth. They really pulled off my plans.”

The warm tones of the 1,600-square-foot lower level are noticed immediately upon entering the stairway where the previous wine cellar once stood. Light wood tones are complemented by a textured wall treatment. Wrought iron banister posts introduce the element of black that will appear down the stairs in the actual cellar.

At the bottom of the stairs, a round table awaits guests looking to take a seat and admire the spectacular views of the wine storage system. A wall of glass allows each of the 3,000 bottles to be admired as overhead lighting casts reflections of wine bottles onto the black granite flooring. “I created a transition from the Napa Valley interior design to the contemporary style of the wine cellar,” Tom says.

Down the hall and around the corner awaits an entire entertainment area where the Huffs can host friends and family for wine tasting and dinner. A long tasting table comfortably seats 10, while a leather banquette provides additional seating. The function of the lower level, a small kitchen, is hidden in the nook under the stairs. It provides storage for wine glasses and utensils while remaining beautiful with granite countertops and paneled appliances. “The Huffs wanted modern day amenities with an old-world charm,” says Steve Hendy of Neal’s.

Taste tested, Huff approved

Tom started collecting in 1975, because he had always wanted to learn about wine. He started out small, as he recommends most people do, and he was able to expand his collection as his business became more successful.

Tom began to invest in futures (where a barrel is purchased years before it will be bottled.) “1982 was a great year in France,” Tom explains. “I bought four barrels that wouldn’t be bottled for three years, and they are each worth $1,000 now.”

Even though the Huffs’ passion and knowledge of wine will help pay for future wine purchases, they are not in it to make money. Their passion for wine is fueled by the pleasure they get from enjoying a nice bottle of wine with a special meal and group of people.

Tom’s Tips for starting a wine collection:

  1. Visit www.wineenthusiast.com to learn the basics about starting a wine collection. Under the education icon is a section for books.  The Wine Enthusiast 2008 Wine Buying Guide is on sale for $24.99.
  2. A great way to start a wine collection is with a self-contained, temperature-controlled piece of furniture. They can hold up to approximately 600 bottles of wine.
  3. The ideal wine storage temperature is 55 degrees, and the ideal storage humidity is 75 percent. Lower levels are great places to store wine in this region, because we have great humidity. You might only have to humidify your wine storage space in the dead of winter.
  4. Start your wine collection with four basic wines—cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. They don’t have to be expensive.
  5. The more wine, the better your cellar looks.


Designer:Tom Huff, homeowner with Steve Simiele and Bob Voigt, Neal’s Design & Remodel; Contractor: Neal’s Design & Remodel; Main flooring: Vila Velha Sandstone Tile with coffee grout, Kuhl Tile; Cellar flooring and walls: Absolute Black Granite, Kuhl Tile; Staircase: Schutte Stair Company; Wood finish on staircase: Bluford Jackson & Son, Inc.; Lutron lighting system installation: Huss Electric; Cabinetry: Andover Recessed Cherry, Sandstone II with pewter glaze, Brookhaven; Hardware: Prestige Forged Knob with iron finish, Woodmode; Countertops: Black Galaxy Granite, Mees Distributors; Backsplash: Creative Metal Aberdeen in Copper Antique Satin, Kuhl Tile; Bar faucet: Oil Rubbed Bronze, Moen; Appliances: Custom Distributors; Painting, wall treatment: Wolff Painting and Wallpapering; Decorative doors: Bona Decorative Hardware; Glass wine wall: Seegar Glass, installation and Basco Shower, glass clamps and buttons