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GARAGED // Vintage wine as well as autos

Published Jul. 6, 2006

Garages are no longer home to just the family car. One couple in search of a place to park their wine racked up a wine cellar in theirs.

When Dale and Suzanne Nelson moved from Chicago to Tampa a year ago, Dale had one wish: "I have to have a wine cellar. I know they don't have basements in Florida, but I must be able to find someone who can do this for me."

Because Floridians use their garages as basements, the answer quickly became clear. Nelson had a heavily insulated "wine room" constructed in one bay of the three-car garage of his new home, built by M/I Homes in Westchase in Hillsborough County. The Nelsons moved in late in August. Dale, 49, is with Poe and Brown, insurance brokers in Tampa; Suzanne, 46, is a flight attendant with Northwest Airlines.

The room is 9-by-8 feet. A one-inch-thick vapor barrier wraps the room and there is six inches of R-11 fiberglass insulation in the walls and 10-inch R-30 batt insulation in the ceiling. The technology is similar from that used for saunas, said Kevin Peterson, general manager of Gale Insulation of Tampa, which did the work.

The room is cooled by a Whisper Kool 3000 unit that circulates the water that condenses in the cooling process, then blows it back into the room for humidity. It also has an evaporator that eliminates excess humidity.

The door is a foam-insulated steel exterior door.

"Unlike in a cellar or a house, this is an uninsulated garage, with temperatures in excess of 100 degrees in summer," Nelson said. The challenge was to maintain a steady temperature inside of about 56 degrees and 65 percent humidity when it's 40 or 50 degrees warmer outside and the humidity is much higher.

"It was a challenge," said Glenn Baird, M/I's construction supervisor on the house. The construction crews installed a false floor in the cellar to compensate for the garage's sloping floor. The cellar is constructed so that a future owner can tear it out and reinstate the third garage bay "and not affect the integrity of the house," Baird said. "It was the first time I've built a wine cellar in a third-car garage bay."

Inside, the wine rests on redwood racks designed and built by Fred S. Tregaskis of New England Wine Cellars in Sharon, Conn. He pre-cut everything in Connecticut, shipped the pieces to Tampa in 10 boxes, then flew here and spent 2{ days assembling the room. He worked in some visual interest, with arches, a display shelf and diamond-shaped racks. The back wall stores wine two bottles deep; on other walls, the racks are one bottle deep. The shelves designated for champagne storage are slightly wider to accommodate those larger bottles. The cellar holds 1,360 bottles.

"Wine likes to be cool, it likes to be quiet, it likes to lie on its side," Tregaskis said, and that's exactly what it does here.

Nelson estimates he spent $2,900 on construction costs and another $6,000 for the shelving system. In Chicago he was paying $146 a month to store his wine in a commercial cellar, so he figures "the cellar will pay for itself in a little over four years."

Besides, Nelson said, "now I have immediate access to my wine and I can pull a bottle and see how it's drinking."