The first thing you need to know about putting together a wine cellar is that you don't have to do it the way Barry Fleischman did.
You don't have to have a separate room with extra insulation and a glass door built into your basement during your home's construction, as Mr. Fleischman did. (But it helps.)
You don't have to have a friend who's a cabinetmaker do custom work on your shelves, as Mr. Fleischman did. (But it helps.)
And you don't have to have 4,500 bottles of the finest wines the world has to offer, as Mr. Fleischman does. (But it really helps.)
"I've gotten phenomenal satisfaction and made a lot of friends and there's been a lot of great meals enhanced by wine," says Mr. Fleischman, a highly regarded caterer who owns the Innovative Gourmet.
Mr. Fleischman's 10-by-12-foot wine room in the basement of his Owings Mills townhouse is indeed magnificent, but it is possible to achieve cellar satisfaction with a considerably smaller investment.
In some ways, a wine cellar is a state of mind. It starts with a decision to set aside a cool place in your home for the preservation and storage of wine. A dozen bottles in a bedroom closet is just a wine stash; that same 12 bottles, when moved to a cool corner of the basement, is an embryonic wine cellar.
L With such a move, a wine drinker crosses a Rubicon of sorts.
Relatively few wine drinkers ever reach this point. Retailers estimate that something like 90 percent of the wines they sell are consumed within 48 hours of their purchase.
But serious wine lovers don't just buy for tonight's meal. They start buying young wines with the idea of holding them a few years so they can improve in the bottle.
If you're at this point, it's time to set up a wine cellar.
Now that doesn't mean you have to have an actual cellar. For practical purposes, it can be any cool place in your residence. It could be a spare bedroom that gets extra air-conditioning. For apartment dwellers it can be a stand-alone refrigerated unit that will hold several hundred bottles at a constant 50 degrees to 60 degrees.
Coolness is critical, however. If you have 10,000 bottles of wine in a room that regularly creeps into the high 70s, you don't have a cellar. You have vinegar futures.
Purists will contend that a real wine cellar should be as chilly as the dungeon of a Scottish castle in November. Don't buy it.
While many authorities cite 55 degrees as the optimal cellar temperature, Mr. Fleischman takes a more relaxed view.
He says that with his extra insulation, his basement cellar stays ,, at an average temperature of about 62 degrees. And that's just fine with him. A cooler cellar might retard the development of his wines, and he's not collecting them for his grandchildren to drink.
In fact, there's little reason to worry about storing any but the most fragile old collectible wines in perfect cellar conditions.
My basement cellar fluctuates between the low 60s in winter to maybe 70 at the peak of summer. I've recently been drinking California cabernets from the 1970s -- some of which have rested there for a decade. They've held up beautifully.
So, if you have a basement that stays reasonably cool year-round, save the money you'd spend on expensive refrigeration and put it into wine.
If you don't have a cool enough spot in your house or apartment, you will need to shell out money for refrigeration. A closet-sized cooling unit will cost about $700, according to Jack Diener of Wine Racks Unlimited in Cincinnati, while one for a cellar the size of Mr. Fleischman's would run about $1,500.
Stand-alone coolers cost anywhere from about $1,000 for a unit that will hold 100 bottles to $6,000-$8,000 for a walk-in cellar that will hold 2,000-3,000 bottles. To find a supplier of such equipment, you can check the ads in the back of the Wine Spectator.
Once you've committed to the notion of a wine cellar, you need to decide whether it's going to be for storage or for show.
There's nothing wrong with either approach. Mr. Fleischman's cellar, for instance, is beautifully designed as well as practical. It makes for a great tour. My cellar, on the other hand, is strictly utilion the other hand, is strictly utilitarian -- largely furnished with shelving units bought for $15 when a local clothing chain went out of business. They're ugly but they hold wine.
Whether you choose aesthetics or frugality, you will want shelving once you get beyond a few cases of wine. The business of storing wines in cardboard rapidly loses its charm when you have to hunt through boxes for the wine you want.
New shelving comes in a wide variety of price ranges. According to Mr. Diener, simple metal wine racks that screw into a concrete basement wall can run $1 per bottle or less, while finished wood shelving can cost $2 a bottle or more.
The most important ingredient in a wine cellar is wine. If your priorities are straight, it'll be the most expensive part of your investment.