The Daily Telegraph

Fancy choosing the next bottle? Just watch your step…

Forget kitchen islands – spiral wine cellars are the latest status symbol, says William Sitwell

- williamsho­

A spiral cellar is as exciting now as those big American fridges were in the Fifties

In lockdown, confinemen­t to our homes saw many of us pausing, reflecting and considerin­g our lives. We thought deep. Now it seems many of us went one further and dug deep. Literally. According to Spiral Cellars, constructo­rs of chic, vertical wine storage rooms, demand has doubled since March 23, with wine lovers across the country investing heavily – from £15,000 to £80,000 – in digging chic holes in the ground, some 8ft across and up to 10ft deep, bottles lining the walls.

Many are built with steel doors that lie flush with the floor, hide beneath a rug and, at the touch of a button, slide open. Others are made of reinforced glass on which guests can stand gazing down at the wonder of a friend’s novel way of storing their 2,000 bottles at a constant temperatur­e.

With profession­al cellaring (wine storage companies) costing around £650 for a thousand bottles, it can be an economic solution, as well as the ultimate new status symbol. Forget your £100,000 Smallbone or Plain English bespoke kitchen – a given for the aspiring British middle-class foodie – a new James Bond-style spiral wine cellar is as exciting to show off to friends as US fridges were in the Fifties.

This boom was, perhaps, inevitable: as Britain prepared to enter lockdown, alcohol sales soared by some 67 per cent; 11 per cent of us were drinking wine daily come late March, which rose to 16 per cent by May.

“People have been enjoying more and better wine at home while the hospitalit­y sector has been closed,” explains Lucy Hargreaves, the managing director of Spiral Cellars, with fine wines being one of the few investment­s to retain their value amid an erratic stock market during the coronaviru­s pandemic. Keeping it well looked after, then, has never been more crucial.

I’ll admit that these new bells-andwhistle­s wine basements make me jittery about my own cellar at our home in Northampto­nshire; a family pile dating back to the 17th century. It’s a traditiona­l cool room, quite a journey from the dining room.

Down the back wooden stairs, a creaking door opens into a long, dark and damp passage. At the far end another creaking, ancient wooden door is opened with a very large iron key. Within is a large room with bare stone walls and wine racks. There’s a small room leading off it, where the ceiling is lower and bottles lie on dry stone slabs. It feels seriously ancient in here.

I remember coming down here as a small child in the Seventies; it was then a magical space with bottles layered on the floor and filling the racks (things are rather more depleted these days). My grandfathe­r, the writer Sacheverel­l Sitwell, had just performed what seemed to be a small sales miracle. In return for writing the introducti­on to a book for the Rothschild family, he had been given a case of Mouton Rothschild from an epic year in the Fifties. He had one bottle remaining by 1975, which he sold at auction, and managed to stock the entire cellar on the proceeds.

Today, our home is for sale.

If I had my wits, and some cash, about me, I should quickly sink a circular hole in the drawing room so the cellar is revealed through reinforced concrete and steel shuttering, with LED lights glowing behind my epic collection.

The serious investment in these cellars reflects wine’s role as a key comfort during lockdown. While restaurant­s and bars were ordered to close their doors to customers, off-licences remained open and began providing delivery services – a lifeline for those fearful of leaving the house.

Indeed, according to Kirby Bryant of Cambridge Wine Royston, her deliveries were seen as the fourth emergency service. “My customers made me feel like some sort of superhero when I arrived in our van,” she says, “especially if they were running low.”

Those shielding and the over-70s, in particular, were apparently heard shrieking for joy at the sight of her van approachin­g. “One old lady asked us to feed her bottles through the cat flap,” she adds.

I too, as a restaurant critic in search of a role during lockdown, turned to wine as release. But as a vendor as well as a drinker, launching the world’s smallest online wine shop, William’s House Wines, which only ever sells two whites, two reds, two rosés and two fizzes at any one time. In keeping with the lockdown spirit, delivery is of course directly to your door – or those of your 007-esque cellar.

 ??  ?? Corking idea: a vertical wine cellars can cost between £15,000 and £80,000. Right, William Sitwell enjoys a glass
Corking idea: a vertical wine cellars can cost between £15,000 and £80,000. Right, William Sitwell enjoys a glass
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