In January 2013 my wife, Carole, and I moved from our rural Maryland house to a 17th floor condo in “The Century” — a new 41-story structure in Century City, Los Angeles. However, I was concerned about what would happen to my beloved home winemaking hobby of 41 years. In preparation to reduce that anxiety, I worked closely with the general contractor who was remodeling our three-bedroom unit. I said, “Let’s convert one of the closets over to a temperature-controlled area that can both act as a storage space for our 500-wine bottle collection and leave space for a few carboys.”
With some strict building condo rules, there was concern about mold retardation. To alleviate their concerns, I elected to use so-called “purple board” rather than traditional white gypsum plasterboard as the liner for the walls and ceiling. That treated material has the highest rating for mold and moisture resistance. The condo developer’s closet walls were gutted, a four-mil poly moisture membrane was wrapped at each stud that then received R-19 fiberglass insulation. 5⁄8-inch plywood and the purple wallboard followed, and then special true cork-finish wallpaper was applied with mold-resistant adhesive, thus finishing the surface. A cooling system assured a constant 55 °F (13 °C) and the custom-made, large double-pane doors allowed for easy access to the closet’s contents, as well as moving around those large carboys. A sensor was placed in the closet to monitor its temperature and display the reading on each condo’s TV to boot! This way if there is a breakdown in the cooling system I would likely see it since I generally have my TV tuned into the daily news or other programs. My ultimate goal is to be able to interlock that temperature sensor with the condo’s Wi-Fi or phone system so I can view the closet’s temperature even while traveling.
Carole selected a Vintage View® racking system that was custom made to accommodate the uniquely converted closet space. Splits, magnums and regular 750 mL bottles now have their new home. Indirect LED lighting was installed and an antique grape-theme etched glass chandelier hangs as a centerpiece. We also installed smoke film on the glass doors for “atmosphere” creation when the room is being viewed.
Unlike in Maryland, provision for the possibility of an earthquake to stop the 500 bottles from bouncing off their metal support arms had to be addressed. I obtained 170 “earthquake straps” that now lock each row of three horizontal bottles in place. Of course, in the case of an earthquake causing one or more of my bulk-aging, 5-gallon (19-L) glass wine carboys to hit the floor and break, I would have to have an alert sent out in the building over their emergency PA system to have residents gather at the 16th floor condo below us — with an empty wine glass in hand!
Uncomfortable with calling this space a wine closet and realizing it did not qualify as a wine “cellar,” it has been christened our “Wine Grotto.” Paying homage to my new “winery,” each wine I make is labeled “Wine of The Century” followed by the varietal and vintage.
So how is “high altitude” winemaking on the 17th floor different from winemaking in Maryland, or say the 1st floor? Turns out, it is not any big difference. I haven’t found a need to take acetazolamide (medication for high-altitude mountain climbing to help a person cope with the reduced oxygen when they get above 8,000 feet), and I still use airlocks to keep oxygen out of the wine on the 17th floor!”