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Wine cellars a ‘standard feature’ for luxury real estate

Kevin and Merle Jarvis are seen in the wine cellar at their Vancouver on Thursday. ‘It’s a practical wine cellar, not a serious collection,’ Kevin says.


Throughout the summer, The Globe's B.C. bureau is taking an in-depth look at housing in the Vancouver region, where skyrocketing prices are limiting who can afford to buy a home in Canada's third-largest city and what those homes look like. We're examining trends in the Lower Mainland's housing market, as well as following buyers who are trying to navigate it.

Hardwood floors? Check.

Wok kitchen? Check.

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Landscaping? Check.

Bathroom counters, high-end appliances, media room? Check, check, check.

Wine cellar? Oh.

"We're not serious wine collectors, but it's something we've always wanted," says Merle Jarvis, opening a heavy door to a new glass-encased, 400-bottle cellar, which was carved out of a small room in her home that was formerly used for storing hockey gear.

"We look at a lot of houses for sale," she adds, referring to her husband, Kevin. "Most have nice wine cellars."

In Vancouver's feverish high-end real estate market, it has become increasingly popular to have a cool, climate-controlled wine room as a lifestyle and entertainment feature. For homes worth $3-million or more, it is almost mandatory.

"It's like the hot handbag of the year," says Elfie Pavlakovic, a real estate broker and proprietor of Gloss Interiors, which designed the Jarvises' wine cellar with its custom cabinetry millwork in rift-cut white oak and back wall built from Nantucket ledge stone.

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"It started a few years back with the wine fridge," she explains. "I designed a lot of kitchens with wine fridges built into the end of an island that opened up into the great room.

"From there, it went to separate wine rooms that make a statement. A lot of the luxury homes have them, especially in the North Vancouver and Edgemont areas that cater to the Asian markets. The Asians are really big on wine. From a retail perspective, it's a very good selling feature. I call it 'the bling.'"

Lined in jade and gold leaf or fitted with comfortable seating areas and central tables, modern wine rooms are not just glitzy; they are de rigueur.

Christa Frosch, a real estate and vineyard specialist with Sotheby's International Realty Canada, agrees that wine cellars have become a "standard feature" in the luxury marketplace over the past five or six years, a trend that's come about, in part, because Canadians have become much more savvy wine drinkers.

Consumer trend reports by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada confirm that Canadian wine consumption has indeed been growing in both value and volume sales, and is expected to grow even more in the future.

In 2013, France's Vinexpo predicted that Canada's wine consumption, in the span of 10 years, will grow six times faster than the world average, surpassed only by China and the United States.

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"Also, we have to remember that Vancouver is a global market, on par with London or New York," Ms. Frosch says. "The majority of buyers are not local. They come from all over the world. They expect a wine cellar."

Monique Badun, a West Side real estate broker, recently sold a house for $8-million. "It had everything – except a wine cellar," she says. "The buyer, a very serious collector, had to put one in. It cost $500,000. He didn't even blink at the cost."

West Vancouver's British Pacific Properties now includes a wine storage feature in all of its custom homes. Even its "downsizer" townhouses and condominiums are fitted with central wine-storage features, consisting of built-in wine fridges and displays covering an entire wall.

"The wine cellar is the new media room," president Geoffrey Croll says. "Everyone wants a place to not just store wine but also entertain. Wine isn't hidden underground any more. It's celebrated and shown off."

Everyone seems to agree that the modern wine cellar should be centrally located near the great room or entertaining area. "That's the trend now," Ms. Pavlakovic says. "Let's get it out of the basement and bring it upstairs where we can all enjoy it."

Those in the resale market, however, should be aware of cultural differences. Rollin Fox, president of Sleeping Grape Wine Cellars, says he hasn't been able to crack the Asian market, partly because he incorporates a lot of handcrafted woodwork and antique fixtures.

"I hired a consultant who said, 'Give your head a shake.' In China, the worst products are made from hand. They don't want old wood from a church. They want new materials and contemporary designs lined in jade and gold leaf."

A wine cellar doesn't have to be glitzy to increase the value of your home, but it does have to be functional.

"It's not just a cupboard under the stairs," Ms. Badun says. "It has to be a real wine cellar with proper racks and climate controls, and should hold at least 300 bottles. If you're in the $3-million-plus market, you will get your money back on an upgrade."

But should it be filled? The Jarvises decided it would look better, so they hired Vicky Ainley of Vino Allegro Wine Imports Inc. to curate a collection of moderately priced wines, about $40 a bottle, tailored to their popular tastes, which has turned the potential headaches of selling into a much more pleasant buzz.

"It's a practical wine cellar, not a serious collection," Kevin Jarvis says. "But it's been great. We've been able to try something new every day. If we sell, we'll take the wine with us. If we don't get the price we want, we'll still have the wine."

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