Step-stools; Why they don’t belong in wine cellars

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Topic: Step-stools; Why they don’t belong in wine cellars

When calculating the capacity of any wine cellar the formula is simple. What’s the usable area of the wall? The greater the area of the wine cellar wall, the greater the potential capacity. My concern is never the width, but rather, how tall is too tall? I’ve seen walls of wine extending 12 feet into the air.

For the average height wine collector, any wine stored above 7 feet will require some type of step-stool or step-ladder to retrieve. Take a look at the first picture below. This is the Union League of Chicago’s wine cellar. (We did that!) The racking is over 10 feet tall. Look to the far left of the picture and, check out the library ladder. It runs along a rail that extends the full width of the racking. The rail is secured every two feet with metal attachments directly into the wine racking, which was reinforced for this application. The ladder has rollers on the bottom that turn into rubberized feet, when anyone climbs the ladder. Lastly, the ladder is made of solid oak with reinforced treads.

This is the only type of ladder that should be used in a wine cellar. It is sturdy. It has a number of handholds. And is easy to climb because of the angle of the ladder. Should someone find themselves clinging to this ladder, it will not pull away from the racking. This ladder, the reinforced construction, and the rails/hardware are worth every bit of the $5,000 cost.

For you who are not attorneys, here’s a fun fact…or maybe not such a fun fact. Ladders are the single most litigated consumer product in the United States. Now, let’s consider step-stools. Most of these are flimsy, accidents-waiting-to-happen. Before considering a step-stool for a wine cellar, check around the racking for a panic, handhold area by which one might steady oneself with one hand, while grabbing a bottle of Chardonnay with the other.

Handholds are especially difficult to find in contemporary wine cellars, and architects love these contemporary wine cellars. But no architect has ever seen the tragedy of a collector sprawled on the floor, bleeding in a pool of wine, while still firmly clutching the neck of his used-to-be 1986 Chateau Margot. Imagine for a moment trying to grab a handful of wine pegs as you’re about to hit the floor.

The second picture is a job I resigned, rather than agree to the architect’s concept. (Later, I was brought back into the design by the wife of the collector.) The basic design was 19 fully operational drawers in each column. It was a clean and attractive design. But ask yourself, why don’t kitchens have drawers near the ceiling? Easy! No one standing on the floor can see what’s in the drawer. Note the absence of wine above the eleventh drawer. This was my contribution. Above the 11th drawer are only drawer fronts. (There were more errors in this design, but
staying eleven-high eliminated these issues, too.)

(Note library ladder in the far, left side.)


Bottom line, do yourself and your loved ones a favor. Stand with your feet firmly on the ground.  If you really need a ladder make certain it’s a good one. And if a handhold is required, find it before you’re tumbling. Wine is good; falling for wine is not.

My best, Rick Grigsby (Owner)
Chicago Wine Cellar Expert Inc.

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  • I vetted seven companies before choosing Rick’s. The job was done beautifully, but what really blew me away was his response to problems after the cellar was installed and paid-for. For three days, Rick lived in my cellar overseeing the fixing of a very finicky cooling unit. That service after the sale is reason enough to recommend him. He truly cares about his work and about people.

    J.P. from Barrington Hills, IL
  • He crawled on his hands and knees though the steam pipes with the building engineer, stood by me during my meeting with the condo association and held my architect’s hand making certain that everything was right. Rick is the best!

    M.L from Lincoln Park, Chicago
  • Rick’s company did an incredible job!

    F.G from Winnetka, Illinois
ampedStep-stools; Why they don’t belong in wine cellars