The stairway to heaven for wine lovers
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The stairway to heaven for wine lovers

Home cellars have become the latest must-have for those who value their collection and love to entertain

By Robyn Willis
Fri, Dec 15, 2023 8:38amGrey Clock 4 min

Tony Hayek first became interested in wine as a student at Newcastle University. Living adjacent to one of Australia’s best known wine growing regions, the Hunter Valley, for a while he dated a woman who worked in the industry and taught him what she knew.

He has been hooked ever since.

“Over the next 25 years, I collected wine in drinkable quantities,” he says. “As I became wealthier, I started buying wine in batches of six — I’d drink one or two and put the others away — but I didn’t really have anywhere to store them so it capped out at 300 or 400 bottles.”

In his former home, he turned a workshop under the house into a wine cellar of sorts. It wasn’t temperature controlled but it allowed him to enjoy his wine when and where he wanted. But when he and his wife Toni had the chance to build their dream home in Sydney’s north west in 2017, plans for a cellar were a bit basic.

“The builder engaged a cabinetmaker to put together a plan for a wine cellar but it was a bit boring — mostly just shelving,” Hayek says.

Instead, the couple hired kitchen and bathroom design specialists, Studio Minosa.

“They did this magnificent design,” Hayek says. “I was still recovering from the cost of building when the Minosa quote came in at $150,000 so I initially put it on the backburner. Finally, I bit the bullet and we got it done in 2020.”

As a result, Hayek says much of his time at home during the pandemic was spent below ground.

Tony Hayek’s cellar design by Studio Minosa is more than just a place to store his wine collection.

“It’s my ‘pinch myself’ room,” he says. “Every time I walk in there, I can’t believe it’s in my house. I spent a lot of my COVID time researching wine.  That was how I stocked my cellar and it went from 400 to 800 bottles. I want to know what’s in my cellar and have a relationship with it.”

While Tania MacPhee, managing director of MacPhee’s wine cellaring specialists, says wine cellars were becoming more popular prior to the pandemic, demand grew even further during lockdown when people used their untapped travel funds to create wine spaces they could enjoy.

“We started as an off-site wine storage business 22 years ago. Since then, the market has absolutely shifted,” she says. “Where wine cellars back then were predominately functional spaces in the basement or garage, today, wine enthusiasts are wanting to proudly display their wine collections, making them a feature of their home.”

She says the demand for purpose-built cellars has been driven by an educated audience who travel regularly and appreciate the value of a good drop. For those who have invested heavily, it’s important to keep wines in optimum conditions.

The challenge is maintaining an even temperature range to avoid wine “spoiling”, which alters its taste, smell and the consumer’s overall enjoyment. In wine making regions in Europe, the ideal temperature range around 12 to 14 degrees may be achievable without refrigeration due to their cellars being two metres below the earth, but MacPhee says it’s virtually impossible to guarantee in Australia where our cellar spaces are often beside a garage and under a concrete slab, acting as a hot box in summer — and a freezer in winter. “It’s the fluctuation in temperature that is detrimental to wine.”

“While a basement might seem cool at 26 degrees compared with hot Summer temperatures outside, it’s still not cool enough for wine,” she says.

For those who don’t have the space for a full cellar, or would rather have their wines on display, MacPhee says ‘wine walls’ are a popular choice.

“People are going to beautiful restaurants where they have these wine walls where guests can see individual bottles of wine,” she says. “And they want to recreate that in their homes.”

Wine walls are typically two or three metres wide and at least 600mm deep, she says.

Wine walls can be installed in living spaces for easy access and display. Image: MacPhee’s wine cellar specialists

“Depending on the location of the wine cellar relative to the rest of the home, $20,000 is the starting point for a very basic climate controlled space with insulation,” she says. “A wine wall with bespoke cabinetry can cost between $80,000 and $100,000 or more.”

“All wine needs to be cellared at the same temperature but when it comes to drinking, it is only then that individual wine varietals should be served at different temperatures”, MacPhee says.  Some wine fridges provide two temperatures, in two separate zones. There’s even an under bench wine cabinet which is designed for the kitchen.

“It has multiple temperatures all in one zone, where you can place champagne at the bottom at six degrees, then Aromatic whites on the shelf above at 8 degrees, then it gradually goes up to 18 degrees for your heavy bodied reds.” she says. “We call it the ‘instant gratification wine cabinet’.”

General manager at Gaggenau, Robert Warner says wine lovers are investing in larger quantities of high quality wines so it simply makes sense that they are looking for accessible storage options at home.

“If you are buying a $100 bottle of wine and then you decide to buy the whole case, that’s $1200,” he says. “Do you want to risk it going off in a year or two because you haven’t stored it properly?”

He admits there is more to it than having your favourite drop within easy reach and ready to drink.

“There’s a bit of theatre to it,” he says. “It’s a lifestyle and interaction with like-minded people. Luxury living is about being personalised while still feeling connected with other people.”



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The city’s real-estate market has been hurt by high interest rates and mainland China’s economic slowdown

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Hong Kong has taken a bold step to ease a real-estate slump, scrapping a series of property taxes in an effort to turn around a market that is often seen as a proxy for the city’s beleaguered economy.

The government has removed longstanding property taxes that were imposed on nonpermanent residents, those buying a second home, or people reselling a property within two years after buying, Financial Secretary Paul Chan said in his annual budget speech on Wednesday.

The move is an attempt to revive a property market that is still one of the most expensive in the world, but that has been badly shaken by social unrest, the fallout of the government’s strict approach to containing Covid-19 and the slowdown of China’s economy . Hong Kong’s high interest rates, which track U.S. rates due to its currency peg,  have increased the pressure .

The decision to ease the tax burden could encourage more buying from people in mainland China, who have been a driving force in Hong Kong’s property market for years. Chinese tycoons, squeezed by problems at home, have  in some cases become forced sellers  of Hong Kong real estate—dealing major damage to the luxury segment.

Hong Kong’s super luxury homes  have lost more than a quarter of their value  since the middle of 2022.

The additional taxes were introduced in a series of announcements starting in 2010, when the government was focused on cooling down soaring home prices that had made Hong Kong one of the world’s least affordable property markets. They are all in the form of stamp duty, a tax imposed on property sales.

“The relevant measures are no longer necessary amidst the current economic and market conditions,” Chan said.

The tax cuts will lead to more buying and support prices in the coming months, said Eddie Kwok, senior director of valuation and advisory services at CBRE Hong Kong, a property consultant. But in the longer term, the market will remain sensitive to the level of interest rates and developers may still need to lower their prices to attract demand thanks to a stockpile of new homes, he said.

Hong Kong’s authorities had already relaxed rules last year to help revive the market, allowing home buyers to pay less upfront when buying certain properties, and cutting by half the taxes for those buying a second property and for home purchases by foreigners. By the end of 2023, the price index for private homes reached a seven-year low, according to Hong Kong’s Rating and Valuation Department.

The city’s monetary authority relaxed mortgage rules further on Wednesday, allowing potential buyers to borrow more for homes valued at around $4 million.

The shares of Hong Kong’s property developers jumped after the announcement, defying a selloff in the wider market. New World Development , Sun Hung Kai Properties and Henderson Land Development were higher in afternoon trading, clawing back some of their losses from a slide in their stock prices this year.

The city’s budget deficit will widen to about $13 billion in the coming fiscal year, which starts on April 1. That is larger than expected, Chan said. Revenues from land sales and leases, an important source of government income, will fall to about $2.5 billion, about $8.4 billion lower than the original estimate and far lower than the previous year, according to Chan.

The sweeping property measures are part of broader plans by Hong Kong’s government to prop up the city amid competition from Singapore and elsewhere. Stringent pandemic controls and anxieties about Beijing’s political crackdown led to  an exodus of local residents and foreigners  from the Asian financial centre.

But tens of thousands of Chinese nationals have arrived in the past year, the result of Hong Kong  rolling out new visa rules aimed at luring talent in 2022.

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