Local Tuscany-Inspired Wine Cellar

Mark and Kathy Batzel's Tuscany-inspired wine cellar in Virginia Beach is about communing and connecting as much as it is about storing and enjoying wine, says Mark.

A custom wine cellar has many practical applications for oenophiles, but it’s also a space for sharing with family and friends

By Betsy DiJulio
Photos By David Uhrin

Only connect! … and human love will be seen at its height. —E.M. Forster

There are many practical reasons why oenophiles tout the benefits of an at-home wine cellar, especially if the space includes climate-controlled storage: improved flavor, aroma and complexity, as well as prevention of oxidation, mold, and spoilage.  But, after spending the happiest of hours in the Virginia Beach basement cellar of Mark and Kathy Batzel, other even more important reasons bubble to the surface: communing and connecting.  

There, surrounded on two sides by hand-painted floor-to-ceiling murals of Tuscany—rolling vineyards, stone structures and fields of sunflowers—and mahogany wine storage and display for 1,700 horizontal bottles on the other two, the wine flowed as freely as favorite tales of friends and family.  In the process, new alliances emerged, and uncanny similarities were discovered.

Around a tasting table assembled from a thick, round live edge wooden slab atop a bourbon barrel—the cellar also boasts a bourbon bar—four of us gathered to sip wine and savor stories, many the lively recollections and reminisces of Mark’s dad, Captain Thomas J. Batzel, USN, retired. Despite the 60-degree temperature, the ambiance was warm and cozy.  

Mark and Kathy Batzel's Tuscany-inspired wine cellar in Virginia Beach
Mark Batzel’s raises a glass in his wine cellar in Virginia Beach.

What started as a joke with friends and neighbors Jason and Buffy Barefoot, as they sipped wine from their previous wine refrigerator, is now a favorite feature of the Batzel’s waterfront family home, built by Mark’s parents in 1982. A staircase with walls painted to convincingly mimic neutral limestone leads to the roughly 12 x 12-foot cellar with its Old World stacked-stone veneer columns and natural stone floor.  

Recessed lights and an amber-colored blown glass pendant illuminate the space. Overhead a ceiling painted pale blue with white wispy clouds seems to open to the sky. Minor bubbling from a previous humidity issue is embraced as a three-dimensional expression of the clouds.  Decorative objects are limited to a jar of corks and a black metal rooster, originally the symbol of the Military League of Chianti and now a symbol of the region.  

Though he humbly claims only an amateur’s knowledge of wine, Mark, a founding partner of a financial advisory firm Summit Group of Virginia, has a nephew named Ben Batzel in Santa Monica who possesses a sommelier’s command, is happy to consult by FaceTime, and is happier still “to spend Uncle Mark’s money.”  

The Batzels are Team Red with a special affinity for wines from Italy following a family trip in 2016.   “You can’t go wrong with Chianti Classico,” says Mark. “Look for the black rooster and DOCG.”  

But another family trip to France spawned a love of wine from the Bordeaux region of France as well as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, nicknamed “The Bordeaux of the Rhône.” The CellarTracker app helps manage the Batzels’ inventory while providing tasting notes, reviews and personal stories. And Wine Guardian preserves the investment with temperature and humidity control.

As we drain the last of our Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Tom offers that “life is so connected,” with Mark concurring: “It’s all about family and friends.”  

Mark and Kathy Batzel's Tuscany-inspired wine cellar in Virginia Beach is about communing and connecting as much as it is about storing and enjoying wine, says Mark.
A wine cellar is about communing and connecting as much as it is enjoying wine, says Mark.

Considering a Wine Cellar?

If you are thinking of upping your wine storage game in a basement or elsewhere in your home—hopefully with a tasting room—we offer these considerations:  

Refrigeration systems: A knowledgeable contractor should guide you in selecting either a through-the-wall or split system, as both come with their pros and cons in the areas of installation, space requirements, noise level and cost.

Insulation and vapor barriers: Not just walls, but often floors and doors need to be insulated, and the door sealed. Glass panel doors lend Old World charm but are best when not in strong and direct light.

Lighting: Low-heat bulbs, like low-voltage LEDs, inside and just outside the cellar are preferable to halogen, incandescent or fluorescent, which generate more heat.

wine corks

Storage: Horizontal storage such as purchased racks, custom shelving and cabinetry, or recycled wooden wine crates prevent corks from drying out while maximizing space. Storage is best located away from the door, as vibration is another enemy of wine. High dollar collections may necessitate security
systems with locks, monitoring capability and alarms, as well as a blanket insurance policy.

Flooring: Sealed hardwood—not installed directly on concrete to avoid warping and buckling—stable engineered wood, tile, cork, vinyl, brick and stone are preferable to carpet, which is prone to developing mold and mildew since wine ages best under a certain amount of humidity. Durable and easy-to-install rubber can impart a strong odor while foam flooring, like that in many gyms, is an excellent insulating and moisture-resistant choice, though lacking in aesthetic appeal.

About the Batzel’s cellar:
Builder, Charlie Anderson
Muralist, Brenda Lauver

BD
Betsy DiJulio
+ posts and articles

Betsy DiJulio is a full-time art teacher, artist and curator with side hustles as a freelance writer, including for Coastal Virginia Magazine, and a vegan recipe developer and food stylist and photographer for Tofutti Brands.

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