A Safe Home for Your Sauvignon Blanc

From elaborate wine cellars to simple wine rack kits, Wine Cellar Innovations has something to please every oenophile.

By Sam Gazdziak

     
Wine Cellar Innovations

Cincinnati, OH

www.winecellarinnovations.com

Year Founded: 1983

Employees: 161

Shop Size: 350,000 square feet

FYI: Customers can choose from a variety of accessories, including murals, frescoes, hand-painted tiles, etched and painted glass and mirrors, custom refrigeration and built-in lighting. Only the tiles are made by outside artisans.

 
   
     

Like many other woodworking companies, Wine Cellar Innovations’ headquarters has a large supply of lumber, components and woodworking machinery, both old and new. Unlike other businesses, however, it also holds a painter’s studio, a glassworker’s studio, a machine shop, a refrigeration shop and, naturally, thousands of bottles of wine.

Wine Cellar Innovations of Cincinnati, OH, has developed a very successful business for both custom wine cellars and production wine racks and kits. The company used to be known as Wine Racks Unlimited, but it changed its name to reflect what the company can provide.

“It really does encompass a lot more than wine racks,” says Jim Deckebach, owner, explaining that customers who order a custom wine cellar have a variety of options. “We have hand-painted murals, stained glass, hand-painted tiles, sculpted tiles and built-in lights. We manufacture the doors from scratch, and we etch and paint the glass and add it to the doors.”

Even the company’s AutoCAD and Studio VIZ designs come with several different options. Depending on the price, customers can opt for a two-dimensional, three-dimensional or three-dimensional four-color digital file, showing the proposed design. They can even get a “virtual reality” Quicktime file, which lets them move their cursor around a 360-degree view of their future wine cellar.

     
 
Wine Cellar Innovations’ custom cellars have been built and installed all over the world, including Switzerland, France, England, the Caribbean and the Far East.  
     

The custom wine cellars can cost from a couple of hundred dollars up to $150,000. While many of the custom pieces go into residences, Wine Cellar Innovations also does about 20 percent of its work in the commercial market, including restaurants, hotels and wine stores. The most expensive pieces are the ones that feature the hand-painted frescoes, murals, tiles and windows. Of those extras, only the tiles are done by outside artisans.

The muralist paints pieces of varying shapes, sizes and styles. “She’s making them to our design,” Deckebach says. “For our purposes, about 95 percent of it refers to themes with wine — wine, winemaking, vineyards or grapes.” The glass artist is able to sandblast a variety of images into glass; he also makes stained glass when needed. Many of the decorative options are available for browsing on the company’s Web site, www.winecellarinnovations.com.

The company has sent its employees around the world to install its completed custom cellars, from Switzerland to the Caribbean. “We really know our product well. Although the customer is paying for travel time, lodging and associated expenses, we’ll do it a lot faster than someone else would,” Deckebach says. He adds that the installers always are prepared with additional tools and materials for on-site corrections. “I’d say that even though we call, checking on dimensions, 85 percent of the rooms are different than the dimensions that we are given,” he says.

Racking up Sales

Custom work accounts for about 70 percent of Wine Cellar Innovations’ annual sales dollar volume, which totalled $14 million last year. Nevertheless, the company’s wine rack kits make up more than half of its production. “Our custom work represents a higher dollar value, but not a higher volume,” says Deckebach.

Kits are available in redwood, mahogany or pine and range in price from $29.95 to $785.00. Customers have plenty of styles available, from a simple rack or curved corner rack to fancier options like a waterfall display or diamond cube. One popular series of kits is the Simple Racking Solutions, wine racks that require no tools except for an Allen wrench that’s included in the kit. Wine Cellar Innovations developed a cap/bolt system that, according to the company’s catalog, enables a customer to “set up your own custom wine cellar in minutes — even if you’re all thumbs!”

Wine Cellar Innovations has its own team of sales people and local dealers and creates and distributes its own catalogs. Its products appear in several wine catalogs, too. The company has also turned some of its wine store customers into a sales force. “Wine stores will buy our product to use themselves, and then they will turn around and sell our products to their customers,” Deckebach explains. “We’ve convinced them that it’s good business, because if their customers put in a wine cellar, they’ll want to fill it up with wine.”

Big Machines for Small Parts

Many of the components used in the construction of the wine rack kits and custom cellars are small pieces, some measuring 3/4 inch by 5-1/4 inches by 1-1/2 inches. When fastened together, they form the shelves and shelf supports that keep all the bottles of wine in place. Hundreds of these small pieces are needed for the larger racks and cellars. Until a couple of years ago, those pieces were run through a compound miter saw to make an angle cut, a dado machine and then a drill press. Deckebach turned to CNC technology to make this time-wasting process run faster.

     
 
Except for the tiles, which are fired and painted by outside artisans, the company builds and paints every component in its 350,000-square-foot shop.  
     

There was one obstacle. “Most CNC machining centers are designed to work on fairly large, flat parts,” he explains. “Their suction pods are designed for those parts. If a part is too small, there’s not enough surface area for the suction cup to hold it solidly when the router bit is working its way around, which creates a lateral racking motion on the piece.”

Deckebach developed a jig system that would allow employees to run the parts on a machining center without any problems. The jig system, which has several channels to line up the small blanks, is placed on the suction pods. The operator then uses an air piston system to create pressure on the parts and knocks the parts flat into place with a block. The machining center can then cut, dado and predrill the parts, and they will stay in place.

“Doing these small pieces of wood on a CNC machining center is not the classic use for it,” he says. “I started off with a different application than the machine was designed for. I think it widens the applications for CNC machining centers in many ways.”

The larger jigs can hold up to 64 pieces. Machining all those parts is a time-consuming process, but the company has eliminated the downtime by working on two router beds at once. Wine Cellar Innovations calls it a pendulum system. While the machining center is working on parts on one bed, the operator is working on the other, removing the machined pieces from the jig, assembling and boxing the components and setting up another batch.

Wine Cellar Innovations has two Biesse Rover CNC machining centers and is planning on buying at least one and possibly two more within the next year or two. The Rover 20, bought in 2001, does primarily small kit parts, while the Rover 27, bought in 2002, mostly machines custom pieces and occasionally kit parts. Deckebach has hired second and third shift operators for both machines, so they are running almost 24 hours a day. The constant use has answered one concern of whether or not it was practical to use the machines to make such small pieces. Deckebach says the machines were instant money-savers.

“If we had started on more complex designs, I think the growth curve on integrating those machines would have been much longer,” he says. “It would have taken us eight or nine months to get to the point where the machine was actually paying for itself. We got it to the point where it paid for itself in two or three weeks.”

Home Sweet Home

Wine Cellar Innovations began as an extension of Deckebach’s home remodeling and construction business. By 1983, he had begun specializing in wine cellars. In 1989, he placed his first national ad and within six months had become the vendor for Wine Enthusiast, International Wine Accessories and Wine Spectator. That launched the company into several years of more-than-100-percent growth.

   
The waterfall display is a popular feature in many residential and commercial wine cellars. Wine Cellar Innovations sells its kits in many wood species, including redwood, mahogany and pine. This waterfall display also comes with a tasting table and a half-round end cap for displaying accessories.  
     

Deckebach says the company has settled into a more controlled growth rate of anywhere from 10 to 30 percent. “Rapid growth sucks a tremendous amount of cash from an organization,” he says. “The initial phase of business was very financially stressful. This is a range I feel is manageable.”

Another side effect of the rapid growth was that the company rapidly outgrew its home, moving five times since 1989. Its current location is a quarter-mile long, 350,000-square-foot building built more than 100 years ago. The building started off as a machine shop and has had several functions over the years. Nineteen major additions have been made to it, so while some areas are one story tall, others are four stories. The company was able to buy it for a good price because some of the additions have left small doorways, so transportation is occasionally a problem. Still, there is enough storage for more than a million board feet of redwood and other lumber. There are also some machines left from the shop’s original owners, which are used to make some of the metal parts that go into Wine Cellar Innovations’ products.

All of the lumber starts by going through an Extrema gang rip saw and double-sided planer. Those two machines are connected by a gravity feed. The saw rips the lumber into blanks, which go through a defecting system and are cut to the finished length. From there, pieces are turned into cabinetry paneling, going through an L&L RF glue press, a Ramco sander and the Rover 27. The blanks that will become an S4S product go through a moulder. The company has four Weinig moulders as well as a custom-built one. “That moulder will make a part that is 5/8 by 5/8 by 5-7/8 inches moulded S4S. That’s an extremely small part for a moulder to be able to mould,” Deckebach notes.

Wine Cellar Innovations has been at the current location since 1998, and Deckebach says it has everything the company needs to grow indefinitely. “I find CNC machining centers actually shrink the amount of space needed,” he says. “You take the multiple applications and multiple steps in the manufacturing process and combine them all into one. When we did that, we shrank the square footage needs.”

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