For instance, a posh wine cellar with redwoods and cedars, quarry tile on the floor, a finished ceiling, decorative crown molding around cabinets, plus refrigeration, may run anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000, according to Hergenroeder.

Utilitarian storage is decidedly less. For example, a basic wine cellar capable of holding approximately 400 to 500 bottles "may cost a couple thousand dollars," he says.

"The customer has to decide whether they want something pretty or that has general utility," Hergenroeder says. "It's similar to a custom kitchen."

A recent Gallup poll shows that wine has grown to become nearly on par with beer as Americans' favorite alcoholic drink. Meanwhile, industry experts say that attitudes about individual wine collections are shifting.

"Few people can afford to hold cellars or buy futures," says Carol Wilson, co-owner of Elk Run Vineyards and Winery in the rolling hills of Frederick County.

Wines are produced more proficiently these days, she says, and can be made with vintage characteristics that belie their youth.

"That's not to say an older Bordeaux or Brunello aren't wonderful," says the vintner, whose wines have won national and international awards. "And I, for one, like to meet as many people as I can who have been able to keep cellars, especially as the wines near their prime and need to be tasted by those who can appreciate them."

Yet for people who only imbibe occasionally or don't have space for a cellar, more homes are being built with wine storage features.

"Wine refrigerators in the kitchen are what you really see more of today," said Craig Thomson, an associate broker with Long & Foster Realtors in Canton who has sold properties for three decades. "And it's not uncommon now to have a wet bar on the deck or another room with a wine refrigerator underneath."

Dedicated space for wine storage is in demand in both new and renovated houses, says Nestor Zabala, vice president of Curry Architects Inc., a boutique firm in Towson that has designed commercial projects such as the Silo .5% Wine Bar in Locust Point. In addition to creating wine cellars for restaurants, the team also works with residential clients.

"The under-the-counter wine refrigerator has become very popular," says Zabala. Sizes vary, but they're usually "no smaller than a dishwasher" and might have sleek stainless steel and glass.

"The price may run a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on materials and level of customization," he says.

Zabala adds that his process of designing a kitchen with an under-the-counter wine feature would focus not only on aesthetics but the traffic flow in the room.

"It would be outside the classic triangle where you have the sink, do chopping and store food," he says. "You want to be able to linger and choose a beverage."

There's yet another alternative for wine enthusiasts seeking to preserve their stash: Some restaurants and wineries offer wine lockers, charging a fee for customers to store their favorite wines.

"We have a custom-built wine room on the second floor with 15 oak lockers that we rent out for $300 a year," says Chesley Patterson, manager at La Scala restaurant in Baltimore's Little Italy. "Folks have a key."

The program has been successful, he said. The restaurant has rented out all its lockers and has a small waiting list.

And thanks to tastings every month or two, where locker holders can purchase discounted wines, friendships have formed as they gather to pour, swirl and sip.

"It's become a social aspect of their lives," says Patterson.

Wine notes

Do you dream of having your own wine cellar? Here are tips from the pros:

Space. Mark Sanders, vice president of Pyramid Builders in Annapolis, says the most important element of building a custom wine cellar or wine room is finding the right space in your home. "It doesn't have to be in the basement," explains Sanders. "We did one wine room that was off the main living area."

Location. "The shell is critical," he says, as are such factors as proper insulation and a system for controlling temperature and humidity.

Planning. Pyramid Builders works closely with architects on such projects. To find one, resources include the American Institute of Architects, Baltimore, located on Chase Street. Executive director Kathleen Lane says chapter members include area firms whose portfolios include designing wine cellars. Among them are Curry Architects in Towson and SMG Architects in Baltimore.

DIY. Wine expert and radio host Al Spoler turned to construction pros for his wine cellar but says collectors can build an inexpensive one on their own. "It's not complicated," says Spoler. "Build shelves. Make sure it's stable and strong enough. Be careful stacking bottles." He advises that you cover windows and stay away from the furnace. "Darker is better. …Use the coolest part of the basement."

Collecting. In terms of allocating one's wine purchases, Spoler suggests about 50 percent everyday wines; 35 percent Saturday night dinner wines; and the final 15 percent "expensive" special occasion wines.