Hospitality Minded Design: Q&A with Chris Noel of Vintage Cellars

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Chris Noel Vintage Cellars

Del Frisco's Wine Cellar Chicago

For more than two decades, Vintage Cellars has been a powerhouse wine cellar design firm serving the Southern California market (and beyond), creating gorgeous displays in high-end real estate and commercial properties like Marina Kitchen (San Diego), Del Frisco’s (Chicago), and 71 Above (Los Angeles).

  • This article was originally published in the 2021 catalog. Get yours! 

Seasoned wine cellar design pro Christopher Noel, recently turned Vintage Cellars owner and president sat down with us to talk about his new role at the company — we wanted to pick his brain on the hospitality design industry.

Here’s what he had to say about the industry, his process, trends, and more…

VintageView: What inspired you to enter the wine cellar design industry?

Chris Noel: I was brought in to the wine cellar industry by my older brother, he worked with Vintage Cellars about 7 years before me and he always saw the potential and ambition I had to succeed. My first few years learning kept me so intrigued to learn more and eventually becoming a wine cellar expert.

VV: What made you want to buy Vintage Cellars from founder Gene Walder when he retired)?

CN: I worked very close with Gene for a little over a decade learning everything about the business, he taught me everything I know and brought a family style atmosphere to the workplace which is how we treat every customer. The level of professionalism and knowledge of the staff and having a great relationship with Gene is what always had me interested in buying the business one day.

VV: Describe your process working with a restaurant on its wine cellar design…

CN: Our first part of is listening to the client’s needs. We need to figure out what they want and then we can turn those ideas into a design. It’s just collaboration with the designer. With the architect. Then there are times they don’t know what they want, and we love that. Then we can bring our ideas.

VV: What is the importance of a visual wine display at a restaurant?

Chris Noel Vintage Cellars

CN: It’s one of the most important elements of a restaurant, especially if it’s a steak house or any type of restaurant where their food is meant to pair with wine. That whole idea in fine dining is getting that appetizer or entrée and having a somm help pair a great wine with it.

The restaurant is going for that type of experience and it just goes hand and hand. Being able to display the wine cellar it just makes the experience so much more awesome.

VV: What do your clients tell you about the value on their investment in a wine display?

CN: Oh, they love it. They are making a more inviting environment. And also advertising the wine. People are looking at the displays and figuring out maybe I want to try this wine or that one. Maybe wine is not even on their mind when they ente,r but when they see the cellar, it’s like, “Maybe I’ll have a glass of wine tonight.”

Investing into a wine display it pays for itself. Immediately. 

VV: How do you incorporate your wine cellar designs, cohesively, with the rest of the restaurant?

CN: When we are looking at a commercial restaurant, usually the smaller, mom and pop restaurants are easy and great to work with and does not take as much planning but when We are getting these projects built with architects who have created these amazing projects in all these major metro areas. They are coming with 300-page design plans and already know where the wine cellar is going to be. Quite frequently, we have to redesign it. Design does not go before mechanical. You can have a killer design but if there’s no way to get cooling to that area or integrated with the racking ideas, that’s a problem. We’ll take a look at it and say, “Let’s try to get something similar and make it work.” We’ll redesign it to where it works around the mechanical and looks awesome.

We design around functionality. Then we go for the killer design (assuming the client is in need of a full temperature-controlled space). 

VV: What is going to happen in hospitality design as we recover from COVID?

CN: I believe hospitality design is not going to change drastically, they will adapt, make a few changes to make their clients feel safe but still tailor to an inviting atmosphere when people can relax and break bread amongst friends and loved ones.

Editor’s Note: Chris also suggests going out now and spending money at independent restaurants, be it by dining on a patio, ordering takeout, buying a gift card. We support that message. Here’s a good list of places to start! 

VV: Do you take a difference approach between your hospitality and residential projects?

CN: It’s very similar. We’re still working with high-end designers and architects, and we are still thinking about functionally first. How do you do mechanical well, and how can we design well around that.

VV: You have plenty to pick from, but name your favorite restaurant project you’ve worked on?

CN: The four-story wine tower at Del Frisco’s in Chicago. It’s just an awesome looking wine tower. We spent over a year and half on just how to cool the all-glass wine tower. That’s one of the coolest jobs I’ve been a part of.

VV: Okay, your go-to food and wine pairing?

CN: My go to food is pasta and southern cooking, I love to cook and enjoy opening a fine bottle of wine to accommodate it, Zins, Viognier pungent cheeses on a sunny day can never be a mistake.

Bold, beautiful wine cellars are no easy task to pull off. If you would like an intro to Chris or an Elite Wine Cellar Builder in your region, drop us a note