I recently placed a large order with WineRacksAmerica.com for racking to complete my cellar: http://www.wineberserkers.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=60362. I’ve seen a few other Berserkers here recommend them, so I thought it would be useful to provide a more extended review looking for cellar racking. Overall, I recommend WineRacksAmerica (WRA) as a good combination of quality and value. I have no affiliation with the company, other than as a customer.
Ordering Process 5/5* Ordering was easy and pleasant. The website offers a good online shopping experience, although navigation and site graphics could be improved (fortunately no flashing call-outs). The site shows options, sizes, pricing, and other information, and also provides pdfs of assembly directions so you can get a sense of whether the project is one you want to handle yourself (see below for my thoughts on this). WRA will also send free of charge a sample kit including small pieces of wood in the various finishes they offer–I received it within a couple of days.
Ordering is closely integrated with the design process described below, but there were no hiccups on the ordering part itself–credit cards are accepted without issue and pricing is straightforward. Tip: WRA regularly runs sales, so be sure to keep an eye out for their sales pricing, which appears to top out at 20% off for larger orders. If no sale is ongoing, you might ask, or just wait a couple days. While the racking kits are straight-forward as to what you are getting and need, bear in mind that WRA will offer a few extras, some of which are more worthwhile than others. For example, they offer baseboard and crown moulding at an extra charge. It’s an extra although the racks are clearly designed to use this moulding, as otherwise black screws would be exposed. They also offer shelves to go on top of the racks to allow extra stacking space, as well as lighting kits. While they offered these options, I was not given a hard sell. WRA could improve matters by including the moulding/baseboard free with every order over a certain size, or at least making it clear it’s highly recommended (I opted for it).
Design Process 5/5 Designing was easy and pleasant, although it may take some time to get the design just right. Although I reviewed options on the website for quite some time, coming up with my own outline of ideas, the designers were very helpful. The rack widths are easily figured, as they are a consistent width per bottle (the formula is 4 14/16" for the first column and 4 3/16" for each additional column, for 750ml bottles), but the WRA designers can easily recalculate overall width using CAD.
I emailed a rough sketch of my cellar, with critical dimensions (i.e., wall lengths, ceiling height, and places that could not be obstructed). Within hours, I received a call back from a designer to discuss my needs and clarify a couple of aspects of the sketch. He asked the right questions, such as how much racking I wanted for magnums, half bottles, etc., and whether I wanted display racks or standard racking. Tip: Offering ranges allows for greater flexibility (e.g., 30-50 magnums; 25-100 half-bottles). Within a day, I received by email a CAD drawing of the proposed racking (top view, side view, and perspective), along with an order/price list, including some additional options. I was then able to refine the design based on what they provided–in my case that meant switching some of the half-bottle racks to adjust the fit, as well as designing a rack to fit around the cooling unit.
Keep in mind that the pricing of different sized racks is not entirely linear. As one might expect, larger racks cost less per bottle than smaller racks. However, in some instances, the price per bottle (PPB) of, for example, a 6-bottle-wide rack was comparable to the PPB of a 10-bottle-wide rack. If you want to save a few dollars, it’s worth figuring out whether some alternative combination may save you some money (e.g., in my case a 9-wide and 3-wide was less expensive than the 2 6-wide racks they proposed).
Note: WRA has some options that it does not list on the website that I considered and used, including the following: (1) double-deep half-bottle racks; (2) custom width/height half-height display racks, for which they can reduce height slightly or reduce width from the three standard 8x8, 10x10, and 12x12 bottle configurations; (3) “Turley/Pinot” racks that have slightly wider bottle slots (by 1/4") to allow bigger bottles (not magnum). In my case #2 helped me work around my cooling unit and #3 was a great alternative to accommodate some pinot and Champagne bottles that would be a tight squeeze in the regular racks, and allowed me to avoid magnum racking for these bottles.
While the WRA website states that revisions to the initial “free” design require a $50 deposit, WRA did not charge me for the two modest revisions I made. Throughout the process the WRA designer was willing to take time to discuss various “tweaks” that I might make, and the options they offered. I’ve attached my design so you can see what you get. In my case I think the design was not really challenging–no corners or odd angles, so I may not have put WRA fully to the test.
Delivery 3/5 Delivery was relatively quick, with shipping included in the price of the racking. Delivery for a large order is by common carrier (a cargo truck not UPS), which led to some hiccups. The delivery company did call several days in advance to schedule delivery, although within the typical 4-hour window. My order was about 500 lbs., and was loaded on a pallet for delivery. The delivery company insisted that they provided only “curbside” delivery, which is not very convenient for 500 lbs., although the delivery company told me they could also deliver to a driveway. When the delivery company arrived, the driver could not turn into our driveway because it was a large truck and the road is fairly narrow. Fortunately, the pallet is broken down into smaller boxes, so that the product can be more easily carried. And, perhaps because my wife was really nice, he ended up carrying the boxes into our house from the street. This is no small challenge – the boxes for the larger racks weigh close to 100 lbs, and are large (about 7’ x 2’ x 2’), and would be difficult for one person to carry (I unloaded them piece by piece to carry into my basement). WRA did not provide any sort of warnings about the problems that could arise during delivery, which would have been helpful. WRA might want to consider shipping larger racks in two smaller boxes so as to reduce the weight of each package.
Assembly 4/5 Assembly was generally easy, requiring minimal carpentry skills: hammering, screwing, and drilling pilot holes. If you took wood shop class in 4th grade, you have the necessary skills, and probably do even if you never had that class. The racks are modular. Each rack comes with a certain number of “ladders”, which are the vertical pieces and the horizontal bars that hold up the bottles. One connects these with 4 cross pieces on the back and four on the front. 6 of those cross pieces are screwed in, and two are nailed in (on the front, for a nicer finish), with one screw per ladder. (The number of ladders is equal to the number of columns of bottles plus 1.) I was able to assemble the racks myself, but it could be useful to have a helper to hold the ladders until the first couple of cross pieces are installed, but propping against a wall also works. For larger racks, the installation is a bit challenging because of the size and weight. WRA’s directions say to install the cross pieces for the back, and then flip the rack over to install the front. For smaller racks that’s feasible, but the large racks weigh close to 100 lbs., and are unwieldy until all the cross pieces are installed. I opted instead to tip them upright and install the front pieces with the rack in a vertical position. Assembly time depends on the size of the rack, and there’s a small learning curve, but each rack can be assembled in 20-60 minutes, depending on size. Tip: The larger racks are heavy and challenging to move. They also are almost the height of standard door frame (77 1/2" vs. 78"). This means you may need to assemble them in the cellar itself–before assembling the racks determine whether you will be able to move the finished product into your cellar. WRA includes extra screws, nails, glue, and wood putty for use in assembling. This is an appreciated touch, as such items are extremely cheap and it’s nice to be able to chuck a bent nail or toss out a screw that gets stripped on the head.
Fit and Finish 4/5 WRA offers a choice between pine and redwood. I selected the redwood to go with the cedar walls of my closet. If you are familiar with grades of wood, the redwood is clear, but is a mix of sapwood (white/yellow) and heartwood (more red), with a fair amount of sapwood (probably >50%). In fairness to WRA, they seemed to use the heartwood to a greater degree on the obvious exposed parts of the rack, although they could have done better in this regard. Other rack makers offer “all heart” redwood, and if that is what you want, they may be a better alternative. For my purposes, I was okay with the amount of sapwood. Because rot resistance isn’t a major issue in my cellar, the sapwood is primarily aesthetic. In addition, I opted to put my own finish on the racks, to help get the color a lot closer to the cedar. You can judge from the pictures in the thread on my cellar whether I succeeded. Tip: In retrospect, it may have been a mistake to put my own finish on because of the time it took–nearly 30 minutes per “ladder”, because of all the sides and nooks. Unless you feel strongly about the finish, you may want to consider having WRA put the finish on. Another drawback of the sapwood is that the sanding/milling did not always leave it smooth. There are some rough edges and fur on the bottle supports, which I didn’t bother to sand off (I may do so on the exposed parts). WRA could have done a better job on sanding or finishing the wood, and that accounts for the points deduction here.
As for fit, the pieces all fit together extremely well, which is not always the case with prefab assemble-yourself products. There were no broken pieces, short pieces, etc. I counted only 4 staples that hold the bottle supports to the verticals that were missing or misstapled, out of 2500 staples. Once assembled, the racks stood flat and didn’t rock, and seemed to be square in all directions.
Customer Service 5/5 The great majority of my customer service experience occurred during the design process, and as described above I was pleased with that. WRA provides support during business hours, and the designer I worked with even offered to provide email support over the weekend (at least if he saw the email). I appreciated the willingness to provide support, although (fortunately) I did not need it for assembly. When I was close to completion I realized that the moulding could not be attached to the sides of racks to make a corner. It turns out WRA has a piece of wood that solves this problem, which they told me when I called. It arrived within two days, which is great. What would have been greater is if they had noticed this piece would be necessary with my design and included it in the original shipment.
Overall 4.5/5 I won’t restate a summary of everything above. As you have read, WRA’s products are of a high quality, their customer service is very good, the value is very good, and while there are some modest improvements WRA could make overall I recommend them highly.
*For those of you who are accustomed to the 100-point wine rating scale, multiply these scores by 3 and add 85 to get the 100-point equivalent.