By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski / Photos by Kimberly Carrillo
Richard Benson’s business creates custom vino cellars
To say Richard Benson is enthusiastic about wine is an understatement.
He owned and operated a winery and specialty wine store in Washington State, and his wife’s family started Signorello Vineyards, which perished in the 2017 wildfires.
The Bensons moved from Washington to the Valley so their daughter could pursue an Olympic gymnastics career, and it gave him the opportunity to rethink his own career. Benson founded Airpark-based Wine Cellar Experts during the economic downturn in 2006.
“Getting into the wine cellar business was somewhat accidental,” says Benson, in his Airpark-based studio and shop.
“I married my wife, whose family has been in the wine industry since 1969. The more I learned about it, the more I loved it. I was already in the construction business in high-end woodworking with multimillion-dollar yachts. It was a natural integration to start doing wine cellars. After all, it’s a large, custom piece of furniture.”
Wine Cellar Experts provides complete wine cellar construction, refrigeration and design services to fit clients’ needs. It’s a five-step process: consultation, design, approval, construction and fulfillment.
“We go through a process,” Benson says about his initial meeting with clients. “We talk about our company model. There are other companies that do this – most of them do it differently. Ours is unique in that everything is fully customized. We have to know this person pretty well. We most likely just met, so there’s a bit of a disconnect until we connect at the passion level. It makes it easier for us to connect and (learn) how to integrate everything into their lifestyle.”
“We have a lot of different clients who have different needs,” Benson says. “We provide everything they’re going to want in terms of entertaining. We’ve been busy, so this is a good time.”
Sitting around his swanky studio that is decorated with an antique press, barrels, corks and other wine accessories, Benson says it’s fun to discuss with clients the benefits of wine cellars. When they see the designs come to fruition, the reaction is magical.
“It’s really fun to see people when they look at their designs,” he says. “It’s fun to see clients get really excited about that. Most of the time, they didn’t know that was possible. It’s nice to make that connection.”
Benson calls his average customer “knowledgeable” about cellaring wine. They could be executives, sports stars or entertainment figures. Benson builds wine cellars for homes or off-site locations at places like Vinotel.
“People can store their collection safely and securely off site, but still be engaged in the art of collecting wine,” he says. “It fits millionaires; it fits people who have smaller homes. They’re anywhere from 40 to 55. They’re all over the board.”
Personally, Benson prefers in-home wine cellars.
“It’s fun to make a spontaneous decision about wine,” he says. “But one-third of our wine cellars have something else in them. They’ll have wine, or single-malt Scotch collections. Some have a humidor in them.
“We’re finishing one in Sedona where the lady will keep her furs in there. It’s the same exact environment, in terms of humidity, the cool and the dark. We end up with many different things that go in there. Others put decanters and stemware in there, too.”
When it comes to Arizona, Benson admits he thought his family would only stay in the Grand Canyon State for a few years, just long enough for his daughter to train for a possible Olympic bid. But like most transplants, they saw Arizona and decided to stay. Benson says he’s filling a niche.
“It’s a great community and a great state to have this type of business,” Benson says. “People here have multiple homes and have wine collections in their main house. We stay pretty busy here.”
Wine Cellar Experts