A collector for 20 years, Boccia enjoys one of his wines with his wife, Erin. Photo by Michael Ventura

Old World Feel

Dr. Ralph Boccia had been collecting wine for more than 20 years, but it wasn’t until he built a custom home in Potomac last year that he decided to get serious about it.

“I purchase wines that we can enjoy now, and some that I can cellar and cherish,” says Boccia, an oncologist who’s founder and medical director of the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Bethesda. “I do it for the fun of collecting and the fun of tasting.”

To create a one-of-a-kind cellar, he enlisted the help of Lisa Weiss, who has been designing and building wine cellars for The Wine Cellar Company in McLean, Va., for the past seven years. Like most professionals, Weiss considers climate control the critical element in cellar design and construction. “Preparing the room correctly is crucial,” she says.

Weiss recommended a built-in cooling and humidification system with a WineSmart controller, which provides a digital reading of the temperature and humidity. It even has an alarm that sounds if the room gets too warm. Weiss bases the size of the unit (BTUs) on the size and location of the room.

“There are many factors that can influence room temperature,” she says. “The lighting can add heat, glass doors should be insulated and sealed to prevent leakage, and having people in the room makes it warmer.”

Boccia wanted the 10-by-12-foot cellar and adjacent tasting room to have a rustic, Old World look and feel that would match the rest of the finishes in the French country-style home. To achieve that, Weiss used a variety of reclaimed materials, including antique softwood box beams for the cellar walls and ceiling.


“Dr. Boccia didn’t want typical paneling and formal racks,” says Weiss, who found racks made from reclaimed oak red wine barrels and tanks. The wood “is stained with red wine so the color is beautiful, and it released the fragrance of red wine when they were installed.”

Stacked in the back corners of the cellar are reclaimed oak wine barrels converted to cabinets, one of them customized to hold a 400-cigar humidor.

It’s too chilly to linger and sample the vintages in the cellar, so the tasting area is a more comfortable temperature. For a little drama, the floor was dropped below the grade of the basement. The 10-by-10-foot sunken room has 10-foot ceilings, textured stucco walls, and an antique Spanish table that allows tasters a spot for wineglasses and snacks.


Boccia is looking forward to enjoying the rooms with his family and friends this winter. “It’s very much a departure from what I do,” he says. “It allows me to escape, have a glass of wine and unwind.”