Whether one is an oenophile or just beginning to dabble in wine, a wine cellar can be a helpful investment in elevating the hobby to a new level. Wine cellars date back to more than 3000 years and were traditionally constructed underground. This helped protect the wines from heat and light. Modern wine cellars can be either underground or above ground. They can be actively climate-controlled or they may be passive cellars that have natural temperature and humidity control as they are built below ground. Apart from protecting wines from the vagaries of nature, a wine cellar can help store, organize and display a wine collection. It can also create the ideal conditions required to store wines for a prolonged period to enhance their aroma, flavor and complexity.
Benefits of a Wine Cellar
There are many benefits to having a wine cellar in your home. Some of the most obvious ones include:
- Protect the wine: Exposure to heat, humidity, excessive light, temperature variations and vibrations can spoil a good wine when exposed to them. Vibrations can disturb the sediment in red wine and humidity can spoil the cork. A wine cellar is climate-controlled, either naturally or artificially, to maintain the ideal temperature and humidity range. Lights are dim and diffused. Sturdy construction with good insulation ensures that the bottles are protected from external vibrations.
- Helps organize and display: An impressive collection should be well-cataloged and displayed. A wine cellar enables an enthusiast to organize the bottles by vintage or region, separately store the rare acquisitions or the wines that need to age further. A tour of the cellar can be a social activity and help the owner share their interest with family and friends.
- Provides convenience and economy: A wine cellar is a good investment for a wine collector as they can store their collection at home instead of at a bonded storage. This gives them immediate access and greater control over their collection and saves money. A collector can also buy wines by the case instead of by the bottle, making it a more economical purchase. A wine cellar can increase home equity as potential buyers could view built-in wine storage as a home upgrade.
Features of a Wine Cellar
If you are setting up your own wine cellar, then you need to make sure it has the proper features. These include:
- Climate control: The optimum temperature for the space in which wine is stored is 55 F, around 10 degrees lower for wine that needs to be aged for longer. The ideal relative humidity range is 60% to 70%. A wine cellar is actively climate-controlled to maintain these conditions and prevent fluctuations that could spoil the wine.
- Lighting: Wine should not be exposed to harsh light, and so they are built without windows and are dimly lit. Any existing windows should be tinted with UV protection. Artificial lights should ideally be LED bulbs. Halogen and incandescent bulbs should not be installed.
- Vibrations: The location of the cellar should be away from physical disturbances and footfalls. The wine racks should be placed away from the door and any windows should be double-paneled and properly sealed.
- Storage: Sturdy shelves that facilitate sideways storage of bottles are a must. A flat and wide grid system ensures that all bottles are within reach and will not be disturbed by anyone reaching behind them. This also makes for an attractive and intuitive display. Wines should ideally be organized by region, varietal and type.
- Flooring: As the humidity is maintained at a high level in the cellar, carpet can develop mold and should be avoided. Hardwood, tile or stone floors are well-suited materials. Space should be left around the perimeter in case of wood to allow for expansion. Vinyl should be avoided and the material under it can absorb moisture and decay.
- Floorplan: A separate seating area in the cellar is ideal for wine tastings away from the stored bottles.
Building a Wine Cellar
The chosen location should be naturally exposed to temperature and humidity that fall within the ideal range for wine storage. This way, the climate-control unit need not work too hard to maintain the proper conditions, as that could mean high utility bills. There should be no washer-dryers near adjoining walls, as that could expose the bottles to vibrations. The concrete should be sealed properly before installing the studs. Vapor barriers and foam insulation will help create a stable and controlled environment in the cellar. Any wood that is used should be pressure-treated so that the high humidity does not cause it to rot.
Light fixtures should create diffused localized lighting, such as overhead lighting for each rack. Fluorescent bulbs should not be used as they emit harsh UV rays. An exterior grade door that is at least 1 ¾ inches thick, or a glass door that is triple-paned, will provide the best insulation. There should be no windows. Weatherstripping should be used to seal any potential air leaks. Water-resistant drywall should be used to prevent rot due to high humidity.
The choice of a cooling unit largely depends on the external climate conditions. If the ambient temperature is already cool and falls within the optimum range, an AC unit may not be required. A dehumidifier can keep the moisture levels and potential mold growth in check.