What Goes Into the Perfect Wine Cellar
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“We hear stories of meaningful bottles, proudly displayed on a shelf for a decade or more, and the disappointment that inevitably results (after opening) due to improper storage,” Crafton says. “So the quality aspect alone is the biggest benefit.”
Also, it’s much easier organizing wine neatly in one space than scattered around the house. Crafton adds that a well-built wine cellar can encourage better wine knowledge and even add value to your home.
Different Styles of Home Wine Cellars
There are two types of home wine cellars: Electronic climate-controlled cellars that regulate temperature and moisture, and underground wine cellars where the climate is relatively constant and not artificially controlled.
These two types of cellars can come in various styles. Different home wine cellar styles include:
- Cave style: This has the look and feel of a real cave. Traditionally wine caves are built underground or into the side of a hill. With today’s technology, they can be built into a basement. This style is a good option if you want that 1920s, prohibition-era feel.
- Glass-enclosed: These are the most popular pick for customized wine room or cellar projects because it lets you show off what you have. This concept can be used in just about any living space.
- Wine wall: If space is limited, storing wine on a wall can be convenient. Wine walls can handle the same bottle capacity as other style wine cellars without taking up valuable space in your home.
- Small-space racks: Wine cellars for small spaces have become more popular. Wine Racks make it easy to customize the size and style you need to fit any small space.
- Wine cellar room: If there is enough space in your wine cellar, adding a table, chairs or a bar, like this one from Wine Cellar Innovations, gives homeowners and wine enthusiasts a place to hang out and do tastings.
Key Components of a Home Wine Cellar
- Proper temperature and humidity: Regardless of where you live, Crafton says wine needs consistent temperature (ideally between 55 and 65 degrees F) to mature properly. Humidity should be between 50 percent and 70 percent.
- Adequate airflow: The circulation of cool air inside is also critical, so the racking system needs to promote airflow.
- Space: “In designing a cellar,” Crafton says, “focus on building out 50 to 100 percent more capacity than you think you need, as your collection will only grow with time.”
- Insulation: The space should be well insulated ideally away from sources of heat. Use 2-lb. or medium density insulation.
- The right lighting: Excessive light, especially sunlight, could lead to temperature variability. LED lights inside a wine cellar are the best since they emit little to no heat, Crafton says.
- A space free of vibrations: Vibrations caused by active train tracks, nearby appliances and even heavy foot traffic can negatively impact the aging process of wine. Consider relocating appliances or securing wine racks to walls to reduce constant shaking.
- Shelving: With the racks, Crafton says to think about how you buy your wine. If you tend to buy one or two bottles at a time, then a simple one-or-two-deep bottle system works. If you buy six to 12 bottles to age, then organize around that unit of size. There are plenty of options if you don’t want to build the racks yourself, from pre-fit cedar kits to metal/wire shelves. Modularity/flexibility in rack design can save headaches later.
- Materials: Building materials vary greatly, from cedar to steel. Don’t skimp. Remember that bottles are heavy and their shapes vary, Crafton says.
Is Building a Home Wine Cellar a DIY Project?
Depending on your budget and goal for the wine cellar, it is absolutely a DIY project, as long as you’re not adding square feet to your home. The materials needed are readily available. Simplicity and flexibility are also key in building a home wine cellar.
Crafton says you can use foam insulation and plywood to face simple 2×4 framing, although marine-treated materials can help minimize mold. Installing vapor barrier plastic sheets behind the insulation on the warm side of the wall (the interior of the wine cellar being the cold side) will help keep the temperature constant.
“Stay away from drywall or anything sensitive to moisture,” Crafton says. “If you have the option to install or utilize a floor drain, it makes cleaning up broken bottles much easier.
“As for the chiller, again oversize it, and make sure you have a plan if the unit you purchase has a condensate line. I always recommend adding an additional 110V wiring inside in case you want to plug in a remote temperature monitoring system, an iPad for organization, or a dehumidifier.”
Pro tip: When installing a door to the wine cellar, make sure the door seals well to block the heat and warmth of the house from entering the cellar.
What Does a Home Wine Cellar Cost to Build?
Assuming the space is already there, a simple build-out for a few hundred bottles can be accomplished for less than $1,000. That number can come down considerably if there are materials on hand, or if a chiller isn’t needed in cool to moderate climates.
“Just building the racks yourself, instead of custom ordering them, can yield huge savings,” says Crafton. “A large, high-end cellar with custom racks and a vault door can easily eclipse $100,000 before a single bottle is placed inside.”
How to Start Filling Your Wine Cellar
Crafton stresses if you’re going to build a cellar, spend the time and money to put good wine inside and store it properly. He offers these tips:
- Store the bottles on their sides or upside down to ensure the corks do not dry out.
- Focus on convenience and group “every day” bottles together, apart from the special ones. That way it’s easy to figure out what to drink on a Tuesday night, and to hopefully avoid pulling a cork on a bottle that you intended to save.
- Organize a cellar by region, vintage or variety. For instance, you could group all your Napa Valley cabernets together, or maybe all of the wines from the 2017 vintage.
- Keep a log of your wines, the name of the wine you opened, when you opened it, how much you paid for it and if it was enjoyable. If you’d buy it again, it may be a good wine to stock up on when you have the space in your new wine cellar.
- Where vibrations can’t be avoided, Crafton says wrap bottles with bubble wrap or Styrofoam when storing to reduce shaking.
- Your chiller will operate much more efficiently and effectively when your cellar is full, so fill it up!