If you have attended the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, you have learned about (and are ready to purchase) all the amazing wines available, you should next ask yourself how you are going to properly store the wine once you get home.
It’s no secret that bottled wine likes dark, cool places, especially right around 55 degrees. Fortunately, many of us already have access to a dark, cool place around 55 degrees at home – the basement!
Around the world, beyond three to four feet below the ground, the earth is a constant temperature of 55 degrees. Of course, some spots can be hotter, but generally, after about four feet the 55 degrees is remarkably consistent. However, for your valuable wines to survive over time, that 55 degrees needs to be constant, so there are a couple of approaches to consider:
Option 1: Unfinished basement
If you have a below grade space that is consistently unheated, yet won’t freeze in the winter, that is the most basic approach. Example: An unfinished basement, a crawl space or even a root cellar.
Option 2: Wine refrigerator
We typically heat our homes in the winter and cool them in the summer, and these temperature fluctuations will wreak havoc on your wine investment. The next step up would be a dedicated wine storage refrigerator, which is a good idea as it can be set at the right temperature (which is higher than most refrigerators). Most appliance manufacturers make wine chillers that have glass fronts and a digital readout of temperature for peace of mind as well as display potential.
Option 3: Custom wine cellar
If you are ready to graduate to an in-home wine cellar environment, there are many companies that specialize in this, and many high-end builders and architects will understand the basics. I have personally been involved in design and construction of seven new wine cellars, and below I have outlined some recommendations.
- To achieve consistent temperature, the space needs to be fully enclosed, including weather stripping on the doors, and should be wrapped in its own insulation regardless of where the wine cellar is located in the home, and regardless of where you live.
- If you have a heating/cooling system that is based on boilers and fan coils, you can dedicate a small fan coil to serve the wine cellar. Wall-mounted air conditioning units also work well. At first you may think it is obtrusive, but ultimately this is about the wine, not the aesthetics.
- For the real deal, we usually build the wine room with a hidden utility area that houses the cooling mechanism. The chilled air should recirculate, so you’ll need an intake and an outlet. You will need a dedicated electric circuit for this machinery, as well as circuits for accent lighting in the space.
- It is also important to keep the humidity consistent, which will usually require additional mechanical equipment and considerations. For example, a humidifier will need a drip line for condensation that needs to find its way to a drain. I recommend a floor drain in the near vicinity of the mechanical equipment that is hidden from plain sight.
- Stone is often used as a finished surface as it helps retain the cooler temperature. Stone on the floor and walls is a nice look as well.
- The wine racks should be constructed with unfinished wood. The environment will be somewhat wet, so cedar makes an excellent choice, as does teak or redwood.
- Many, many people make the mistake of sizing the storage racks for a Cabernet bottle, roughly 3-1/4” round. Make the racks big enough for a Beaujolais or Champagne bottle, which starts at about 4” diameter. Don’t make that common mistake!
- Remember to allow space for cases of wine and larger bottles. You may want to display some upright so consider including a bench or shelving unit for display.
In the end it is about creating the proper, constant environment for the wine, and finding the solution that best meets your needs. If you are considering a custom wine cellar, please give us a call to discuss what may be the best solution for you.