For some of us wine is simply a drink to enjoy at dinner parties; for others, wine is a way of life. There are also plenty of folks in between. Regardless of your place on the wine lovers’ spectrum, it’s helpful to understand your options for collecting and storing this beverage. Who knows? This information may pique your interest enough to pick up a new hobby—one that tends to bring people together and foster good times.
If your idea of “collecting wine” evokes images of Gothic castles with shelf after shelf of vintage wines, think again. Wine collecting can be a hobby enjoyed by anyone who enjoys the beverage; collections come in all shapes and sizes. Serious collectors can acquire an assortment of wines encompassing many vintages, often taking advantage of offers to purchase by the case directly from wineries. Serious collectors also can keep meticulous track of their wine. Not unlike a library holding special books which a reader has enjoyed or collected, wine cellars hold a select collection of wines at the wine connoisseur’s fingertips—purchased, tracked, recorded, and ready to enjoy at just the right moment.
Proper storage in wine cellars and cabinets is important to the serious wine buyer as well as the entry-level enthusiast. Either of these storage options provides easy access to the wine and also helps keep track of the collection. An asset for entertaining and storage, a cellar or cabinet gives the wine connoisseur an opportunity to build the collection so there is a better choice of wines to suit specific occasions. Some collectors look upon their wine as an investment, consulting wine experts for ratings as new wines come out and even purchasing wine futures.
If you’re new to the concept of collecting wine, consider starting with a few bottles. Initially choose wines that you enjoy. Six to 10 bottles is a good start for a beginner. Take time to read and learn about these wines. Knowledge and tasting new wines help you appreciate and expand your understanding of good wines.
Keep It Cool
As the popularity of wine increases, so does the popularity of wine cabinets and cellars. There are many options fitting most budgets when considering this type of storage. Most fundamentally, a wine storage area requires a climate-controlled environment, and this space can be large and elaborate, small and plain, or anything in between. For starters, a homeowner can purchase a small wine refrigerator from almost any appliance or “big box” store. Locally, Ferguson carries wine refrigerators; Northern Lites in Gretna also carries a line of wine cabinets made by Tresanti. These are constructed of hardwood and feature a dual-zone refrigerator unit. One section holds bottles between 45 and 54 degrees, and another holds bottles between 54 and 65 degrees, allowing for storage of both white and red wine. Storage drawers, granite work surfaces, interior lighting and stemware racks complete the unit.
Other Options for Storage
If you have more than enough room for a refrigerator, but not enough for an entire cellar, you might consider a project like Dan and Laura O’Neil’s. The O’Neils, who own Shamrock Construction Enterprises in Lynchburg, have constructed a functional wine cellar in a corner of their basement. Laura explains, “I always pictured this place under the stairs for a wine cellar.” Quite unlike some of the vault-like structures that some collectors build, this is a plan that can be accomplished as a do-it-yourself home project or a small job for a local craftsman. A brick-lined corner, about 5 by 7 feet in size, creates the perfect spot to house their wines. “We are not avid collectors, and don’t have expensive wines,” says Laura. “We just enjoy it and it is fun!”
Laura’s husband Dan designed the alcove using chimney flu liners for racks and covering the floor with brick pavers. A wine refrigerator keeps the white wines at the perfect temperature, and a counter and cabinets provide a nice place for stemware and serving wine. The couple installed a creative backsplash using corks to finish the look. Theirs is a simple solution for wine storage utilizing a small, unused space.
In addition to the entertaining and storage value that a wine cellar or cabinet offers, proper storage protects wine from potentially damaging external influences. Because wine is a perishable food product, it is vulnerable to heat, light and humidity. If stored properly, wines retain their quality. In the case of red wines, which improve with age, they become more aromatic, flavorful and rich as they mature.
Building a Wine Cellar
If a wine cabinet is not quite what you had in mind and you are looking for more storage capacity and a larger area for entertaining, a home wine cellar might be the answer.
These rooms literally run the gamut from closet-sized spaces to large rooms with tasting areas and a place for staging elaborate dinner parties.
Major components to building a wine cellar include the actual room construction, the refrigeration unit and the racks to hold the wine. Whether you have a small number of bottles or a collection made up of many rare and valuable vintages, strive for an ideal environment. The cellar can be above or below ground. Keep in mind, however, that a basement is naturally cooler, and can more easily support the weight of a refrigeration unit, racks and many bottles of wine.
There are several considerations to provide for proper wine storage, whatever the size of the cellar. The ideal cellar has a constant temperature, humidity and darkness in a well- ventilated and clean environment. When constructing the room, it is very important to insulate the area properly and provide an adequate vapor barrier to control temperature and humidity. To achieve this ideal temperature and humidity, cellars are typically lined with six-millimeter plastic, insulation and green board.
Wine experts will agree that the most important element necessary to keep wine is consistency. Fluctuations in temperature and humidity spell disaster for wine. Also, if a wine is stored at a temperature over 70 degrees, it will mature too fast and can affect the taste. Exposure to too much light can make a wine musty or flat, and vibration can damage a wine’s flavor since it alters a wine’s normal breathing space. Humidity levels should be around 55 percent. Too little humidity will dry out the corks and too much humidity will create mold.
Choosing the Right Wine Racks
Another important component of the wine cellar is the wine rack system. Wine racks come in a variety of standard configurations for individual bottles, and bins or cubes for multiple bottles. Before you buy, consider what types and how much you want to store. Do you want to buy wine by the bottle or by the case? Use multiple storage units or diamond bins to hold entire cases, and individual storage units for special bottles. These factors all make a big difference in the construction of the cellar. Magnum racks and racks for other-sized bottles may also be necessary depending upon what’s in your collection.
Racks can be purchased online or custom-made according to the room size and exact specifications of the size and shape of the cellar. If fashioned from wood, they must be impervious to moisture. Redwood or mahogany are good choices because they withstand humidity. Doors must be well insulated, and if they are made of glass they should be tempered because of contrasting temperatures in each room.
It is important to arrange wine in an orderly fashion. Stack bottles in racks according to the type, origin and vintage. Be sure to label the racks. There are elaborate software options that help wine aficionados keep track of large collections. Just like books in a library, it is important to record all purchases and note their locations.
Table wines should be stored on their sides so that the cork is kept in constant contact with the wine. If the cork dries out and contracts, air enters the bottle and the wine will spoil. Fortified wines like sherry, port, aperitifs and brandies are not affected by air other than through evaporation; they can be stored upright.
Consider how the wine cellar will be used. Will it be simply functional, geared towards entertaining, or both? More elaborate wine cellars include beautiful brick, marble or stone flooring, highly polished wooden racks, granite counters, crystal chandeliers and glass doors leading into a private tasting room where guests can enjoy wine and dinner parties. A simple cellar with Lucite shelving can serve the purpose of wine storage with much less expense.
A final consideration in the planning of a cellar is to decide what else will be stored in the room. Liquor and cigars go hand-in-hand with wine and entertaining. Stemware and serving pieces are also necessary ingredients for tastings and dinner parties, so consider space for storing these items.
If you’re committed to building this dream room, research the options. There are professionals who will design and build a complete wine cellar according to a homeowner’s exacting specifications. Many opt to purchase premade racks and have a contractor install them. It is important to understand the exact requirements for a wine cellar and be sure that the contractor has a clear understanding of these requirements as well. Armed with some basic information and a contractor whom you can trust, a wine cellar is within reach. Soon you too can enjoy the luxury of wine at your fingertips to complement every kind of meal and occasion.
Ask yourself these questions as you consider your wine storage options:
Passive or Active
Is your intent to store your wine in a “passive” environment (cool enough that you might not need a controlled cooling system)? Or is your intent to store your wine in an “active” environment (needs and requires a cooling system)?
Do you need a system for short-term storage or with emphasis on long-term aging? Do you need a storage system that protects a few cases, 250 bottles, 500 bottles, a 2,500 bottle walk-in wine room, or a custom wine cellar to appreciate a few thousand precious bottles? How often do you purchase wine and, of course, how often do you enjoy it? Over time, how fast do you expect your wine collection to grow?
Aesthetics and Location
Do you want the cabinet to be a formal furniture piece in your living room, dining room or kitchen, where elegance is a primary consideration? Or do you want a functional unit that can be placed in your garage or basement where storage is primary and appearance is secondary?