More quickly than you would have possibly imagined, the small wine refrigerator you bought first is clearly inadequate and a dark closet is too warm to protect what has become a costly investment.
Photo courtesy of Vintage Cellars (www.vintagecellars.com).
The next step is to acquire a wine cellar, either by building one yourself or—if the project is extensive—hiring one of the growing number of contractors who specialize in them.
Build Your Own Wine Cellar If you have a basement, building a simple wine cellar is a good do-it-yourself project. Jeff Cox, author of Cellaring Wine, says it’s a good first building project for someone who’s just learning. He details the job thoroughly in his book, breaking it down step by step.“Anybody can follow those directions,” Cox says. “Or, these steps will be familiar to a licensed carpenter.”
Start by choosing a dry corner of the basement with 12 available feet of wall space extending in both directions. Plan to build two more insulated walls that are also 12 feet, giving yourself a room that is 144 square feet. This size will allow you to hold 100 cases of wine in standard wine shelving. If you scrimp on the dimensions, you’ll have to modify the prefab shelving or custom build it, which is a lot more trouble and expense.
Contractor Gene Walder, owner of Vintage Cellars in San Marco, Calif., says that whether you are building a basement unit or converting an upstairs bedroom into a wine storage area, insulation is a key step.
He recommends building the walls with 5/8th-inch green board, installing a vapor barrier and insulating with a faced rigid cellular polyisocyanurate thermal insulation board like Thermax or its polyurethane foam spray cousin. At the very least, he urges R-15 in the walls and R-30 in the ceiling. In warm climates, more insulation is better, he says.
Seal the outside walls and any window that is in the space. Keeping the area dry is important because otherwise the labels on the wine bottles will mold. A coat of waterproof sealer on the basement walls will help prevent this moisture from seeping in. You also don’t want light from the window, so cover the glass and fill the window well with insulation.
Keep Your Wine Cool The ideal temperature for a wine cellar is 58 degrees. Equally important is maintaining the humidity at about 70 percent. If the air’s too dry, it will suck humidity through the corks and prematurely age the wine. That’s one reason why a standard portable air conditioner doesn’t work in a wine cellar. Another reason is that vibration is as bad for wine as warm temperatures and most portable units hum and vibrate when they are operating.
Two brands of wine cellar coolers that Walder recommends are Whisperkool, manufactured by Vinotheque, and Wine Guardian. Each of these manufacturers makes two styles of coolers. A split system requires putting the cooling unit