Why a Home Wine Cellar May Not Be the Solution to Your Wine Storage Needs

home wine cellar

Smaller home cellars are perfect for wines that are drinking right now, but third party storage is the better option for large collections housing dozens of bottles that still need time to age. Photo Credit: Flickr CC user Fatima Flores


Robert Parker has the kind of expansive wine cellar in his home that many collectors only dream of owning. Parker’s cellar is located in a basement of sorts, housing an estimated 10,000 bottles of wine. Because Parker is a full-time wine critic, he can afford to spend the hours needed on his personal collection; in fact, Parker can name nearly every bottle he has in his home off the top of his head as well as its location in the cellar. It helps that he’s allegedly the only one allowed in the cellar. However, most of us aren’t like Parker; we simply cannot keep every bottle of wine stored in our heads, especially as we approach the 100-bottle mark. Too often, collectors are attracted by the fantasy of a home wine cellar like Parker’s, not realizing that these come with risks. That’s why more collectors are turning to third party storage services as a better alternative to the classic wine basement.

Why Collectors Think They Want a Home Wine Cellar

The primary goal behind a home wine cellar is a seductive one: access to every bottle you own whenever you please, no long trips or shipments needed. If you’re craving a big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon from California, all you have to do is pop into your cellar and pull out the bottle you want. Yet this kind of scenario rarely happens in most home cellars. Instead, home wine cellars tend to become so disorganized and crowded that it’s impossible for collectors to find a particular bottle in the mess. In the internet age, there is simply no excuse anymore for storing wine at home. The best third party storage facilities, like Vinfolio’s service, give you the option to request any bottle in your collection and have it shipped directly to your door on a specific date.

If you don’t know the exact date you plan to drink a bottle, it’s easy enough to have the wine shipped to your home for a brief storage period, then drink it when the fancy strikes. Vinfolio’s Manager of Collector Services Derek Cienfuegos says he keeps a small collection of bottles at home, but recommends that collectors house the bulk of a collection in a separate storage facility. This allows you to choose among a small batch of drinkable bottles kept on the premises, leaving finer, more expensive bottles under lock and key in a professional wine storage center.

Many collectors believe that home cellaring is the cheaper option, and that it will let them avoid the fees associated with third party wine storage. They may renovate an entire space in their homes to dedicate to wine. The initial cost on this type of storage is steep, but the idea behind it is that the collector never has to pay another dime toward wine storage again. This is a myth, and it’s one that could cost collectors a great deal, especially if their cellars are not well-organized. The hidden cost of home cellars can sneak up on even the most well-prepared collectors.

Home Cellars: The Number One Producer of Expensive Vinegar

Let’s say you spend $10,000 renovating your home basement to make room for your 10,000 bottles of wine. At $1 per bottle, you think that this DIY storage option is the cheapest route to a fine wine cellar, but that isn’t taking into account the maintenance-related pitfalls of your cellar. Unless you keep your cellar at the perfect temperature and carefully calibrate the humidity, environmental factors will spoil your wine. When humidity drops for an extended period of time, wines get leaky corks and risk oxidation. Similarly, a wine room that is too hot promotes wine spoilage, while a room that is too cold damages the complexities of the wine’s flavors over time. As you can imagine, it takes a great deal of energy, literally, to maintain proper cellar conditions. You’re still on the hook for heating and cooling bills and the cost of running a quality humidifier, and these costs continue to be incurred long after your initial cellar installation.  

Cienfuegos says he has seen too many fine wines poured down the drain because collectors never realized their wines were slowly wasting away in home cellars that weren’t maintained at the ideal conditions. With third party storage, your wine is kept at a consistent temperature (usually 55 degrees) without any effort on your part. The fees associated with third party storage are similar to the overall cost of running your own home cellar, but with additional perks. Vinfolio will upload your bottles to its VinCellar app, and update it when you order wine or drink a bottle from the storage facility. With your wine stored under the perfect conditions, the VinCellar app lists your wines by prospective drinking date, allowing you to see exactly when to pull them from storage. As a result, loss of wine due to spoilage decreases dramatically, and you’ll never have to worry about storing expensive vinegar again.

A Cheap Install, But at an Unexpected Price

After you’ve spent $500 on a bottle of wine, the last thing you probably want to do is spend even more money on storage. After all, you want to make a healthy profit. However, you’re gambling with your wine when you do this, and risking your entire $500 investment. If you can afford to buy the most expensive bottles on the market, then you need to account for the cost of maintaining those bottles the right way. It’s vital to stick within a budget; if you only have $5,000 to spend on your wine hobby this year, don’t buy $4,500 worth of fine wine only to shove it into a $500 wine fridge or self-storage locker. Expect to spend at least 20-30 percent of the total worth of your collection on keeping that collection properly stored, otherwise you risk losing it all to spoilage.

Every bottle that goes bad under your care not only means a loss in profits, but it means a serious loss of your time and energy. Time is a finite, essential resource in wine collecting. You need all of the extra time you can get to research new bottles and maintain the ones you already own. When you invest in a third party wine storage facility that keeps everything organized, you save money by saving time, allowing you to enjoy your hobby even more. Having a home wine cellar involves more than just putting bottles away in storage; it means keeping track of those bottles’ locations and their drink dates.

Space Gets Tighter and Tighter

Eventually, all collectors hit a wall in their collections; it’s that moment when they cannot set even one more bottle in their cellar. Even serious collectors like Parker have limited space in their home cellars. Although his wine collection is well-organized, a wine reporter who visited Parker’s cellar described it as housing cases and cases of wine stacked to the ceiling. While many seasoned collectors have small home cellars, storing any more than about 100 bottles of wine at home makes visibility an issue for most people. Unless you’re drafting up a detailed map of every wine in your cellar, chances are good that you’re forgetting at least one or two drinkable bottles among the hundreds of stacked bottles and cases.

And what about pre-arrivals? Chances are, when cases of wine you ordered months ago show up at your door, your cellar doesn’t have room. The longer these new bottles are left just outside of the cellar door, the more likely the wine will spoil under inconsistent temperatures and humidity. With a third party, sudden wine shipments aren’t a concern. Rather than having limited space to work with, a third party adjusts the space you need to fit your fluctuating collection. You’ll never have to deal with five cases of DRC piled up near the door of your home wine cellar for weeks until you can make room for them in the cellar itself. And that alone is worth the cost of third party storage.

Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.

Leah Hammer is Vinfolio’s Director of Cellar Acquisitions, guiding private collectors through the selling process. When not on the hunt for amazing cellars, she competes in marathons and rehydrates with Champagne and Burgundy.