What Are the Risks of a Home Wine Cellar?

Risks of a Home Wine Cellar

Keeping your bottles organized lessens the risk of forgetting about bottles until they’re past their peak. Photo Credit: Pixabay CC user Donations_are_appreciated

A family friend has one of the most elaborate home wine cellars I’ve ever seen. His Florida home boasts three levels of wine shelves, gorgeous oak furniture, and special glass display cases for his many Jeroboams and Magnums. Although his home cellar is a work of art, it’s not without risks. Once, during a rowdy house party, he packed 20 drunk guests inside the cellar to show off all of his greatest vintages. He passed around four of his best bottles for his guests to look at, but in the chaos, he lost track of them. The next day, he found one bottle sitting behind a case in the cellar.

Almost a year later, he found another one of the bottles tucked inside a kitchen cabinet, spoiled from the heat. To make matters worse, one of the guests had left the cellar door open all night, and it took hours to get the humidity settings back on track. These are just a couple of the risks of using a home wine cellar, and these problems can impact even the most prepared collectors.

Environmental Risks of a Home Wine Cellar

The biggest challenge you’ll face if you build your own cellar is getting the temperature and humidity just right. My friend in Florida has had terrible luck with environmental controls. He once damaged at least two cases of wine during an especially humid Florida afternoon when his power went on the fritz. Keeping wine safe, especially when you live in a hot, humid region, can be risky compared to storing your wine professionally. First, you need to keep your wine between 50 and 55 degrees if you want the best aging results. Accomplishing this requires 24/7 attention from a cooling unit or heater, and if the power goes out or your cooling unit breaks, your wine can spoil in less than 24 hours, depending on outside temperatures. You’ll also need to keep your cellar at the perfect humidity level; if it’s too damp your labels will peel off, and if it’s too dry, your corks will shrink and cause oxidation.

Even if you buy the best humidifier and cooling unit (with a backup power generator), the risks of a home wine cellar extend beyond climate control alone. Improper lighting can slowly damage bottles by producing excess heat, while vibration can prevent your bottles from aging properly. Keeping your wines reliably safe and cool is a job that requires a lots of time, effort, and money. You’ll likely spend as much as $30,000 for basic environmental control installation, and once that’s done, you’ll need to check on your environmental settings at least twice a day to make sure everything is working correctly.

Poor Organization Poses a Risk

When I talk to collectors about their home cellar plans, they’re often so concerned with environmental controls that they give very little thought to organization. One of the risks of a home wine cellar is that it’s easy to lose track of your bottles as your collection grows. Cases pile up in the corner, older bottles get pushed behind newer bottles, and you can’t seem to find that bottle of 2005 Bordeaux in the mess. Unless you have a solid plan for keeping your cellar clean and organized, or you hire a professional to keep track of your bottles for you, you risk spoilage when you can’t find bottles that you need to drink or sell immediately. This is why, if you choose to build a home cellar rather than storing with a third party, you should hire an expert to go through your collection and upload your bottles to an organization app like VinCellar. Apps like this use elaborate barcode systems to keep track of every bottle; the system shows you exactly where your bottles are located, and when you can drink them.

No Paper Trail

Finally, one of the least acknowledged risks of using a home wine cellar is not being able to prove the authenticity of your bottles. Imagine spending thousands of dollars on a perfect cellar, carefully tending to your environmental settings every day, and keeping each bottle in a perfect spot. After all of that hard work, you offer up a mixed case of your best vintages to an auction house, but the auction house turns you down. Why? Because you can’t prove that your bottles were stored properly. Some of the major auction houses aren’t willing to gamble on home-stored bottles (unless they’re supremely rare) because home storage is inherently risky. They’re forced to take you at your word.

Ideally, you want a paper trail showing exactly where and how your bottles were stored at every stage of their life. To assure auction houses that your bottles were stored properly, you can hire a wine expert to authenticate your bottles, or provide photographic evidence of your cellar conditions. Take photos of every vintage you plan to sell as it sits in your cellar, and carefully document your environmental settings. Alternatively, ship your wine under bond and sell it directly from bonded storage, or store it professionally with a third party, both of which automatically provide proof of quality storage. Once you prove that your bottles have aged under the perfect conditions in your home cellar, your vintages will fetch a higher price on the market among collectors who only want to invest in trustworthy sellers.

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 best wine.

With over a decade of experience in the wine industry, Derek Cienfuegos serves as Director of Collector Services at Vinfolio. During his tenure at Vinfolio, he has had the good fortune to work with some of the most distinguished wine collections in the country. Trained in wine production, Derek spent many years making wines commercially for some of Sonoma’s top producers. In addition, he has designed, opened, and managed two wine bars in San Francisco.