I have a stockpile of halogen light bulbs stacked in my pantry. Most of the time, my house is filled with LEDs, but in the winter, when temperatures drop, I switch out my LEDs for a month or two to enjoy the warm glow of my halogens. Believe it or not, I’ve noticed that I don’t have to switch on my heater as often when I have halogen bulbs in place, since they produce a ton of heat on their own. However, the one place these bulbs will never go is anywhere near my wine bottles. Not a single bottle has ever been exposed to anything more than LED lighting. Experts suspect that halogen lights damage wine in a number of ways; even if you have an otherwise perfect cellar, you shouldn’t neglect the importance of proper cellar lighting.
The Three Ways Halogen Lights Damage Wine
I already mentioned that halogens feel hotter than LEDs, but the true difference in temperature is enormous: the surface of halogen bulbs is about three times as hot as the surface of LEDs. When you spend countless hours and thousands of dollars on temperature controls for your cellar, all of that hard work can go to waste if you heat the room back up again using halogens. Some studies have found that halogen lights increase the temperature in the room by at least 10 degrees, and often much more, depending on how many lights you use and how small the room is. In addition, the moment you turn those halogens off, your cellar temperatures will drop. Temperature fluctuation is the enemy of wine storage.
Halogen lights damage the wine inside with heat, yet temperature fluctuations can also damage your wine labels on the outside. When you take any glass bottle out of a refrigerator, you can see this damage firsthand: as the bottle heats up at room temperature, water droplets appear on the outside, making any paper labels soggy. A similar concept is at work when you use halogen bulbs in a cellar. The heat spikes and dips, which causes any moisture inside to condense and expand. During condensation, water latches onto wine labels, causing them to mildew, and in extreme cases, peel off entirely. And without a pristine label, your wine might not be worth as much on the market later.
Think of the most luxurious wine cellars you’ve ever visited. Have you ever seen a window inside? You probably haven’t. It’s not that collectors and wineries hate sunlight; most of us would love to brighten up a room with some cheery natural light. We just know that UV rays from the sun will damage our wines over time. UV light breaks down important chemical compounds in the wine that contribute to its quality and flavor. When these compounds break down, the tannin structure changes (making the wine age too quickly), aromas dull, and the flavor either spoils or starts to taste like a plain boiled potato. Lights that use incandescents, even many halogens, also produce UV light. It can be nice having these lights in your bedroom in the winter because they feel a bit like natural sunlight, but they will irreversibly change the flavor of your wine for the worse.
The Lights You Should Use Instead
Knowing that halogen lights damage wine over time, I recommend sticking with LEDs in subtle colors. First, LEDs use energy much more efficiently. This has an added benefit of lowering your monthly electricity bill. Second, because LEDs don’t significantly heat up the room, condensation and temperature fluctuations are unlikely to occur. Finally, LEDs don’t produce UV light to the degree that halogens do. The small amount of UV that LEDs do produce is immediately converted into white light by phosphorus, meaning that the lights emit little to no UV over time. You’ll still want to keep your bottles in the dark when your cellar isn’t in use, but even if you keep your LEDs on for hours at a time, your bottles likely won’t see any damage whatsoever.
When I visit wine cellars in-person, I tell my clients that less is always more when it comes to lighting. Your main goal should be to have just enough light to read your labels without squinting. Although LEDs produce very little heat, I still prefer to keep lights as far away from the bottles as possible (in other words, don’t put a string of LEDs right up against your wine shelves, even if you enjoy the mood they create). Install your lights on the ceiling, and consider using an automatic shut-off timer. Even the most diligent wine collector occasionally forgets to shut off the lights on the way out of the cellar. I also love the idea of installing cabinets or some other type of removable protective covering in front of your wine racks to keep excess light out (also good if you intend to use your cellar as a tasting room). You might love a bright room, but your bottles prefer to slumber peacefully in the dark.
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.