Most of the collectors I know can remember the moment they realized they needed to build a wine cellar. The tipping point usually happens around the 100-bottle mark; your collection is officially too large for most wine fridges, which forces you to consider alternative storage methods like professional warehouses or home cellars. However, building a home cellar from scratch is a daunting task that requires months of research in advance, not to mention a significant amount of money upfront. If you’re prepared to take that plunge, you can avoid most of the common cellar construction problems when you scope out your location, hire the right contractor, and install the perfect equipment to keep your bottles safe.
Location, Location, Location
One mistake that I see many collectors make when they decide to build a wine cellar is that they don’t consider all of their needs before hiring a contractor. One of my friends decided to build his cellar in the basement, as he figured the naturally cool temperatures there made it the obvious location. What he didn’t consider is that his basement is located at the bottom of a long flight of stairs, and because he has a bad hip, he can’t climb up or down the stairs without assistance. He now wishes he had built his cellar in one of the more accessible areas of his home.
Accessibility should be your first consideration; how often do you plan on visiting your cellar, and which areas of your home are most convenient for you? Next, look at the natural temperature and sunlight of the room. Upstairs rooms are likely to get too warm, especially in the summer months, which is why basements or ground floor rooms are ideal. You’ll also want to select a room that has no windows, or a room where the windows can be completely covered and well sealed. Light is the enemy of wine, especially the UV light that comes in naturally from windows.
Finally, consider the size of your cellar, and where your collection will be in the future. I recommend storing no more than about 200 bottles for every 30 square feet of space. If you plan on installing a cooling unit to keep your cellar temperature stable, you will also need to build a second room next to your cellar where your cooler can release exhaust. This exhaust room should be at least 5 square feet larger than your cellar. For a 200 bottle collection, this means you’ll need at least 65 square feet of space total. Those measurements should double if you plan on buying more wine in the future.
Call in the Experts
Once you’ve marked out the perfect spot in your home, you should hire a trustworthy cellar contractor to take care of the actual installation. Don’t try to build a wine cellar on your own without an expert’s help; even the experts find this process complicated and time-consuming. If your insulation isn’t perfectly sealed, or your exhaust room isn’t large enough, your bottles will suffer and you could lose out on hundreds or thousands of dollars in investments. First, hire a wine expert to appraise your bottles and help you decide which are worth cellaring. This benefits you in three ways: you can get your bottles insured in case your cellar isn’t built perfectly, you can get tips from an expert on how to store your bottles before your contractor finishes the blueprint, and you can focus on building a cellar that’s just large enough to hold your bottles that need cellaring.
Next, consult with at least three contractors to find the one who is most trustworthy and has the most competitive prices. A good cellar contractor will walk you through every step of the build and will point out any red flags from the start. The best contractors I’ve known will stop their customers from building a cellar that isn’t ideal for wine. Yes, their job is to make you a beautiful cellar, but a good contractor’s primary focus should always be first and foremost on the safety of your bottles.
Don’t Overlook the Details
After picking a location and drafting up a blueprint, you’ll want to double-check on the following important details: insulation, cooling units, racks, lighting, and furniture. Cellar walls should be built from thick insulated materials that have a natural vapor barrier, like plastic or aluminum. Similarly, any doors need to be exterior-quality and equipped with weather stripping. Build a wine cellar with moisture-resistant flooring (never carpet); if you want hardwood in your cellar, use odorless woods to protect the natural flavors and aromas of your bottles. Once your cellar is insulated, you can install a cooling unit to keep temperatures steady, along with a humidifier to keep corks supple. Your contractor can help you pick out and install these materials.
With the exception of your wine racks, everything else in your cellar is purely cosmetic from here. I recommend keeping your wine racks simple when you build a wine cellar, using flexible metal wire racks that cut down on the vibration transferred to bottles. Using modular metal racks also gives you the freedom to add more bottles to your space as your collection grows without keeping dozens of empty shelves on the wall. Consult our wine rack guide for more information on choosing a racking system. Other decorative details like lighting and furniture can have an impact on how your wines age, so it’s important to choose the right materials. Halogen lights can cause heat damage, which is why you should opt for LED lighting. Any paints that release VOCs or tables made of aromatic woods will impact the flavor of your wine over time, so choose wine-friendly paints and redwood or pine furniture (which don’t give off as much odor). These finishing touches should reflect your personality, but most importantly, they should also preserve your bottles safely for years.
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.