How Big Does a Wine Cellar Need to Be?

how big does a wine cellar need to be

A wine cellar doesn’t need to be large, especially if you’re only interested in collecting a handful of rare bottles. Photo Credit: Flickr CC user Clarkston Scamp

I once visited the home of a magnificent wine taster. The 70-year-old collector had developed an incredible palate for both Burgundy and aged scotch in his lifetime, and could tell you everything about Cote de Nuits. I assumed he would have a massive wine cellar in his home, but I found that he kept all of his wine and liquor in just two modest wooden cabinets located in the basement. His collection consisted of fewer than 100 bottles. He told me, “I’ve had some of the best wines in the world, but at my age, I know what I like. I don’t need more wine than this.”

Some collectors like to surround themselves with thousands of bottles, whereas others focus on a handful of niche, rare vintages from one producer. Your wine cellar size will depend largely on what kind of collector you want to be in the future: a large-scale collector or a niche enthusiast.

Ideal Size for Large-Scale Collections

If you know you’ll amass a huge number of bottles over the course of your lifetime, you’ll need to think at least 10 or 20 years into the future when you build your cellar. You will likely be adding new bottles to your collection every year, which requires plenty of extra space for those yet-undiscovered wines. However, the larger your collection gets, the more inconvenient it is to run your own cellar out of your home. Costs of heating and cooling increase, you need to dedicate more space in your home for your bottles, and construction costs can easily exceed $50,000 or even $100,000.

This is why I recommend keeping your home wine cellar size at about 500 square feet or less, unless you have a passive cellar (like a naturally-cool basement). Anything larger than 500 square feet will be more difficult to keep cool all year, since the larger the room is, the more power you need to cool it.

To find out how much space you need, do the following calculation:

N x Y + C

N = The number of bottles you expect to buy every year, on average (e.g. 100 bottles)

Y = How long most bottles will stay in your cellar, in years (e.g. 10 years)

C = The number of bottles you currently have in your collection (e.g. 200 bottles)

Once you have this final number, add about 20 percent to it to make sure you always have enough room for more bottles (for, say, if you decide to splurge on a few cases of an excellent Bordeaux vintage one year). Using the example numbers above, you would need to have enough capacity to hold at least 1,440 bottles. Next, use a cellar construction chart to find the appropriate wine cellar size. A cellar holding 1,440 should be at least 100 square feet. If your final calculation exceeds 500 square feet, consider investing in professional storage instead to keep your cooling costs reasonable.

Ideal Size for Niche Collections

Unlike some collectors who have so many bottles that they have to store them in massive restaurant cellars, niche collectors aren’t interested in buying as many bottles as they can. Instead, they tend to buy small vintage sets from rare producers like Sine Qua Non or Henri Jayer. They might go years without buying a single collectible bottle of wine, then splurge on one bottle of DRC for $30,000. If you’re a niche collector, you might own fewer than 100 collectible bottles total, but those same bottles stay in your cellar for at least 20 years, often more. I recommend a wine cellar size of at least 25 square feet for a collection like this.

With careful wine rack placement, you can fit as many as 500 bottles in a cellar of this size, leaving you with a little extra space to add new bottles. Your primary concern should be whether you always have room for new bottles, since the few bottles you buy will require decades of aging and therefore your cellar won’t have much turnover. You don’t want to store a delicate bottle of rare DRC on your kitchen counter for weeks simply because you ran out of space in your cellar. Focus on building a compact cellar that makes the most of the space you have and that makes it easy to find and check on wines when you need to.

Having the Best of Both Worlds

When you combine home storage with professional storage, you don’t have to worry about the size of your cellar. You can choose either route: keeping a massive, 1,000-bottle-capacity cellar at home, or reserving your home cellar for niche bottles only. With the first option, you can keep the majority of your bottles at home, especially your non-collectible vintages that taste best in their youth. You can then store any special, highly-collectible, age-worthy bottles in a professional warehouse to ensure that they get the care they need as they mature. With the second option, you can do the opposite, keeping a few niche bottles at home and storing the remainder in a warehouse. With both options, you get to enjoy your home cellar without running out of space for new bottles.

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.