Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to go about storing your wine properly:
Step 1: Count your bottles and calculate how much space you’ll need.
Step 2: Decide whether to build a wine cellar or store your wine professionally.
Step 3: Build your cellar, or ship your bottles to a storage warehouse.
Step 4: Organize your bottles to fit your lifestyle.
Tally Up Your Wine Bottles
To decide what your best wine storage solution is, you’ll first need to count the number of bottles you currently have, and estimate how many bottles you’ll buy in the future. This is important because age-worthy bottles, like 50-year-old DRC, need enough space to rest on their sides for decades at a time. If you don’t take this into account and end up having to store your bottles upright, their corks could dry out, which will cause the wine to spoil.
Start by counting the number of bottles you currently own, and then round up to the nearest 10. Next, estimate the number of bottles you’ll buy in the future using the equation below:
(A x Y) + N
A = The average number of age-worthy bottles you plan on buying every year.
Y = The average number of years those age-worthy bottles will stay in storage before you drink or sell them.
N = The average number of young, drinkable wines you plan on buying every year.
Round this number to the nearest 10, then add it to the number of bottles you already have. From here, you can calculate how much space you’ll need using the estimates below:
Less than 500 bottles: Less than 25 square feet of space needed, with ceilings at least 9 feet high
500 bottles: At least 25 square feet needed, with ceilings at least 9 feet high
1,000 bottles: At least 50 square feet needed, with ceilings at least 9 feet high
More than 1,500 bottles: At least 100 square feet needed, with ceilings at least 9 feet high
For every 500 bottles of wine you add to your collection from here, you’ll usually need to add at least 50 square feet of space to your storage.
Wine Cellar Vs. Professional Storage Warehouse
Now that you know how much space you need, you can use this information to decide whether a home cellar or a professional storage warehouse is right for you. Generally, if you own fewer than 500 bottles, it’s not worth it to build a home cellar. At this point it’s actually cheaper and easier to store them in a large wine fridge or ship them to a professional warehouse instead. The cost of building and maintaining that small, 25-square-foot cellar would likely exceed the cost of professional storage.
If you have between 500 and 1,000 bottles, a home cellar could be an effective storage method that is worth the maintenance price, and this kind of cellar would likely fit inside most homes. However, collectors shouldn’t keep their entire collection in a home cellar if they have more than 1,500 bottles. You can keep some of these bottles at home, but the majority of them won’t fit inside of the average home cellar. These large cellars are costly to maintain because you’ll need more space than most homes can handle, and the costs of keeping the temperature steady can be much higher than annual professional storage fees.
Professional storage fees often total less than 1.5 percent of your collection’s value annually. By contrast, the cost of maintaining a home cellar can reach anywhere from $300 to $840 per year in added electricity costs alone, not including the cost of building the cellar or making repairs when equipment breaks.
In addition to the size of your collection, you’ll need to take into account the cost of storage, and the safety of your bottles. Here’s how these factors compare between home cellars and warehouses:
Always know where your bottles are; easy access; no shipping or transportation required
High risk of wine spoilage if temperature controls fail; not tended to by storage experts; bottles can get lost; high maintenance costs; harder to resell bottles
Experts keep watch over bottles; spoilage risk is lower; better for older & age-worthy wines; easier to resell bottles; better provenance
Need to ship wines to the location; some storage warehouses have high fees; can’t access bottles immediately
Wine cellars give you 24/7 access to your wine, and you won’t have to risk shipping them to a professional warehouse. However, wine cellars are also more difficult to maintain, and carry a higher risk for your age-worthy bottles. Unless you keep the temperature steady and cool (55 degrees), your wines might age poorly over time. It is also more difficult to resell home-cellared bottles because your buyers don’t have proof that the bottles were stored properly. This means you might have to sell your best bottles of Bordeaux at a lower price than they’re worth. A professional storage warehouse is usually better for collectors who plan on selling their bottles later.
How to Build Your Wine Cellar
If you own between 500 and 1,000 bottles, and you’re willing to put in the maintenance work, building a safe home wine cellar from scratch requires four basic steps.
Step One: Hire a Contractor
First, you’ll need to hire a cellar contractor that you can trust, and give your contractor an estimate for the amount of space that you’ll need. Have a budget in mind before you ask your contractor for an estimate to avoid paying more than you expected for your cellar. It’s unwise to build a wine cellar by yourself because you need to properly install the insulation and temperature controls. One minor mistake could destroy your entire collection.
Step Two: Insulate the Room
As your contractor draws up a blueprint for your cellar, make sure that the room will be well insulated, and that it has some form of moisture protection to prevent mildew. The materials your contractor uses should be safe and odor-free; strong odors of any kind may impact the flavor of your wine. You will also need to insulate the room from light sources. In an ideal cellar, there would be no windows at all, but if there are, they need to be covered and insulated so that they are as dark as possible.
Step Three: Set the Environmental Controls
Depending on where your cellar is located,, it’s generally better to install temperature controls in your cellar than to rely on the cellar’s natural temperature to keep your bottles cool. Unless you build your cellar deep underground, most rooms will fluctuate in temperature, which can damage your wine over time. The ideal temperature to store wine is 55 degrees, while the ideal humidity is about 70 percent. Install a cooling unit and humidifier in your cellar to maintain these conditions at all times.
Step Four: Install Wine Racks
Build wine racks that allow your bottles to rest on their sides, which keeps the corks moist and prevents them from cracking or shrinking. These wine racks should be earthquake and vibration-resistant–try not to disturb your age-worthy wines until they are fully mature. This allows the sediment to separate from the liquid, which improves the flavor of the wine.
Organize Your Wine Cellar
The more bottles you own, the more wine cellar organization becomes essential. Great organization prevents you from losing valuable bottles under piles of empty boxes. It also makes it faster and easier to find the bottles that you want without digging through and disturbing dozens of other bottles. Consider organizing your cellar like the graphic below:
Organize your cellar
Bottles that are ready to drink
Bottles that need another 5 years of aging
Bottles that need more than 5 years of aging
Keeping your drinkable bottles close to the entrance helps you see them quickly the moment you walk into your cellar. When you store the rest of your bottles farther away from the entrance, you give them the chance to mature in peace.
Hiring a cellar organization expert will help you refine your collection by region, varietal, and vintage. You can start by separating your California cult wines from your collection of Super Tuscans, then further divide your collection by producer and vintage. An expert can help you decide which of these categories matter most for your specific collection, and can give you tips on where to store these bottles based on the space that you already have.
Even the best wine cellars become unorganized as you add new bottles to the shelves. The best way to keep your cellar organized as the years go by is to have a barcode system for your bottles, or upload their locations into a wine app. With barcodes, you can scan your bottles whenever you take them out of storage, and that information is automatically updated to your online wine database. Keeping this information online also helps you see your wine collection on the go. A cellar organization expert can help you set up your first barcode system for your wines.
Store Your Wine Professionally
All told, building a wine cellar from scratch will cost you anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000, minimum, not to mention the maintenance costs and time spent reorganizing your cellar whenever you add new bottles. This is why professional wine storage is usually the best option for many collectors.
Although the storage fees for some warehouses might seem high at first, they are typically more cost-effective than building a home cellar from scratch. For instance, Vinfolio’s storage usually costs less than 1.5 percent of the total value of your collection. Every bottle costs about $0.39 to store every month. If you have 100 bottles in professional storage, you’ll spend about $39 per month in storage fees. You would likely spend much more than this on wine cellar construction and maintenance. A small cellar with a 560 watt air conditioner would increase your electricity bill by as much as $70 every month, not including the $15,000 you spent building it from scratch.
Once you’ve decided to store your wine professionally, you’ll need to ship it to the warehouse. Full-service storage companies will receive your bottles on the other end, then inspect, inventory, and store them safely. Some warehouses offer white glove shipping for customers living in the area, which is the safest way to ship your bottles. You’ll have your wine picked up by a van equipped with a cooling unit that will keep your wine at an ideal temperature throughout its journey.
Here’s how to safely ship your wine to any professional warehouse:
Steps for Safe Wine Shipments
Step 1: Pack your wine into individually-wrapped foam holders
Step 2: Place them snugly in a sealed box
Step 3: Ship during the fall or spring months (when the weather is mild)
Step 4: Your warehouse receives the bottles
Step 5: Your warehouse safely packs the bottles on a shelf
The best professional wine storage warehouses offer to ship bottles back at the owner’s request. If you decide to take a vacation, and you want to bring along your favorite bottle of vintage Krug, you can have your warehouse ship the bottle directly to you whenever you’re ready. You can also sell your bottles directly through the storage company’s website, which saves you the hassle of shipping wine to your buyers yourself.
When to Use a Wine Fridge
Wine fridges are excellent storage choices for collectors who have a small number of wines that are ready to drink. Fridges keep wine bottles at their perfect serving or storage temperatures. When you invest in a dual zone fridge, you can keep some of your bottles at serving temperature (about 10 degrees cooler than the ideal storage temperature, on average), and store the rest at 55 degrees. You can even separate your red and white wines.
However, when it comes to long-term aging, a wine cellar or professional storage warehouse is better than a fridge. Humidity is an important factor for long-term bottle aging, and many fridges lack the ideal humidity conditions for wine to mature properly. Unless you can control the humidity inside of your wine fridge, you should consider storing your age-worthy bottles professionally instead.
Here are some of the pros and cons of using a wine fridge:
The benefit of a wine fridge is that it gives you a place to store your drinkable wines in an easy-to-access location away from your age-worthy bottles. The best way to use a fridge is to combine it with professional storage. You can store your valuable, age-worthy Lafite-Rothschild professionally (and avoid the temptation of drinking it too early), and keep your younger, less valuable wines at home in the fridge so that they’re always ready to be served.
A Quick Guide to Choosing the Best Storage Option
The ideal storage guide for wine is based on the type of collection you have. If you have…
Dozens of age-worthy, valuable bottles: Keep your wine in professional storage. Under the care of experts, your wines will mature fully, and you’ll be able to sell them for a greater profit later.
A handful of young wines, or wines that you enjoy drinking: Keep your wine in a wine fridge. If you have too many bottles to fit in a fridge, consider building a small home wine cellar to hold them.
A mix of age-worthy and drinkable wines: Store your age-worthy bottles professionally, until they mature. Maintain a small home cellar or fridge at home for your bottles that are ready to drink now.
When it comes to storage, the safety of your wine should always be your number one priority. Cutting corners will only harm your most valuable wines, which is why you should make room for storage costs in your collecting budget. Finding the rarest wines is only half of a serious collector’s job–the true art of collecting lies in how well you treat the bottles under your care.
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.
At Vinfolio, we help our clients buy, sell, store, and manage their most
treasured bottles of wine. But in our spare time, we’re just a group of
passionate and slightly obsessed oenophiles–we love sharing a great
glass of vintage Champagne, followed by a Burgundy, and then a
Bordeaux, to get things started. We’re always obsessing over the latest (and oldest) vintages, and we want to share that knowledge and passion with our readers.