My parents live next door to a man who adores Burgundy; he’s been to the region three times in the past decade alone. One day, my mom asked him whether he was planning another trip soon. He answered, “No, but I have something even better planned: the best wine cellar you’ve ever seen!” As the weeks wore on, they watched countless construction workers filing in and out of his house. They also noticed their neighbor growing more frantic by the day. Construction was delayed, one of the pipes had a leak, and the cellar contractor was acting cagey. Eventually, the cellar was complete (albeit two months behind schedule and $1,000 over budget).
Their neighbor later said that, while he’s happy with his home cellar now, he wishes he would have known the costs of building and running his cellar before he started construction. When you come up with the best storage method for your own bottles, first consider the overall costs of a wine fridge compared to a cellar, and avoid common budget surprises.
Costs of a Home Cellar
I recommend building a home cellar if you have a collection that won’t fit in most wine fridges, you have plenty of extra space in your home, or you have multiple bottles that need to stay in your cellar for at least 10 years.
The cost of building a home cellar ranges anywhere from $15,000 for the bare minimum plan to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the kinds of materials you choose and how much work is involved. For instance, one couple from San Diego decided to build their own underground cellar in a home that didn’t have a basement. They had to dig a 20-foot hole in the ground, lifting the entire roof of their house by steel beams as they knocked down every wall of their home. They built 3-foot-thick steel walls with moisture-resistant insulation along the sides. The process was so elaborate that the couple had to temporarily move with their young children to a new location for almost 52 weeks.
In this case, their costs included hiring a cellar contractor, paying for labor costs, paying for insulation materials like steel and lumber, moving to and paying rent at their temporary home, and finally, decorating their cellar with quality furniture. They named their cellar “La Cave d’Argent,” French for “the silver cellar,” in reference to it being a literal money pit. Even if you already have a built-in basement, you’ll still need to pay for materials to insulate it, plus hire a contractor to install a cooling unit and humidifier inside.
As well as the $15,000 or more you will spend on construction, expect to pay as much as $25 to $70 more every month for your electricity to keep your cellar cool. This doesn’t include the occasional cost associated with fixing your cooler or humidifier if they break. All told, a cellar will cost you about $1,500 per square foot of space, plus an additional $300 to $850 every year in maintenance costs.
Costs of a Wine Fridge
I recommend wine fridges for collectors who have fewer than 200 bottles, who have limited space in their homes, or who plan on drinking all of their bottles within the next five years. If you’re planning on storing your wine in a fridge for more than a few months, though, make sure you buy one that also controls humidity as well as temperature.
Most of the costs of a wine fridge come from its one-time up-front purchase. A simple fridge that holds fewer than 50 bottles will cost anywhere from $200 to $900 depending on bottle capacity and detailing. If you own between 50 and 100 bottles, expect to pay about $800 to $2,000 for a fridge. Fridges that hold between 100 and 200 bottles cost about $2,000 to $5,000. Finally, fridges that hold more than 200 bottles at a time will cost you between $5,000 and $15,000. Added features like dual zone cooling, kitchen counter installation, and wood details will increase the initial costs of a wine fridge.
The benefit of a fridge is that once your up-front costs are paid, your maintenance costs are minimal. Low wattage wine fridges will cost less than $140 per year in added electricity to run; the smaller the fridge is, the lower your monthly bill will be. Occasionally, you’ll have to get your fridge repaired or replaced if it breaks, however, this rarely happens. I’ve known collectors who have had the same wine fridge for more than 20 years. All told, the fridge storage option will cost you as little as $200 up-front and less than $100 per year to maintain for the smallest model.
Comparing the Two Choices
Cost-wise, wine fridges are less expensive than home cellars in both up-front costs and maintenance. The best wine fridge you can buy (that hold more than 200 bottles) will cost about $15,000, whereas a bare-bones 25-square-foot home cellar that holds the same number of bottles will cost about $35,000 to build, on average. In addition, fridges use far less electricity than cellars that have air conditioners and humidifiers.
However, cost shouldn’t be the only factor that you consider for your storage needs. Although fridges are more cost-effective, they’re not the best choice for bottles that need to mature longer than five years because the small temperature fluctuations they undergo add up over time and aren’t good for your wine. For your truly age-worthy bottles, either store them professionally and use a fridge for the rest of your collection, or invest in a full home cellar. Your bottle’s safety should always be your first concern, even if it costs more to guarantee it.
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.