How to Build a Wine Cellar – Part I

I was down in my cellar today selecting wines for the weekend, and it came to me…I had never blogged on wine cellars before!

So here is part one – on building a cellar. The second part — what to fill it with — will follow next week. And lastly will be how to best use your cellar (something that many people unfortunately don’t give a lot of thought to, meaning they either drink up their cellar too quickly or forget about wines until they are over the hill).

So building a cellar…that has both a physical part to it (i.e. the space, racks, etc.) and a wine part. It makes sense to do the physical part first, as that obviously impacts what you fill it with!

Now, I am no engineer or carpenter, so can’t propose any technical recommendations. But based on my cellar experience over the past 25+ years, I can offer some practical advice.

First, location. My cellar has usually been in a separate room with a door that locks (more on that later!). Those rooms have included modified dens (upstairs and downstairs), closets, specifically built cellars, and — for a short period of time — under my bed!

They key things I have found are that you need it to be dark, vibration-free, average humidity, and cool. The first three are pretty easy to find; the latter harder, but not as hard as you might think! I have found that the key aspects of temperature are relatively low all the time (55 – 65 F), no very low or high temperatures (under 50 or over 70 F), and how gradually the temperature changes during the year.

The last one is surprisingly important – my current cellar is in a separate room in our basement and, while cool (around 62 F), gradually warms up to about 68 F in the summer and cools down to 57 F in mid-winter. Over the past 11 years, I have found that seems to have little or no impact on my wine! So for me, the speed of temperature variation is as important as the actual temperatures (assuming it doesn’t get to hot or too cold, of course).

What all this means — at least from my experience — is that you don’t have to have a fancy (and very expensive) purchased or custom-built wine cellar. Don’t get me wrong, you can if you like, and I would if I won the lottery. But an investment of $10,000 – $20,000 + (which is what I would need to accommodate my 1000 bottle cellar) isn’t needed.

So you have a spot picked out… but what do you put your wine in?

Again, it doesn’t have to be fancy – purchased or custom built wine racks look best, but simple shelving or wine boxes turned on their sides are fine as well. The wine just has to be able to lie on its side, not roll off or fall out, and be accessible. Lying on its side is important – you need to keep the cork moist or it will dry out. And don’t forget the last one — if you store bottles in a way that you can’t get at it them or have to pull off a bunch of other bottles to access, that can be pretty frustrating.

Finally, security! As the father of teenagers, I have had a lock on my cellar door for years — no point in taking a chance with kids (or their friends!). Any kind of locking mechanism will work; currently I screwed on a simple latch and put a padlock on it. And keep the key safe! Last thing you want is to go through all this trouble and then have your key mysteriously disappear!

That, then, is my advice on how to build a wine cellar. Next week, I will talk about what to put in it!



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