Questions & Answers

Where is the best place to construct my cellar?

A:  Below grade and in the northeast corner of your home is where to start.  This location provides the least exposure to sunlight over the course of each season.  It also provides the best potential for venting a cooling system if needed.  If this locale is not available there are many other options to explore.

How do I determine the potential storage capacity of my cellar?

A: The spreadsheet below shows the potential number of bottles that may fit in your cellar.  Final design features will ultimately provide the capacity.  

Ceiling Height84”90”96”104”
5′ x 5′
25 square feet
540600650700
5′ x 10′
50 square feet
88097010501140
10′ x 10′
100 square feet
1400154016801820
10′ x 15′
150 square feet
1960216023502550
15′ x 15′
225 square feet
2520277030203280
15′ x 20′
300 square feet
3040334036503950
20′ x 20′
400 square feet
3580394043004650
20′ x 25′
500 square feet 
4100451049205330
25′ x 25′
625 square feet
4600506055205980

What are the ideal conditions for storing wine?

A: In the end we are trying to create a capsule that restricts air flow and possible intrusion of outside factors.  There are four key factors to ensure long-term wine storage:  

Temperature:  Temperature levels must be cool and consistent.  A range of 55° to 62°F is considered acceptable with the optimum at 55°F.  Higher temperatures promote faster aging but may cause alcohol separation. Cooler temperatures slow the aging process and may promote suspended deposits.

Variations in temperature may shrink or swell the cork, but they may also directly affect the organics in the wine.  Gradual fluctuations by 10°F between seasons will probably not compromise your wine.  Frequent fluctuations of this degree will negatively affect the aging process.

Humidity: For long-term storage a relative humidity between 60% and 80% is acceptable.  A level of 65% at approximately 55°F is ideal.  Lower humidity levels will dry the room side of the cork allowing air penetration and leaching of liquid toward the dry side. If oxygen comes in contact with the wine it causes rapid aging. High humidity levels will not harm the wine.  

Light:  Ultraviolet light accelerates aging in wine.  This acceleration can cause a break down of some of the complex components and may produce pungent smells.  Wine in a clear bottle is most susceptible.  Wine in a dark bottle can be affected as well.  Sparkling wines are the most sensitive to light and should be stored in the darkest part of your cellar.  Incandescent or sodium vapor lighting are generally better for your cellar than fluorescent light sources, however, as long as light exposure is infrequent, it won’t have a negative impact on your collection.

Vibration: It is a factor that normally doesn’t present itself in residential wine cellars.  However we want to be aware of cellar surroundings for possible intrusion.  Mostly we are looking at furnaces, laundry rooms and motors from our own cooling units.  Excessive vibration can disturb a wine’s sediment balance.  Sediments are meant to fall out of wine and vibration could reintroduce them back in. 

When do you need a cooling unit for a wine cellar?

A:  As a rule it is best to store wine in a controlled environment.  Optimum wine aging is acheived through consistent temperature and humidity levels.  Refrigerated cellars  can provide this over passive cellars.  Geography (where you live) and placement within your home will present the necessary answer.  Commercial applications will normally always require mechanical cooling.

With a “through the wall” cooling system how much heat would the exhaust produce?

A:  The exhaust coming off a through wall unit will be upwards of 90+ degrees.  The cooling unit should be vented into a non-living space at least twice the size as the cellar itself and preferably with some cross ventilation or air change.

What is the R-factor rating for a wine cellar door?

A: The R-factor for a wine cellar door is R-7.  R-factor refers to the thickness of insulation and its ability to resist heat transfer.   The higher the number the more resistant it is to heat transfer.

Additional considerations: Wine should always be stored away from strong smelling compounds and foods. These odors can penetrate a weak cork and eventually change a wine’s character.

Recommended Wine Cellar Construction Specifications – The Ideal Environment

A temperature of 50° F to 55° F and a Relative Humidity of 60% to 70% are ideal for long-term wine storage. A cool temperature slows the aging process, while high humidity helps to swell the cork, which minimizes oxidation. (Oxidation occurs when air reaches the wine.) Ultraviolet light penetration should be kept to a minimum.

Wine Cellar Construction: In order to maintain the ideal environment for your wine, we recommend that your conditioned wine cellar be constructed according to the specifications below. This will help ensure the efficient operation of your cooling system in order to provide the necessary temperature and humidity and will also prevent possible moisture damage to areas adjacent to the cellar.

Wall Insulation: minimum R-13 or better 

Ceiling Insulation : minimum R-21 or better  

Vapor Barrier: 6 mil polyethylene walls and ceilings, installed between insulation and exterior sheathing. Rigid foam insulation is a little more expensive, but gives a greater R- value in thin walls. **Flooring: Recommended Products: brick, tile or stone (sealed) Cellar Door: Exterior grade insulated door with complete weather stripping and double insulated glass.  Actively Conditioned Wine Cellars: Even the basements of most modern homes are too warm and dry to passively provide the ideal conditions for wine storage. In most cases it is necessary to actively condition the environment inside the wine cellar. The most common conditioning unit on the market is a through-wall system that performs much like a room air conditioner. A crawl space, garage, workroom or utility area in your basement can be ideal for this. There are also more sophisticated cooling and conditioning units available known as split systems. While more expensive to purchase and install, these systems offer better control of the environment and allow for tremendous flexibility of installation. With split systems, the condensing part of the system can be placed outside the home and piped to the evaporator inside the wine cellar.

Sheathing:

**Note: When installing wood paneling in a wine cellar, allowance must be made for the expansion and contraction of the wood. Failure to do so may result in buckling and cracking of the wood.

Can white wine and champagne be stored in my cellar?

A: Sure, its great for storage but you may want to chill down for an hour before drinking. 

Do I need to insulate & vapor barrier my concrete walls?

A: If you are using a cooling system, you must insulate and install vapor barrier over concrete and stone walls. When the wine cellar walls are against a stone or concrete foundation the vapor barrier should still be used to prevent moisture from escaping cellar space.

 How long will wine last stored in ideal conditions?

A: In general, red wines are aging wines and whites are drinking wines. Actual maturation times for red wines depend on the type of grape, the quality of the vintage, and size of the bottle. Tannins, which come from the grape stems and skins, are the backbone of the aging process. Tannins produce a sharp, bitter taste, which over time will precipitate out of the wine allowing the other characteristics of the wine to come forth.

Red wines get their color from the grape skin where as white wines may not have contact with skin at all during the process of making the wine. Therefore red wines usually have a greater tannin content than whites and therefore are generally aged longer.

Does wine or port need to be turned periodically to prevent the cork from drying out?

A: No, Wines stored on their sides will keep the cork moist and sediments will settle and even stick to the side of the bottle.

 Wine is stored on its side so that the wine is in contact with the cork at all times, keeping the cork wet.

How should a wine bottle be stored?

A: Wine bottles should be stored horizontally, keeping the wine in constant contact with the cork. A moist cork remains swollen, preventing air from reaching the wine. This reduces the risk of premature aging through oxidation, which occurs when oxygen reaches the wine, turning it to vinegar. Wine is stored on its side so that the wine is in contact with the cork at all times, keeping the cork wet.

How can I tell if my wine has been improperly stored?

A: First look at the location of the wine in the bottle. The bottle curves to the neck at the shoulder. When standing, a properly stored wine will fill the bottle to half way between the shoulder and the top of the bottle. Wines that are “low in the shoulder” have experienced evaporation and oxidization though the cork. This would indicate that the wine has prematurely aged. A cork that bulges beyond the top of the bottles is another indication of premature aging. This can be felt under the capsule. In fact, to a true oenephile, moldy wine bottles is an indication that the wine has been stored properly over the long-term. Too high a level degrades cardboard boxes and bottle lables.

What wood species work well in a wine cellar?

A: We use Redwood, Cedar, Mahogany, Sapele and many others.  Each provides its own characteristic in look, hardness, cost and finish.  We use a lot of Redwood.  Either "Premium" which is the sapwood of the tree or "All Heart" which is the center of the tree.  

Is the angle of the display row steep enough to keep the cork wet? Only a small amount of wine is coming into contact with the cork.

A: The display angle on our wine racking is 15 degrees and is steep enough to keep the cork wet. As long as the wine is touching part of the cork, it will remain moist.