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How to Build a Wine Cellar and Store Your Best Wine

wine bottle and glass

If you love wine and want to collect and age them, then a wine cellar is a necessity. Wine responds to its environment. In fact, their surroundings determine the maturity date and its flavor when consumed.

Storing and maturing wine is both a science and an art. Wine making relies on chemistry to ferment, mature, and develop an intoxicating flavor. The individual chemical reactions involved demonstrate why proper wine storage is so important.

It's an art because wine composition is diverse and complex. There are a variety of reactions that take place when in storage. Moreover, the taste of wine is subjective and it's extremely difficult to predict an exact result. Even the most knowledgeable find achieving the perfect flavor a challenge.

There are four key elements to proper long-term wine storage: temperature, humidity, light, and vibration. Each one is vital to the aging process and we'll explain why.

Temperature

Temperature is an important long-term storage factor. The temperature in a wine cellar must be cool and consistent. The generally accepted temperature is 55° F, although a range from 50-60° F is acceptable, too. White wine prefers it to be as cold as 45° F. Mostly, higher temperatures make wine age faster while cooler temperatures tend to slow down the aging process.

Higher temperatures can cause alcohol separation. A temperature setting that's too low can cause deposits or other suspensions to develop in the wine. It's important to select a temperature and maintain it. Fluctuations are not good for the wine. This interrupts the aging process.

Temperature fluctuations can also cause the cork to shrink and swell, but may also affect the organic components in the wine. Gradual fluctuations of up to 10 degrees F won't affect the chemistry of the wine; however, if this occurs frequently, you will alter the aging process in an unfavorable way.

Humidity

wine cork

For long-term wine storage, a relative humidity level of about 65% is ideal for a temperature of about 55° F. That being said, a range between 60-80% is also considered acceptable.

Always store wine on its side to keep the cork wet, and maintain proper humidity levels to help keep the cork moist. Lower humidity levels will dry the airside of the cork and cause leakage or a capillary pull action toward the dry side.

This also allows oxygen to come into contact with the wine, which results in immediate aging.

High humidity levels will not harm the wine. To a true connoisseur, a moldy wine bottle is an indication of proper care and storage. 

Light

Ultraviolet causes wine to age prematurely. White wine in clear bottles is most susceptible; however, wine in dark bottles can also be affected. Ultraviolet light breaks down the complex compounds and may even produce an unpleasant aroma.

Sparkling wine is the most sensitive to UV light and should be stored in the darkest part of the cellar. Eliminate natural sunlight from the cellar and instead use incandescent or sodium vapor lighting. These are better than fluorescent lighting. In addition, keep light exposure to a minimum, and it won't have a negative impact on your wine.

Vibration

Wine needs a calm, quiet place to rest. Excessive vibration can disturb the sediment in the wine causing an imbalance. Sediments are meant to fall out of wine and vibration can cause it to be reintroduced.

Wine Cellar Construction - The Basics

wine cellar design

Insulation for walls and ceiling: Must have a minimum of R-19 insulation and a vapor barrier

Vapor barrier: Recommended vapor barrier is 6 or 8 mil plastic sheeting and must be installed on the warm side of the insulation.

The warm side keeps the vapor barrier protected from the cold side of the wine cellar by the insulation. Putting the vapor on the wine cellar side of the insulation will cause humidity to condensate on the barrier, which could damage your walls.

Apply the vapor barrier to outside walls and ceiling. If you can't get to the outside, then apply the plastic from within the cellar instead. Wrap the entire interior, leaving the plastic loose in the stud cavities so insulation can be placed between each stud. All walls and the entire ceiling need to be wrapped in plastic to achieve a complete vapor barrier. 

Flooring: The floor should be either brick, tile, stone, or concrete. It must be sealed with a water-based sealant. Any above ground floor must be insulated with R-19 insulation.

Below are a few simple "how to" steps to aid you in constructing your own wine cellar. Is this a DIY project you're thinking of doing? If so, the advice below can help.

1. As mentioned above, seal whatever type of flooring you choose with water-based sealant. If necessary apply R-19 insulation as recommended. A popular and very attractive type of flooring is wine barrel wood. Never use carpet as it gets moldy in a damp environment.

wine cellar construction

2. If this is new construction you will need to stud the space to frame out the cellar. Start by sealing the concrete foundation walls to reduce moisture that can seep through concrete.

If this is not a new construction, fur out walls with 2" x 2" or 2" x 4" strips. Use 1 ??" rigid Cleotex/R-max type with foil for interior walls, and 3" for exterior walls and ceiling.

Using fiberglass insulation requires 2" x 4" and 2" x 6" fur out to achieve the required R-factors. We recommend rigid foam board insulation. All cracks should be filled with expanding spray foam. The general rule for a cellar is the thicker the walls, the better the insulation factor, the better the cellar remains at a consistent temperature.

3. Carefully select the doors. The door must be solid core or fully insulated. If you choose glass, choose dual paned insulated glass. They must also be weather-stripped and air tight. Check for air leakage in the room, switches, pipes, vents, and other sources. Use only low-voltage track lighting, as recessed lighting is not recommended. Also, control lighting with a timer so it will shut off automatically if it is accidentally left on. 

4. Finish wall surfaces with dry wall, Redwood, or other rot and mildew resistant woods. Green board is commonly used and then finished with a nice paint job. Redwood tongue and groove material works, as well as granite or other stone. All paints and stains should be water-based and the cellar should be aired out thoroughly after application to remove odors.

5. Size your refrigeration requirements by room volume, climate, and total R-factors. To calculate volume, use the following method: width x depth x height = cubic area. When you select a refrigeration system, remember that climate control is necessary. Choose a system that will maintain proper temperature and humidity levels.

6. Once walls and ceiling are insulated and you've found the right cooling unit, you'll need some wine racks. There are a variety of wine racks available including wood and metal. They can be custom made to fit the size of your cellar. Common woods include redwood and mahogany. Both are resistant to rot. Avoid using cedar as it has a strong odor.

7. Add the finishing the touches like a humidors, tasting stations, furnishings, or anything else that exemplifies your personal style.

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