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Why Do You Need a Wine Cellar? The Enemies of Wine

Thursday, July 10th, 2008 at 11:43:53 AM
by Jacqueline S., Wine Enthusiast Companies

Hermitage 1983I was recently working on organizing a wine cellar with a large collection of exceptionally old bottles. As I worked I stumbled upon several tragic situations of 1983 half-bottle Hermitages gone wrong over the last 25 years. I was shocked at their condition until I considered they were the only lost soldiers I had found throughout the whole project.
The wine cellar I had been working on, though a little disorganized, was kept in perfect condition and allowed for a majority of older wines to age beautifully. This perfect condition successfully battled all four of the Enemies of Wine:

1. Temperature Variations. The cellar room I was working in had a EuroCave INOA cooling unit to keep it at the perfect 55 degrees. (Anywhere between 50 and 57 is fine). This temperature prevented the wines from overheating or chilling, which would force them to either oxidize or freeze the aging process. The temperature must stay consistent. Wines in oscillating temperatures and changing environments can easily turn bad. Steady temperature is #1 when it comes to the rules for cellaring.

2. Light. Having a dark cellar is extremely necessary. UV rays can easily damage wine by penetrating the glass. The wine cellar room I worked in was pitch black with the lights turned out in the basement. Ideal for keeping wines for long periods of time.

3. Low Humidity. The corks, which are one of the key factors in protecting the wine, need a balance in humidity. A dry cork will crumble or allow air to enter the bottle. A custom wine built cellar or a free standing Eurocave will keep the humidity at a perfect level all the time.

4. Vibration.
Last but certainly not least, stillness is essential in allowing wines to age well and continue to drink beautifully. Excessive vibration can generate unneeded heat that causes corks to shift.

Wine CaveThe original wine cellars were actually caves. Cave is even the French word for wine cellar. So if you think about the environment of a cave: cold, dark, still and slightly humid you’ll understand how to store wine optimally. A EuroCave or a custom built cellar is ideal for protecting your wine against the enemies and keeping your wine happy, for the long term.

How do you protect your wine against the enemies? Leave us a comment, and let us know!

Call 800.377.3330 for a Free Wine Storage Consultation.

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10 Responses to “Why Do You Need a Wine Cellar? The Enemies of Wine”

  1. I protect my wines from the four enemies by drinking it ;) – Actually I do have a unique solution that was the result of a finished basement that had space behind a wall. In this situation the valve for the water supply is at the far wall of the basement is a corner. The contractor decided to put a door in front of the valve and set the finished wall out 24″ from the foundation. When the door is open the valve is accessible, but if you look to the left, there is a wonderful two foot corridor that ends at the junction of two foundation walls. I stacked my racks there and built a door that runs from the floor to the ceiling joists to keep it dark. When inside the corridor there is the unfinished side of the basement wall as well as the foundation wall. I built slats that run between the studs and rails so that I can store the empty bottles that i enjoyed along with hand written notes on the rails. It may not be optimal for long term storage, but for the amount of wine that I store knowing that no bottle will sit for more than 24 months, it seems to work very well and was a great use of dead space behind a wall.

  2. I live in the Midwest in a 4-level house which has a sub-basement. The subbasement is 10x10x30 feet, is completely dark and has a concrete shelf at 48″ off the floor and 8 inches deep. The humidity varies a bit seasonally, but is generally 30-35%, and the temperature runs 60-62 in Summer and no lower than 50 in the winter months. There is temperature variation, but it is very gradual. I have installed redwood racking on the walls and improvised with “workout room flooring” made of a heavy rubberized foam material. This feels good underfoot and has saved at least a couple bottles and glasses from breaking on a concrete or tile floor. I have approx 600 bottles in the cellar at any one time and have tasted the results of my efforts over the course of a decade. The wines aged in the cellar have been mostly excellent and all appears to work well, but I wonder if there are any tips for improving my space without enormous expense?

  3. 3 David Moseler(Wine Storage Consultant) said:

    Hi DS, thank you for your question. In terms of improving you current space, I’d suggest adding some active control cooling and/or humidification to the room. Idealy, we like to see a cellar stay at 55 degrees, with an acceptable range of 50-60 degrees. Humidity levels can be as low as 55% all the way up 70%. This will ensure the proper aging of your wine for the long term. In terms of cost investment, I’d start w/ the humidifcation option. There are many ways to do this from adding a water element(fountains) in the area to installing active control humidification w/ water lines. If you see your collection growing in size, I’d eventually close off this large space and create a room w/ insulated walls and correctly sized cooling system.

  4. David,
    Thanks again for the blog post and response. I’ve recently added a portable humidifier to the cellar and monitor the humidity levels regularly. It does beg the question, though: With the advent of screwcap closures will humidity become a concern of the past?

  5. 5 David Moseler(Wine Storage Consultant) said:

    I’m glad to hear that you were able to utilize the low cost solution that you were looking for! Until you have a wine cellar made up completely of screwcaps, humidity will always need to be addressed in any wine cellar environment. I find that many people that have a passive cellar such as yourself are okay w/ the fluctations that may occur. However, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had clients that have built up their collection and then become very concerned about maintaining precise temp & humidity as well as preserving the wine labels. I always say, if you can stabilze the room now, you’ll thank yourself later.

  6. I store wine in a one temperature wine cooler in my weekend house, but in my hot dry apartment, I keep only enough wine to last me a few months. Having had my share of disappointments, I’ve never dared go as long as six. I keep it upright as I’ve always assumed that the wine would turn before the cork dried out Any thoughts as to how long wine will last under these suboptimal conditions?

  7. Having designed and built wine cellars around the US and in France, I have seen many environments. In the normal US home, the cellar (whether it is under an unused staircase or in the basement) needs to be treated as a unique area contrary to the standard constructed home. As a USGBC, LEED builder, I hate advising adding another electric energy suck on the system but a well made AC unit can balance the opposing demands of needed humidity and cooler temps. SPOILER: I spend way too much time throwing out the AC units in the wine mags (sorry folks) as they cool but don’t deal with humidify.

    We are not in the cave in Bourgogne with white mold flowing over the bottles. People who want to use their basement because it is a constant temp will find that once they add wine racking (mold food) and a sealed door that the humidity has nowhere to go but up and suddenly they have green on the walls and their Petrus labels are curling. Not a good investment choice.

  8. I keep my wine room at 58F without humidification equipment, but humidity is around 77%, while if I increase the temperature to 59F, the humidity gets lower to 70%. Should I be concerned about 77% humidity?

    Another concern is the temperature differences due to the transient cold air blown from the A/C unit. The temperature indicator on the A/C unit goes +/1 1F, and the same is with an independent thermometer in the rack, but when I point my infrared thermometer at bottles, it seems that surface temperature varies around 5F and even more (up to 10F max/min difference) if the A/C is in fixed louver position depending on where the bottle is (blown at or hidden from direct blow). Of course, the wine temp variation is likely much lower.

    Any ideas how to improve this situation?
    I had an idea to buy some cellophane bottle bags so they can protect bottles during 2min a/c blows, but I am curious if anybody considered these things?

  9. 9 David Moseler(Wine Storage Consultant) said:

    Thank you for your inquiry. While 77% is a bit high, it’s still within an acceptable and tolerable range. Anything below 50% or north of 80% can draw concern. You’ll notice wide variations in humidity with the changing of the season as humidity is based off of laden-moisture air.

    With regards to the temp of the bottles…Based on the principles of thermal inertia, for every 10 degree change there is in air, the liquid in the bottle is only changing by 1/10(1 degree). As long as your air temp is between 50-60 degrees, your bottles should be at a nice consistent temp.

    Thank you.

  10. I have a passive cellar built under a porch which is basically a concrete vault. Insulation and the thermal sink of the ground behind the foundation walls keeps the room 52-60, but the rh is always on the high end of 75-85%. It has cause mold in the past. The outside walls of the foundation are dry sealed, the inside walls are merely stuccoed concrete. Are there any products like silica gel or any techniques that can lower humidity? There is no venting or air circulation, is this necessary? I would rather avoid drilling through the 10″ concrete walls to vent if possible.

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