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How to Organize Your Wine Collection: Tips and Tricks from the Wine Enthusiast Staff

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 at 1:32:45 PM
by Marshall T., Wine Enthusiast Companies

As a wine collector, your method of cellar organization can either be a source of efficiency or confusion. There are many ways to categorize your collection and it may take years to perfect the system. Whether your collection is 12 or 12,000 bottles, everyone has their own method. We asked Wine Enthusiast employees how they organize their collection, and came up with plenty of answers! Let’s discuss some of the most popular ways, and our personal take on each.

Wine Collecting Tips and Tricks

BY REGION – This is the most common method people use to organize their wine collections. Each region has very distinctive soil and climate characteristics that influence their wines. So when reaching for a bottle to pair with a certain dinner, the region of origin is often a first thought.

My wines are organized by country, and I use Wine Enthusiast bottle tags to label and organize them. They are obviously also separated into whites, reds, desserts and fortified sections. Labeling and organization is important….anything that helps ensure I don’t have a moment of insanity when in a rush and crack into the bottle of Bond I was holding instead of the value Malbec I meant to open! – Susan Kostrzewa, Executive Editor

I organize my wines by country and then region, with each country assigned a different colored bottle tag. All my wines are also included in an excel sheet with all of the information (brand, vintage, variety, appellation, country, price, score, location in my cellar and proposed date to drink) so I can sort and find a wine based upon my mood. – Lauren Buzzeo, Assistant Tasting Director

I sort my wines by region and then by what fits the best side-by-side. Since there really is no exact science, it may take a few times to get your configuration the way you want it. I keep some vintage Champagnes and odd-sized bottles (Turley) on the adjustable shelves and my mags and splits of Port on the very bottom where the compressor is.  The ½ bottles sit nicely on the oversized ones (like a crib)-  David Moseler, Racking Supervisor

I organize my wine by country or region. I call my wines a “single bottle collection” and enjoy the wonderful convenience of the Eurocave rolling shelves that offer me full visibility and accessibility to all my wines. My favorite shelf has great names from California …you know , “I wish they all can be California! “  Big, Bold and Beautiful ! – Lou Ann, Wine Storage Consultant

- If you are a new collector, it may be simplest to separate just by color. Sometimes sparkling and dessert wines are separated as well. With a small collection, advanced classification systems may not be ready yet.

I have a credenza with two sections so I simply keep my reds on one side and my whites on the other. I find it easy enough currently to quickly peek at the bottles on each side to find something appealing. I do like to keep sparklers and dessert wine on the bottom though, when I have them. –Erika Strum, Internet Marketing Director

– It is very common for collectors to store their reds and whites in separate areas of their cellar or wine refrigerator. But some will take it further and group each grape variety in the same area. This way when they are specifically in the mood for a Chardonnay, they know exactly where to find it.

I have tried a few methods to organize my Eurocave Performance 283. At first it was strictly by varietal, but when it’s full, this eventually becomes more difficult. Say you pull a bottle of Cab and then the next bottle you get to put in the cellar is a Pinot Noir. Without a whole lot of shufflling, the only place to put it is with the Cabs, so over time a certain varietal ends up spread all over the place. So now I have a list that is organized by varietal and each shelf is assigned a number and the shelf number is noted on the list so I know exactly where to go.– Todd La Chance, Wine Storage Consultant

EuroCave Performance 283

BY BRAND – If you tend to buy in bulk, then you certainly want to keep wines of the same brand stored together. Many folks will even have verticals of their favorite wines, which means they have bottles of the same wine from consecutive vintages.

I have shelves for each region, and for regions where I can break down varietal I do that by shelf as well. I group similar brands and verticals together and have one bulk storage shelf for the really long term stuff… whites go on the very bottom.– Marshall Tilden, Sales Manager

BY PRICE – Most collections will contain a variety of different quality levels of wine. Some are meant for everyday drinking, others meant for longer term storage. Typically the less expensive wines will be consumed early in their life, while the more expensive juice sometimes needs many years before it is ready to drink.

I like to think that my ‘Cave has various zip codes.  There is a high-rent district at the top and a low-rent district at the bottom for the whites and freebies I have amassed over the years.  And there is a middle class where I keep my everyday drinkers. -Glenn Edelman, VP of Marketing

I also have a stack of bottles at the bottom of my unit that is a mix of things that are less expensive everyday stuff. Another reason for that stack in the bottom is that if I am not around and my girlfriend wants to have a glass, she can pull from there and I don’t have to worry about her opening my 2007 Mondavi Reserve.- Todd La Chance, Wine Storage Consultant

There is no best approach to organizing your collection, over time you may find yourself taking an integrated or hybrid approach. Start with organizing your wines by region, as they will probably feel more comfortable around their brethren. You can then segment based on red and white, and even further by specific varietal. This way your Napa Cabs are separate from your Napa Zins and your California Pinots are not mixed up with your Oregon Pinots.

Next you can get the vintages grouped together to make sure you are drinking the right wines at the appropriate times. Finally, make sure your brands are all grouped together and if you really want to go nuts, go for the alphabetizing. After all, an organized wine collection can bring you years of pleasure and fulfillment.

How do you organize your prized collection? Do you use one of these methods or do you have one of your own that you would recommend others to use? We would love to hear about it!

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13 Responses to “How to Organize Your Wine Collection: Tips and Tricks from the Wine Enthusiast Staff”

  1. I’m waiting for the really good iPad app that does a great job of cataloging a collection in a very large cellar (2000 bottles). Anyone know of such a thing? Would you identify bottle location be grid (columns as letters and rows as numbers)?

  2. 2 WineAggregate said:

    I organize into bins by region, then type, then vintage, then producer. That said, when the cellar is close to capacity, I have to make compromises, sometimes stashing new bottles wherever they fit. That, plus dealing with different bottle sizes and bin sizes, and my unwillingness to constantly reorganize, leads to some level of chaos. I think any cellar over about 200 bottles needs to be computerized. I use CellarTracker, personally, so I don’t have to rely on the physical organization. I can organize the cellar in the “cloud” by any or several of about 20 characteristics, and quickly find any bottle I’m after. Another invaluable feature is that I can see when bottles are in their drinking window (consensus of opinions), and which bottles I’d better drink up.

  3. 3 WineAggregate said:

    @Matt: if you use CellarTracker to catalog your collection, the app for you is I have my bins as a grid, but you can do yours by individual bottles too. Sounds like a lot of maintenance work though.

  4. 4 David Moseler said:

    Matt, there is a product already out on the market called the eSommelier Wine Inventory System. They use a grid system like the game Battleship!

    Rows and Colums for a larger collection, in my opinion, is the way to go.

  5. Like this! I’m always looking for a better way to organize my wine and categorize it too.

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  10. I have a more basic question. How do you find the wine in the wine refrigerator? Ours has rows where the bottles alternate neck-to-punt and so neck labels are not helpful. Do people label each slot with a label maker and keep a running index? I can’t see what’s in there without pulling out all the bottles. If you have helpful sites as to labeling and finding wines, it would be most helpful. Thanks!

  11. I have a more basic question. How do you find the wine in the wine refrigerator? Ours has rows where the bottles alternate neck-to-punt and so neck labels are not helpful. Do people label each slot with a label maker and keep a running index? I can’t see what’s in there without pulling out all the bottles.

  12. 12 Mark Schell said:

    We’ve tried a couple of different ways, and just initiated a new one. We organized by varietal for a long time, and that is probably good for a lot of people. As said, if you are in the mood for a chard or zin, you just go to that section of your storage. Within varietal we sorted by vintage, and mark the tags with a highlighter depending on value (no highlighting, then one of three colors above about $30 a bottle, depending on how far above $30).

    Our latest method for organization, which is about 3 days old is the “drink now” bottles go in the family room rack, then we put most of the better bottles in the Eurocave (not the top 150, but a selection of the best of the best and the best of each varietal), and then loaded the “wine closet” by vintage, then by color, then by “drink by date.” The tags are still marked by value, which keeps my wife from grabbing the $70 bottle at 1am with friends and me finding it open and half full on the counter the next morning. Yep, that has happened.

    Our problem is we have three storage spaces: a small rack in our family room (24 bottles), a basement closet with several racks (about 410 bottle capacity), and a Eurocave that holds about 150-160 bottles. Our total collection is just under 500 bottles right now.

    What has helped us more than anything is CellarTracker. I began to develop an Access data base for the purpose of keeping track of the wine, but CellarTracker does a better job and provides me more information than a stand alone data base would. What we found is we very rarely go “roaming for a bottle.” Instead, we can either print a wine list and refer to that or log into CellarTracker and sort the collection any way we want.

    Whether it is CellarTracker, some other product/service, or an individual data base, when you get over about 100-150 bottles or so, you need some method to find a specific bottle.

  13. 13 Jeff Jennings said:

    I have a small 70 bottle wine rack that my wife and I try to keep full, but it is an unending endevour. Overall a good problem to have.
    We try to organize from the left Red to Whites on the right. Because we live in earthquake country we put the more expensive bottles on the bottom and the everyday wines towards the top. The problem has been if you get a nice bottle and all of the lower spaces are filled it can quickly ends up in the cheap wine slot and you quickly end up with chao unless you want to be A.R. and rearrange your bottles all the time. So we try to keep the system as initially described, but have added taking a Silver Sharpie and in the punt recording the retail value and year purchased.
    No mistake accidentially opening that anniversary quality bottle. If a moderate priced bottle has been on the shelf for 5 years then it might be worth checking the current market value.
    I can see that at some point (200+?) bottles you may need to computerize your inventory. Hopefully it would not become yet another chore to maintain an accurate database.

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