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The Ideal Wine Cellar: Everything You Need to Get Started
So you've decided to take a large step, and move from wine lover to wine connoisseur. You are going to buy a wine cellar. This guide will give you all the information you need to make this purchase.
The ideal location for storing wine is a dark, draftless area that stays at a constant 50-60 degrees, with 60-70 percent humidity. The bottles should be kept on their sides to keep the corks moist, and should be exposed to limited vibrations. This will ensure that you will be able to keep bottles at their best for years to come.
One thing to consider if you decide to purchase a large wine cellar: make sure the unit will fit! This sounds obvious, but many times stand-alone wine cellars are much wider than a standard door. Another thing to think about is weight. Consider not only the weight of the storage unit, but be sure to calculate 3 pounds each for a standard bottle of wine. You might not want to store your wine upstairs. This is another reason that wine is typically stored in a cellar.
Types of Wine Cellars
If you are lucky enough to live in a house, maybe you can use the existing cellar or a spare room, or have one built. Just be sure not to skimp on building materials - it would be silly to have 400 bottles of wine crashing to the floor because you wanted to save a few bucks on thinner wood. Also, be sure the condensation will be able to evaporate; otherwise, the humidity will increase beyond ideal levels. Consider the cellar as an investment.
If you don't have a large amount of space, you can buy a freestanding wine cellar. While not actually a cellar in the traditional sense, these are large units that can be stored in a house or apartment. They are available commercially for a wide variety of prices. Always consider where you are going to be storing the wine. If it will be kept in your home, you will not need to have as much insulation or as strong of a cooling unit, but a unit kept in the garage will have to be much higher quality.
Building Your Own Wine Cellar
The best location for the cellar is below the level of the house. If your basement has outside walls, keep in mind that north-facing walls will get the least amount of light. Some smaller crawl spaces may not work very well if they experience extreme changes in temperature. The same goes for a garage. The first floor of the house can also be used, and as long as the house stays at a fairly constant room temperature, the cooling unit will not have to work too hard.
The first step in building a wine cellar is the framing. The outer walls of the basement or room should be framed with 2" by 6" wood studs. If the floors are cold, use 2" by 4" studs.
The next step in the creation of a wine cellar is insulation. The room needs to be kept at the most constant temperature possible. The best type to use is sprayed 2 pound polyurethane, although less expensive methods can used, especially if the cellar is on the first floor of the house. Once again, consider the cellar to be an investment.
Don't forget about the door! It needs to have weather stripping and also be insulated. Otherwise all the work done to insulate the walls will be wasted.
To finish the walls, use a drywall that is resistant to moisture. Other wall material can be used, but make sure that it will not soak up moisture and that it will not impart an odor on the wine.
Don't leave the design of the racks until the end. Start first with this design to make sure that you have enough space for the number of bottles you'd like to store. A good place to start would be to look at the smaller racks available at your local wine store. These will give you ideas on the design you would like. Once again, make sure the construction is sturdy enough for the weight of the wine.
Temperature and Humidity and Wine
As mentioned before, the ideal temperature for wine is between 50 and 60 degrees. If the temperature is too high, it will spoil quickly. If it is too low, it will not age properly. If the temperature changes often, the cork will expand and contract. This may lead to air getting into the wine. Keeping this in mind, never buy wine chilled at a store, as you have no idea how long it has been that way. Also, don't keep wine in your own refrigerator for more than 1 or 2 days.
Humidity can also damage wine. If the humidity is too low, the cork can dry out. While a tipped bottle will keep one side moist, the rest of the cork can become cracked and brittle.
Also, ensure the wine will be kept in a dark place, away from vibrations. Colored bottles help keep the light out to some extent, but don't rely on the bottle to keep the light out. Movement may cause the bottles to shift. Wine needs to stay in contact with the cork so it will not dry out and crack, so limit the movement the bottles are exposed to.
Wine Cellar Cooling Units
After you cellar is complete, you can purchase a commercial wine cooling unit. Many of these work similarly to a window AC unit. They vent through a wall rather than being installed in the ceiling. However, if you are below ground or for some other reason cannot use a window unit, there are commercial units that can be installed. These are slightly more costly, but work well in those situations.
Every wine has an ideal aging time. If your wine cellar is built properly, it will keep your wine for years to come.
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