Whether you were enthusiastic from the first sip or took years to appreciate fine wines, you’ve undoubtedly amassed a collection. And, even if your collection is relatively small, you need a place to store those valuable bottles to maintain them at their best. Unless you’ve inherited a fully equipped mansion, adding a wine cellar is in your future.
Since wine perishes, and the way in which it’s stored impacts its flavor, proper storage is essential. In fact, storage and handling affect wine’s taste just as much as the way it’s made does. The trick is to maintain optimal temperature and humidity.
What Is Needed for a Wine Cellar?
Missing any of these elements jeopardizes the integrity of your wine.
- A constant temperature between 45-65 degrees
- Humidity level between 50-70 percent
- Proper bottle racks
- Vibration free
- Before picking up your hammer, assess the available space. Choose an area on an outside wall, preferably, free from air, light, and water leaks. The ceiling will need insulation and the floor, if concrete, will need to be sealed.
- Consider vibrations, too. Vibrations disturb the maturation process that wine goes through over time. A wooden floor with frequent traffic or the clothes dryer on the other side of the wall could, over time, spoil your collection.
Once you’ve found the space, let’s get working.
How to Build a Basement Wine Cellar
- Concrete is a porous substance that allows moisture to pass through it. If you want to keep a concrete floor bare, seal it with a concrete sealer. If you install tile flooring, seal the grout.
- For an unfinished exterior wall, use duct tape to affix 6-mil plastic sheeting to the wall as a vapor barrier. Then frame by installing furring strips of pressure-treated lumber. Insulate with blueboard between the strips, making sure strips and blueboard are sized to achieve at least an R-19 insulation value. Then attach a wallcovering like drywall.
- Construct the other walls using 2x6 studs so that you can insulate with R-19 batt insulation. Add R-30 insulation to the exposed ceiling if you have 2x10 joists. However, if you’re converting an existing room or closet, use blow-in insulation in the walls and ceiling. Remember to attach the vapor barrier on the warm side of the wall between the insulation and the wall covering. (The wine cellar side is the cold side.) Also, always use pressure-treated lumber next to concrete to prevent rot.
- Before hanging drywall on the interior of your walls, install any necessary wiring according to local codes.
- Install lighting fixtures as needed. Since ultraviolet light causes wine to age prematurely, wine cellars don’t include windows. Also, avoid using fluorescent lights, which emit a significant amount of UV rays. A motion sensor or a timer guarantees your lights don’t remain on accidentally.
- Install the wine cellar’s door. For proper insulation, use an exterior grade door at least 1 ¾ inches thick. If you prefer a glass door, choose one that’s double or triple-paned with tempered glass. Apply weatherstripping and a proper threshold to prevent any air leaks. You’ll know it seals properly if you feel air resistance when closing. Hollow core interior doors will not do.
- Paint or finish the walls to your taste. Only use water-based, zero VOC paint and make sure to thoroughly air out the room before bringing in the wine.
- Install the cooling unit. A mini-split AC unit installed on the exterior wall is the easiest way to go. In addition to cooling, an air conditioner keeps humidity in check. Too much moisture in the space contributes to mold growth and too little causes the corks to dry and shrink. If you live in a cold climate that doesn’t require an air conditioner to maintain a consistent temperature, install a dehumidifier to control the humidity levels. Use a thermometer and a hygrometer to measure temperature and humidity levels regularly.
- Build or install the racks. To prevent corks from shrinking and exposing your wine to the air, proper wine racks position the bottles on their sides. This allows the wine to keep the cork moist.
- Add the finishing touches and move the wine bottles in. If the sole purpose of your wine cellar is to store wine, you don’t need to think about furnishings other than racks. But if you might invite friends to see it, or occasionally host tastings, consider a few furnishings like a bar and stools, floor covering, and artwork if wall space permits.