Building a Wine Cellar – Rules, Tips, Checklist, and Plan
Building a Wine Cellar – Rules, Tips, Checklist, and Plan

Construct your own wine collection and wine cellar.

When I talk to people who are just getting into wine collecting many of them say that they want to start their own collection and they ask me where and with what they should start.  Here three simple rules for the collector and 11 things to consider when building a wine cellar.

Some Basic Rules for a Wine Collector…

1- Invest in some wine – Drink other wine.

I made this mistake many times and have often come close to committing it again. Invest in certain wines and drink others.

2- Don’t buy more than six bottles of any single wine

In my experience, it is more than enough to have six bottles. You’ll have enough to follow the development of the wine over time and once you start to build up your collection, if you host a dinner party you want to show what you have in the cellar and drink multiple different wines rather than six bottles of the same. Buy 6 rippers not 12 duds!

3- Put a heavy focus on the longevity of the wines you buy

Nearly everyone drinks less than they buy — way less! So it is likely that you will forget wine in a corner of the cellar. It is so unpleasant to find that you have tons of bottles that are just over the edge and offer no more drink ability. I like single grape wines not blends – they tend to last longer.

Here are some of items you need to consider when building a wine cellar:

  1. Desired capacity (number of bottles).  The overall dimensions of your room will put a cap on this number.  You don’t have to install all the potential racking at once, but decide how big you might like to get eventually.
  2. Expandability.  If you are unsure of item 1, will you be able to expand the room later?  If that’s a desire and an option (i.e., space is available), choose your room layout and the size of the cooler carefully to allow for this possibility.
  3. Electricity.  As a rock-bottom minimum you will need a light with a pullchain (ugly!), and if you have a cooler, you will need an outlet for it.  The cooler is best allocated a separate circuit (the larger the room the more important, but always preferable).  Are you prepared to do the wiring, or will you need to hire an electrician?
  4. Backup power.  If you have a cooler and the power goes out in the middle of summer, you could have a big problem.  Having a separate circuit for your cooler is a helpful start in preparing for this problem.  As a backup solution, you might want to install a separate outlet in the wine room terminating somewhere and somehow such that you could attach it to a portable generator outside.
  5. Wall thickness.  If your wine room is completely interior to the house (no outside walls), you may be able to get away with standard 2x4s, which normally contain R11 insulation (but for which you can also buy R13-R15 insulation, which is better).  But if your wine room has any outside walls, a wall that gets sun, a wall in a warmer than average room, etc., you should seriously considering making the wall thicker.  Suggestions are contained in the section on building walls.
  6. Ceiling and floor.  They need to be insulated, too.  If the ceiling is also the house roof, you need 9″ minimum for insulation.  If the floor is concrete, you may wish to build a false floor.
  7. Vapor barrier.  A vapor barrier is a must, all the way around — on the warm side.  Usually 6mm poly film is used.
  8. Door.  You don’t want to use an ordinary inside door for your wine room.  Ideally you will use a heavily insulated steel door, like the ones used between a garage and a house.  Although less efficient, you may be installing a windowed door, too.  But if you do, make sure that your door will fit before you commit!
  9. Inside dimensions.  After you have figured out your wall, floor, and ceiling situation, you should take a look at inside dimensions of your wine room, after the walls and wall coverings are added.  The reason this is important is to gain maximum advantage for your wine racking without wasted space.  For example, if you are using wine racks each column takes up around 13 inches; so a rear wall which is an exact multiple of 13 inches is a good fit.  An inch or so over is no big deal, but a couple of inches short will leave you with not enough room for a final column and a lot of wasted space.
  10. Cooler positioning.  Sounds simple; but coolers generally mount between studs, so you’ll only be able to position your cooler wherever the studs happen to fall (without some fancy carpentry).  In your particular room, there simply may be no choice where it goes; but if you have options, consider them now, so the cooler doesn’t end up smack dab in the middle of your showcase wall of wine.  Ideally, the cooler will not be on the wall opposite the door (if that’s your longer wall and full of racks).  Also, you need to be able to get to the back of the cooler at least annually to clean the cooling fins.
  11. Your skills.  Are you up for this project?  How much can you do on your own?  What kind of help will you need?  Do you need someone with a truck to haul some 4×8 wood panels?  Do you have the tools and skills to cut sections of wood to fit?  Perhaps you can do all but the electrical.  Etc.  Figure out in advance what you can and can’t do and where you can go (and how much it will cost) for help.

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