Wine Help

A GUIDELINE TO ENJOYING WINE 

Enjoying wine is more than just popping a cork and drinking. How you pop that cork, how you serve it, what stemware you use, how you store it and more is equally important to the experience.  This page will offer advice on all of the elements of wine collecting and wine tasting.  Keep coming back as we share our knowledge.

HOW TO BUILD A CELLAR

Having designed two wine cellars, I have learned a couple of expensive lessons about wine storage. If you don’t do your research, you will waste a lot of money. Places like Home Depot and Walmart may have good prices, but no one is capable of telling you about the limitations of their products.

Here are some lessons I learned about the various cooling units on the market:

1.       COOLING REFRIGERATORS.  I dislike these wine coolers because they are expensive, prone to break down after a couple of years, and, in some cases, ugly and noisy. That’s based on the experience of a lot of friends who have installed under-counter kitchen units for 100 bottles or so.  A good one for 50 bottles will cost $800. Most of these don’t regulate humidity and are intended for consumers who intend to drink their wines within 3 years – a fact that their marketing propaganda doesn’t volunteer.  If the cooling unit breaks, good luck trying to find a technician who can fix it. Warranties generally expire after a year.

2.       THROUGH-WALL UNITS. These in-wall units wrap the condenser and the evaporator into one box. Cool air is blown into a closed cellar and exhausted into an adjacent room, which cannot be smaller than the cellar. Unless you spend $4,000, the outside unit cannot operate in hot or cold temperatures. I vented mine to a mud room, but it was noisy and distracting. Worse, it heated the mud room so much that my wife baked when she did the laundry. The Breezeaire busted down in a few years and I replaced it with a WhisperKool, which lasted 5 years.  At $3,000 apiece, I decided to shift strategies.

3.       SPLIT SYSTEMS. By now I wised up to the perfect system – a work-horse that operates like your home HVAC system and can be serviced by an HVAC technician. The evaporator half is mounted on the cellar wall; the other half – the condenser -- is placed in a crawl space or even outdoors. It is fueled by Freon or something similar. The split system is dramatically quieter and more efficient.  And, it’s cheaper. I bought my split system (suitable for rooms under 800 cubic feet) for less than $3,000 and it’s still working like a champ. My two through-wall units, both of which eventually broke, cost me nearly twice as much.  And, I would need three wine refrigerators at $4,000 apiece to accommodate half of the bottles my $3,000 cellar accommodates.  This is your best approach to cooling your cellar, but make sure you buy one that will work in your climate. Florida’s hot temperatures required me to buy a more expensive condenser that would operate in 100-degree temps.

No unit, no matter how good it is, will not operate efficiently unless the room has extra insulation and a vapor barrier to keep out the ambient humidity. Here’s what I learned:

1.       The room needs extra insulation – R24 in the interior walls; R30 in exterior walls and ceiling. Blown-in insulation works best.

2.       A 6-mil vapor barrier is essential in the walls, floor and ceiling.

3.       The door needs to be double-paned or thermal – in short, an outside door.

Finally, it is best to have your units on a dedicated circuit. Most split-system warranties are voided if you have a GFI on either unit. That becomes a bit tricky if your condenser is located outside. Consult an electrician.

Before you proceed, talk to a professional at Wine Enthusiast or CellarMaster.  They can provide free help in preparing your cellar and buying the right unit to fit your needs and climate.

Here is a link to the best site I've found on building a wine cellar. If anything, the photos of some of Savante's wine cellars designs are worth a look.

http://www.savantewinecellars.com/an-education/