These days our globalized economy gives us access to treats from around the world. Especially, high-quality regional wines. Though as any Oenophile will tell you, that the best vintages need to be properly stored. Rather than rent space somewhere, most wine aficionados will try converting a section of their basement to keep a significant stock of their favorite bottles close at hand.
Of course, a home wine cellar needs to be more than just a repurposed corner of your basement with a few tastefully angled shelves and a bare lightbulb dangling from the ceiling. When you roll up your sleeves and take a closer look at what goes into keeping wine properly for the possible course of years, if not decades, you certainly want to get it right. After all, some of the better vintages are a major investment, and the last thing you want is to sink a lot of money into a bottle only to find out a year later that it’s turning into vinegar in your basement!
Location & Climate Control
A basement is an ideal place for most wine cellars as the foundation walls and the soil surrounding your foundation act as natural insulators. This makes climate control much easier. Yet if you are planning to keep your favorite vintages on hand for more than a few months, you might want to think about doing some extra insulating and a true climate control system.
Bottles of wine, especially those with natural wood corks do best when they are kept between 55 to 58-degrees Fahrenheit and 55 to 75% humidity. Chances are even in the best of years, your basement is going to have swings in temperature and humidity that go outside of these ranges. When this happens it can degrade the wine inside the bottle or dry out the cork to the point that unwanted air can get in and oxidize the wine.
If you are really going to maintain a sizable wine collection in a basement wine cellar, you should plan on making a sealed chamber. Spray foam insulation and hardwood paneling can further help reinforce the foundation’s natural insulative qualities. Then a humidifier or dehumidifier can be brought in to maintain the correct humidity level.
If your basement wine cellar is prone to bouts of cold, you might want to consider an oil-filled radiator in the wintertime. It can be set to hold a specific temperature and only turns on when the temperature drops. Since the room will be sealed off from the rest of the basement the energy expenditure should be minimal.
On the other hand of the spectrum, let’s say your chosen location for the basement wine cellar has a nasty habit of getting too hot in the summer. Installing a portable air conditioner system specifically for that room will let you dial in the temperature to the ideal range for wine, while also helping to control the humidity levels.
Both the oil-filled radiator and the portable air conditioner are far more cost-effective options than purchasing a separate climate control system to add to your existing home system.
Of course, all these efforts are for naught if you don’t have a door that seals properly. While a minor draft at the bottom of the door might be negated by your climate control measures, this is certainly a time for a solid door with strong weather stripping.
Designing The Interior Of A Home Wine Cellar
Once you’ve taken command of the climate control requirements of your basement wine cellar, you can turn to the far more enjoyable job of designing the interior to suit your tastes. This starts with choosing the type of wine racks you want.
Classic wood cubbies set at a 45-degree angle, with a slight elevation is the classic. Though it is a little cliché. In truth, there are a lot of materials to consider that go beyond simple wood. These days textured plastic and metals like wrought iron are starting to show up more and more in-home wine cellars.
Stackable wine racks tend to be the most convenient. This allows you to reorganize vintages as the years go by. That way if you get a few cases of a high-end cabernet sauvignon, you can set up a new red wine section, without having to intermix it with the whites or add new racks to the layout.
A Wine Tasting Area
Most people who set up a home wine cellar in their basement will also create some type of tasting area. This is a great way to host a small number of guests or to steal away with an old friend from a large gather to catch up while sharing your favorite vintage.
A strong butcher block wood table with overhead hanging glassware will usually suffice. A knife block for cutting cheese might also complete the effect.
Something else to consider in your wine tasting area is a wine preservation system. There are handheld models as well as countertop models that have their own warming and cooling features built into the dispenser.
It allows you to sample a single glass of a high-end vintage without having to actually open the bottle and risk oxidation. The wine preservation system then injects an equal volume of inert argon gas into the bottle to maintain the integrity of the wine. It’s a great way to enjoy a glass without accidentally wasting the bottle or having to drink it all at one time.
Lighting Your Basement Wine Cellar
The basement is already a dark place, to begin with. When you create your own wine cellar and seal it off from the rest of the house, it also means you’re likely blocking out all the outside light. Choosing just the right type of lighting system will make a big difference between a dungeon with wine in it, and a tasteful wine cellar that is inviting to the senses.
Here again, recessed lights make the most out of overhead space, which can be especially handy if your basement already has low ceilings. Additional track lighting can also give you more directional light for selecting just the right vintage.
Though these days, many people who are building or having a basement wine cellar professionally installed, will choose LED lights. They can be both directional, or put in an array to light a wider area. They also produce a negligible amount of heat, so they won’t compete with your climate control system. They can even be tinted to add to your wine cellar’s ambiance. If you prefer you can use them as the primary lights, or perhaps as an accent light to put a premium bottle of wine on display.