If you have a growing collection of wine, it may be time to consider constructing a wine cellar. Some time ago the custom wine cellar was a rarity; today more and more wine lovers are learning about wine cellar construction or contracting the work out to those who know how to do the job correctly.

Wine cellar rooms are more than a dark, cool place to hold an assortment of wine bottles. Today's custom wine cellar is a controlled environment where humidity and temperature are regulated to allow wine to correctly age without harm to corks, labels or the wine itself.

There are two styles of wine cellars. One is a room that has been particularly constructed to store wine in an ideal environment and the other is a stand-alone unit that mirrors those conditions. A stand-alone wine cellar is not as valuable as a custom-built version, but some people desire the aesthetics of a small cooled refrigerator over a custom wine cellar. Those who do choose a custom cellar have three simple considerations for proper design.

Temperature Control and Venting

A wine cellar room is used to hold and age the wine in the bottle rather than keeping it at a serving temperature. (A stand-alone wine fridge is excellent for bringing wine out of the cellar to store at serving temperatures.) Aging wine is a balance of time, temperature and the chemical reactions that occur as an outcome of the two.

Wine should be aged in conditions ranging between 55 and 65 percent humidity and a solid 55 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take one degree. Wine stored at higher temperatures will age quicker and wine experiences chemical reactions at higher temperatures that devalue the flavor over time.

In some areas of the country, homeowners with basements often find that conditions are right for basic wine storage, but seasonal temperature and humidity variations should be avoided. The best storage solution is a custom-built or DIY-construction wine cellar with climate and humidity control using a wine cellar cooling component to maintain the temperature at a stable 55 degrees.

These units come in a variety of sizes and the dimensions of your wine cellar will control what size you need to purchase. In no way select a wine cooling system too small for your room; you most likely will never get an accurate, optimal storage temperature and the cooling unit will become overtaxed trying to keep up.

Wine cooling units demand proper venting, and your wine cellar construction job requires either a hole in the wall to permit venting outdoors or enough vent space to move warm air out of the room. Check the specs of your wine cooling unit; most require a venting space at least two times as large as the wine cellar space itself.

Electrical power is also an issue. Custom wine cellar builders recommend a devoted power source to run a wine cooling unit. Those who want to use a shared power source frequently find the system overloading with blown fuses and other electrical issues.

Insulation and Vapor Barriers

The wine cooling unit is only part of your climate control plan for a custom wine cellar; you also need a vapor barrier made of plastic sheeting used on the "hot" side of the wall. Some people cover the interior of the wine cellar previous to placing the insulation, leaving the plastic loose so that insulation can be positioned between the studs in the wall. Wrap the ceiling and the walls, or your vapor barrier will be incomplete. After the barrier is installed, the insulation will come next.

Good wine cellar construction requires the right kind of insulation for your walls and ceiling. For example, if you are building a 2×6 wall, R19 insulation is recommended, but if you have a smaller wall of 2×4, R13 may be your best bet. (The "R" designation represents the heat resistance of the insulation.) Ceilings need R30. Custom wine cellar builders should never set up the insulation loose without packing the material into the sections, as this lessens the insulation's effectiveness.

The next step is to install a kind of drywall called green board, which is moisture-resistant, making it a bit more expensive than normal drywall. Install an exterior-grade door to the wine cellar and your climate control plan is finished.

Lighting and UV Exposure Control

Wine is destroyed by UV exposure, which is why the bottles are usually made out of dark glass. Avoid putting in fluorescent bulbs in the wine cellar room, as they give off UV radiation. Control the brightness by using recessed lighting on a dimmer and avoid shining light directly on your wine bottles for long periods of time. Some wine racks are constructed with compartments that hide bottles from the light which can help reduce exposure, but if your bottles are stowed in clear view, try to avoid the "spotlight" effect on your bottles.

Other Concerns

Just about any kind of flooring can be used in your custom wine cellar. If your home is big enough for a tasting room to complement your cellar, you may want to give them both a matching look, but by no means use carpet and rugs in the cellar area. They simply can't hold up to the required humidity levels without giving away to mold. Mold growth will spoil your wine, as can any powerful odor from chemicals or cheeses. A wine cellar should be used only to hold wine; store food in a separate area.

At all times check the temperature and humidity in your wine cellar with an external sensor or gauge. Never assume that the wine cooling component will always function properly. A quick look at the external gauge can offer you early warning if the wine cooling system is having difficulties, or if the unit is showing a wrong readout because of a bad sensor or other technical problems.

Making a custom wine room may ask for some attention to the design demands of good wine storage, but once correctly built, you may realize that your collection grows rapidly; it's simple to invest more money in wine when you know it will be held securely for maximum delight.

By: Ben Adams

About the Author:

Ben Adams is the marketing director for Vigilant, Inc. a luxury goods manufacturer in Dover, NH. Vigilant is a premier manufacturer of wine cellars, wine racks and wine cellar doors as well as cigar storage equipment. Vigilant partners with homeowners and businesses to create wine storage spaces to fulfill the need for complete and precise protection for collections of fine wine. Please visit them at www.vigilantinc.com for additional information or to learn about any of their wine storage or cigar storage products.

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