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Wine Storage 101

Bottle Talk

Written by
Julie Arnan

A passport weekend through Woodinville, a drive through Chelan, a girls’ trip to Walla Walla. Throw in an anniversary getaway in Napa and suddenly wine storage becomes a hot topic. The needs of wine enthusiasts differ from wine collectors. Solutions for either category range from a couple hundred dollars for a wine cooler to custom cellars stretching into the thousands. 

The enemies of wine—heat, lack of humidity, light and vibration—are the same no matter which classification you claim. However, vibration is not a significant problem for shorter-term storage (a year or less). Therefore, it is important to determine if you will be laying down enough bottles in a decade-long nap to warrant an investment in a proper cellar. Many Eastside homeowners opt for wine cellars based on aesthetics regardless of their “enthusiast” status—though owning a cellar does make a “collector” upgrade possible. 

WINE COOLERS

This storage option is best for wine enthusiasts—people who like to head to Woodinville on a weekend, taste a few wines and buy a bottle or two of their favorites that they intend to drink within the next year. A wine cooler is essentially a beverage refrigerator that keeps wine stored at drinking temperature, protects it from contamination that can occur in a regular kitchen fridge and stores wine properly on its side. They range in features from bottle capacity, single or dual temperature zones, compressor-based versus thermoelectric, and aesthetic design.

Capacity

Determine how much wine you plan to drink in a year—for example, 2 bottles per week x 52 weeks = 104 bottle capacity. Or perhaps the cooler is mainly for beverage storage during parties. In that case, divide the average number of guests by two—for example, 30 guests ÷ 2 = 15 bottle capacity. Keeping a wine cooler full will help it maintain a more consistent temperature. Compare cooler prices based on price per bottle if other features are similar.

Single vs. Dual Zone 

Single zone coolers have only one temperature control (40˚F–65˚F) and are best suited for people who drink exclusively red or exclusively white wines. That said, there is almost always some temperature fluctuation from top to bottom in these models, so reds could be stored near the top and whites at the bottom in a pinch. Dual zone coolers feature two independently controlled temperature zones—look for models that allow a full range of temperatures in each zone, thereby not limiting to exclusively red or white zones (don’t forget about sparkling wines!). As a rule, full-bodied reds (e.g., Cabernet) should be served between 59˚F and 66˚F; lighter reds (e.g., pinot noir) around 55˚F; rosé and dry whites between 46˚F and 57˚F; and sparkling wines taste best between 43˚F and 47˚F. 

Compressor vs. Thermoelectric

Compressor-based models work like a conventional refrigerator cycling coolant that has expanded from liquid to gas, which is then recompressed back into a liquid. It produces heat as a by-product and can be noisy as it cycles on and off. Thermoelectric coolers are essentially solid-state heat pumps with no moving parts, rendering them silent, vibration-free and more environmentally friendly (no coolant). The only noise associated with a thermoelectric cooler is a fan that cycles the cool air throughout the interior.

Aesthetic Design

Wine coolers come in a variety of design options featuring tinted glass doors (UV blocker) and decorative wood paneling. They can be freestanding or installed under existing counters. Some are even offered with custom cabinetry matching services. 

WINE CELLARS

Wine cellars (aka wine rooms—they don’t have to be located “cellar level”) provide ideal protection for wine investments, in addition to being a beautiful feature in a luxury home. They often come “standard” in high-end new construction, but can be added to existing homes by local experts such as Doug Smith (rhinowinecellars.com) and Marc Christiansen (inviniticellardesign.com). Washington’s robust wine industry coupled with an educated, affluent population have bolstered the custom cellar construction business in the last few years, which has followed the overall rise in new construction homes, says Christiansen. 

When clients consult with Smith about cellar features in new construction, he often recommends laying a suitable cellar foundation—insulation, vapor barrier, proper door—while holding off on big-ticket items like a cooling system until the client has lived in the home and has a better grasp of temperature-control issues. The cool, damp Northwest climate conditions are usually great for wine storage. However, many clients would rather be safe than sorry, opting for the guaranteed temperature and humidity control that comes with a professional cooling system. 

Wine cellars are meant to store wine for the long haul, thus the temperature is kept at 55˚F, humidity around 70 percent (wine coolers can be as low as 40 percent), and lights should be kept off except when necessary. Traditionally, wine cellars were dug into the ground or in a cave to regulate temperature and humidity the natural way. Modern cellars can be constructed from a variety of materials—wood, stone, concrete—with the trend moving toward metal and glass, say both Christiansen and Smith. It is important that carpet be avoided—the high humidity will lead to mold and rot.

Smith says existing closets or basements can be customized into a wine cellar, particularly on the shady, north side of a house. Clients who want to show off their collection have even opted to have a cellar added on to an end of a dining room. Project lengths vary from one month (simple closet conversion) to a year or more, depending on the complexity of the design and the decision-making skills of clients. Just as the cost of a Hyundai wildly ranges from a Bentley, cellars can cost from several hundred dollars to upwards of $25,000.  

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