Wine Talk

Snooth User: Mark Angelillo

Wine Cellaring 101

Posted by Mark Angelillo, Feb 2, 2009.

I think it was Philip who offered that perhaps my parents would be willing to give up part of their basement for the purposes of building a small cellar. Well, I had a chat with them and they seem pretty into the idea.

But I want to do this right. Let's start with the conditions of the place. I guessed humidity and temperature are important. How long do I have to keep an eye on these measurements before I know whether the space is workable? Through the summer at least to make sure? I don't need to jump into this so I've got time to make sure I'm dealing with it properly.

Thoughts? What should I be looking for? Anyone have any tips? I'll just deal with the decision on whether it's a good space for a wine cellar first, and then I can look into preparing it.


Reply by Eric Guido, Feb 2, 2009.

There's a really good book named "Cellaring Wine"

I found it to be very helpful when constructing my cellar.

A few questions to ask off the top:

Is the current Cellar completely under ground? If yes then you have more of a chance of having to do less to regulate the temp.

Is any wall of the Cellar exposed to direct sunlight during the day? Again, if the answer is no then you have a better chance of having to do less to help it keep the right temp.

Are there pipes running through this portion of the cellar? Pipes work like radiators for both cold and heat. I have a sewer pipe in my cellar that I still need to insulate properly because it literally radiates the cold and is sinking the temp of my cellar in this cold weather.

But seriously, the book is an easy read and it really does a great job of giving you a working knowledge of a cellar, even if some of the authors opinions (on wine) are a little outdated.

Reply by Mark Angelillo, Feb 3, 2009.

Thanks, Eric. I think I might be dealing with a good space -- the building was constructed by a stonemason in the early 1900s and the walls are 2 feet thick stone. The cellar is completely underground. I'll have to check on the pipes situation. There are bound to be some snaking around but perhaps they aren't close to where I'd put the wine.

I'll check out that book, thanks!

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Feb 3, 2009.

Here's another book for you, the nuts and bolts of cellar construction.

I think we can get caught up way to much in worrying if our cellar is "ideal".

I have cellared wine for over 2 decades in an attractive, most of the time passive, unbuilt space. By unbuilt I simply mean that beyond throwing up a few walls and insulating the pipes that ran through the space I did no work. No vapor barrier, no special insulation, etc.

What I am fortunate to have is a room with a temperature that ranges from about 50 in the winter to about 70 in the summer. That's ambient daytime air emperature in the summer. I've never actually seen 70 but very close to 68 so I think it's safe to assume it's gotten to 70 at times.

I was more worried in the past about the temps so I installed 4 waterfilled bottles with thermometers in them to test various parts of the cellar for fluid temps on the warmest days of summer. The verdict? The bottles closest to the ground, say within about 18 inches of the concrete foundation floor never really get much above 60 degrees. The bottles at 6 feet, the highest bottles in the cellar are more variable depending on placement within the cellar ranging from 64 to 67 degrees right by the door.

Knowing where the warms spots are helps to design a storage strategy but truthfully it was never a problem as the wines by the door were always the regular drinkers, wine on deck.

The other issue that I have a problem with is humidity. My cellar ranges from 90 plus % in the summer down to 20% in the winter. Both extremes are problematic, the high only for label conditions but the low can effectively dry out corks. I have installed a humidifier/dehumidifer system and that's the end of that worry.

The other points frequently brought up, light, vibration, etc are minor worries if you can achieve control of these two big points.

It sounds like your parents space is more than likely pretty close to ideal for mid-term storage of 10 to 20 years.

Reply by Philip James, Feb 3, 2009.

Wasn't me - but thats a good idea. If nothing else it makes it harder for you to "go viking" on your carefully aged wines late one night.

Reply by Mark Angelillo, Feb 4, 2009.

Great, thanks. Sounds like I have some reading to do, and I'm going to get a thermometer and hygrometer set up -- maybe by September I'll have a better idea whether to go ahead.

Light won't be a problem down there, and as for vibration, at least they don't live in my apartment. Every train goes directly under my apartment.

Goes to show, humans can get used to a whole lot. The noise and rumbling have actually gotten quite comforting and I hardly even notice anymore.

Reply by Rodolphe Boulanger, Feb 6, 2009.

I think I planted the suggestion in your head back when you had the silly notions of paying for wine storage somewhere in the city...

Don't worry about it being too perfect a site. At first, it is better to have a fair to good cellar than none at all.

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