It started with one bottle. Then another one, and another after that. Then you bought a case, started touring vineyards, joined a wine club, and now friends think you’re a sommelier. Suddenly you realize you have a wine collection, and a diy wine cellar is a priority. But how do you go about getting this built quickly and with minimal effort?
The Importance of a Wine Cellar
The main reason to build a wine collection is to take full advantage of a wine’s ageing capacity. For instance, if you lay your hands on a nice Bordeaux blend that critics say will be drinkable for 30 years, you may want to stow it away for a few years so that the wine’s characteristics deepen and become even more dynamic.
If this is the case, you can’t just store it anywhere. Proper wine storage hinges on the following metrics to protect your vino’s integrity:
Temperature (45 to 65 °F to preserve flavor )
Humidity (50% to 80% to keep corks moist and avoid mildew on the labels)
Ventilation (Helps maintain constant temperature if you’re not using an air conditioner)
Darkness (UV rays will cause it to spoil prematurely)
Storage (Horizontal allows for the most bottles in the least space and keeps corks moist)
Compromising on the first four metrics may lead to disrupting the integrity of the wine, which in turn may result in a less than optimal experience once the bottle is opened. Compromising on the last issue, isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be. As long as the humidity doesn’t drop your cork won’t dry out for at least a decade, and most modern bottlers use twist-off or rubber stoppers anyway.
Bottom line: If you’re going to collect wine, it’s best that you think of each label as a future investment. If you end up selling it down the road, you can make a tidy profit. Then again, opening up a carefully aged bottle of Chateau Laffite Rothschild could yield an experience that money can’t buy.
Although if you’re storing bottles that cost as much as a Chateau Laffite Rothschild, or plan to keep anything for more than a decade, I’m going to recommend you stop reading this right now and invest in professional storage.
Determining the Scope of Your Cellar
You should ask yourself a few important questions before you lift a single tool. Answering these questions will help you determine precisely the kind of wine cellar that fits your needs, your style, and your budget.
The first thing you need to determine is the purpose of the cellar. Do you want to display your collection to friends, or do you want to simply have some utilitarian storage to preserve your collection?
Also, are you going to stay focused on one varietal or style, or do you plan on building an eclectic collection?
If you know how many bottles you’ll have in your collection, you’ll know precisely how much space you’ll need for a proper, effective cellar.
The most crucial pre-build question you could ask, however, is where your wine cellar can be located. Chances are, if you have a basement, that’s going to be your default option – the fact that it’s called a cellar lends itself to this assumption. In truth, however, your cellar can be located in any windowless insulated room that’s large enough to hang a ductless air conditioning unit in, even a walk-in closet can be easily converted to wine storage.
Cooling The Room
Ideal wine storage needs to be in an environment where the temperature is as close to 55° F as possible. Basements are naturally cool because they are underground, but sometimes they need help to get cool in the warmer months.
There are cooling systems you can purchase that can help you maintain this consistent cellar temperature all year round. We recommend a small ductless air conditioner (a.k.a. mini-split system) that hangs on the wall with a condensing unit on the exterior of your home.
With a mini-split the one caveat is that it will be best to build the room near an exterior wall. Piping has to be run from the interior unit to the exterior condensing unit and you don’t want to rip up your house running the line. It’s also best to build the room as close to where the condensing unit will be on the outside of your home. The shorter the lines are between the two units the better.
Building the Wine Cellar
Once you’ve determined where your wine storage is going to go, there are a few steps to the building process that are wise to follow. These steps will provide you with an extra layer of protection.
Building The walls
We recommend building the walls using 2X6 lumber instead of the standard 2X4 for interior construction. The reason for this is so you can add more insulation to the walls. With a 2X6 wall you can easily fit R-19 between the joists instead of R-14.
It’s going to be awfully dark if you don’t add at least a single recessed light in the center of the room. Depending on how large of a wine cellar you’re building you may need more than one. Since we are trying to build this in a weekend think about hanging a pendant light fixture in the center of the room. All you’ll have to do for wiring is add a junction box in the ceiling and a single switch to the wall.
Your options with pendants range from a mini pendant for a small closet sized room all the way up to an enormous chandelier that will be more than enough to illuminate even the largest basement storage area.
If the room gets some natural light consider placing a few houseplants in the room. They help control the humidity, especially large palms like the Areca or Lady Palm.
Insulate The walls and Ceiling
It’s a good idea to insulate the walls and ceiling of your cellar. You’ll save a lot of money because your air conditioner will have to do less work to keep the room cool and the humidity down.
We recommend a minimum of R-19 batt insulation for 2X6 wall construction and R-30 for the ceiling, assuming you have 2X10 joists. If you’re converting an existing closet or room in the basement into wine storage then blowing insulation between the joist bays is a fine alternative.
Don’t forget to put a 6mil poly vapor barrier over the insulation too. IT just takes minutes to staple it into place and it will keep moisture from collecting behind the walls.
Should You Insulate The Floor?
Cold air sinks and will pass right through an uninsulated floor. This isn’t a concern for basements, but if you’re converting a first or second floor closet you should insulate the joists bays below. If access to them is difficult, adding some thick carpeting to the floor will make a huge difference.
If this is in a basement you can skip this step all together but we don’t recommend it. Cladding with sheetrock or plywood adds to the R value of the wall and makes it easier to keep the temperature of your cellar constant. Using plywood also makes it easier to hang storage hooks on or attach shelving, but if you’re building a cellar yourself this weekend you are probably more than capable of hanging sheetrock and finding studs.
This is probably the most overlooked step. Any interior door from Home Depot won’t do. Most of them will be hollow on the inside and will have a fairly large gap at the bottom. You want to get either an insulated exterior door or a solid interior door that will keep warm air from getting to your wine. If you opt for a solid interior door, add a little weather stripping around the jamb and a bottom sweep to keep warm air out.
Quickly framing a small room like this is your basement can literally be accomplished in a day and that easily includes adding the insulation. The next day you can hang the sheetrock and tape the joints. Between coats hang the door and call the HVAC company to get them out asap to install your mini-split a/c unit.
The second they leave you can start storing bottles in your diy wine cellar that you built in a weekend.
If the purpose of your wine cellar is strictly utilitarian and you don’t plan on having tastings or spending any time in the room, then you don’t need to consider things like floor and wall finishes. But if you want to make a huge impact and impress yourself every time you walk in the room have a look at butcher block style countertops for that rustic look or quartz if you want to create something more modern.
If you have the budget and the space then this is going to be the most second most fun and rewarding part of the project, after drinking the wine of course. Anything goes here so donet be afraid to let your personal sense of style shine through.