More homeowners are raising a glass to toast their personal wine cellars. Like a fine wine, a home’s spirits storage can be rich with personality, and constructed to reflect a homeowner’s design aesthetic — be it modern or rustic.
“Interest in wine and entertaining with it at home is very popular, so the concept of a wine cellar continues to grow,” says Robert Bass, co-owner of Kessick Wine Cellars in Greenville, S.C., a wholesale designer and manufacturer of wine rack systems for nearly 10 years. “There is an allure to wine and the limited availability of certain varieties of wine in a good year. That means if you buy a case of wine, you must store it properly, so that it matures, and doesn’t turn to vinegar.”
A space dedicated to wine storage in the home used to be considered a status symbol for the few. But today, with better climate-control technology, Bass discards stereotypical notions of an underground rock cave when it comes to constructing rooms for today’s wine storage. In fact, wine doesn’t even have to be housed in a basement to be stored properly, and even though many of these constructs are not subterranean, they are still referred to as wine “cellars.”
“You need a room that is cool, dark and relatively humid to effectively store your wine,” he says. “Wine storage can range from a temperature-controlled closet fitted with a 50-bottle rack, located off the kitchen pantry, to a special glassed-in room that holds hundreds of bottles of wine, adjacent to a tasting room for parties.”
Ensuring non-fluctuating temperature control is one of the most important guidelines when storing wine. “Fifty-five-degrees is the magic number for optimal wine storage,” Bass says. “This is the temperature of a natural cave, any colder — like in a refrigerator — can cause a wine to go into a state of dormancy. A temperature above 75 degrees accelerates the wine’s aging process.”
More important than achieving the perfect temperature in a wine “cellar,” is to keep those fluctuations to a minimum, says Bass. Swings between warm and cold can cause wine to expand and contract, which then draws in air through the cork. This process, over time, causes the wine to oxidize and become undrinkable.
For optimal wine storage, an insulated room (or closet) should be constructed with a built-in air conditioner that will ensure a consistent temperature at 55 degrees. Self-standing, temperature-controlled cabinets or credenzas made especially to store wine can start at $1,000, based on the design and the number of bottles it will hold.
Keeping the humidity level between 60 and 70 percent in your wine storage room or unit is also important, says Bass. Damp air keeps the wine corks from drying out, which ensures a tight seal in the bottle. Storing a wine bottle on its side will also ensure the cork remains moist inside the bottle. A hygrometer is an instrument that measures a wine storage room’s humidity level. A humidifier can add more moisture into the room, but Bass says avoid an environment with 90 percent humidity for your wine storage, as this will cause mold to grow on the corks.
Bass says wine is also light sensitive, so hot, glaring lights focusing on bottles in storage will actually age it faster. Instead, Bass has devised a wine storage system that most typically uses Sapele mahogany wood racks — because of the wood’s durability and tendency to not mold in the humid conditions — outfitted with low-heat LEDs.
“I have also designed a strong, angular stainless steel rod wine rack system — which has a more modern aesthetic — because fewer people want the old-world radius arches in their wine cellars,” he says. “People want to entertain with wine, so it only makes sense to have a place for people to congregate in a tasting room near where the wine is stored.”
Both red and white wines are stored at the same temperature, but are served differently. Whites are removed from storage, chilled to 45 degrees and served. Reds are removed from storage, uncorked, and allowed to breathe, warming up to 65 degrees before being served. Some cellars are equipped with a small wine cooler set at 45 degrees for ready-to-drink champagnes and white wines.
Bass says the wine bottles should be showcased in a cellar, because each individual label adds artistic interest. “A wine refrigerator is just an appliance, but selecting bottles from a wine cellar is meant to be an experience that’s shared with others,” he says. “It’s very social to open up a bottle of wine and enjoy it with friends and family.”