Wine Storage for All
Whether you’re a connoisseur or a casual sipper, there’s an appropriate way to stash your bottles
This story is found in the Summer 2019 edition of Park City Home.
Most wine is consumed within days — or at the outside, months — of coming home from the store. But there are bottles that are meant to become better with time: The ones you open on special occasions. Or hope to impress friends with. Or buy, sell, and trade like some people do race horses. But those bottles age well only if properly stored. Fortunately, whether you are just starting as a collector with a modest 12-bottle wine cooler in the basement, or are protecting an investment that runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the fundamentals of wine storage are the same.
The very basics
Proper wine storage is primarily about controlling temperature, humidity, and light. An ideal temperature is around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, although as long as it is between 45 and 65 degrees, keeping the temperature constant is more important than the precise number. Otherwise, extreme, rapid, and even gradual temperature variations of just a few degrees can cause a wine to age improperly.
Humidity should range between 50 and 70 percent. Any lower and the cork could dry out, allowing air to reach the wine and spoil it. Any higher and the exposed part of the cork and label could develop mold. Storing bottles horizontally also keeps the cork from drying out, although screw-top or plastic closures can make that a moot point.
Avoid exposure to light, especially sunlight. This is often accomplished by using tinted glass wine cooler doors. Other concerns, according to some experts, include exposure to strong odors and vibration, so try not to store your wine near a washer/dryer or fault line (although depending on where you live, it can be tough to avoid the latter).
Granted, concerns about seismic activity might seem extreme, but where you store your wine does play an important role in how it ages. Unless you are going to drink it in a day or two, don’t make the mistake of just sticking it in a regular household refrigerator, somewhere behind the milk and orange juice. Over time, the refrigerator’s lower temperature, typically around 37 degrees, and lower humidity, typically around 30 percent, will harm the wine. Cool, dark basements are often thought of as ideal storage areas, but unless they are climate-controlled they can fall short. As can a closet, especially if it is near a heat source.
A good storage choice for the modest collector is a wine fridge designed to hold anywhere from a dozen to more than a hundred bottles. Ranging from hundreds to a few thousand dollars, variations include free-standing and under-counter models, some with two-zone controls to maintain separate temperatures for reds and whites, and clear or tinted glass doors, depending on whether your inclination is toward showing off or protecting the wine from excessive light.
For many wine lovers, a wine cellar or dedicated wine room is the ultimate home improvement. And while some cellars might be more accurately called wine closets or even wine cabinets, creating all but the simplest is usually a professional undertaking. The builder must understand not only wine, but also the demands and limitations of such elements as the cellar’s cooling unit, humidifier, and racking system. They must be knowledgeable about insulation, vapor barriers, and temperature differentials. Perhaps most of all, they must have the eye of an artist, because the very best wine cellars, with their use of wood, glass, and sometime even water features to control humidity, can be works of art. Art that at the top end may cost $100,000 or more.
For unusually large collections, or small ones of high value, some collectors turn to professional storage. (Making sure, of course, that they have a wine fridge on hand for times when only instant gratification will do.) Although the services that professional wine storage facilities offer span a range as great as that between self-service and full-service gas stations, any professional storage worth considering should be able to do pretty much what wine storage at home can, but with more dependability. That means commercial-grade fire suppression and security systems, and backups should the cooling unit fail or the power go out. It can mean more sophisticated inventory tracking and shipping options. Some commercial storage facilities can also offer services a home cellar usually can’t easily provide, such as reassurance that the wine’s provenance, or life history, is what it is represented to be, which can significantly increase a bottle’s value.
Costs for professional storage can run from less than $100 annually for a small number of bottles stored by the case in what amounts to a climate-controlled warehouse, to thousands for housing a serious collection in a luxury facility. The latter often includes a tasting room and invitations to special tastings designed to whet your impulse to acquire ever more.
When a potential client is thinking of having a wine cellar built in their Park City home, among the first questions Shaun Cunningham, of Utah Wine Cellar Design, asks are: “How many bottles do you have in your collection today? What is the most you ever expect to have?”
“I ask,” says Cunningham, who has been designing and building wine cellars in Park City since 2004, “Because there is nothing more unsettling to me than imagining a cellar chock full of racking, but not of wine.”
It’s the wine bottles themselves, says Cunningham, that bring “the warmth, the life, the heartbeat,” to a cellar. “I tell the clients that if they have no intention of filling it, let’s not rack all three walls. Let’s just do the back wall, and make it look great.” You can fill the other walls with art or extra seating that can be moved if and when you want to add racks for a growing collection.
“Because who wants to walk into a cellar,” he says, “that’s two-thirds empty and looks like a skeleton? Instead, why not fill it with life?”
For more stories from this edition, visit the Park City Home special section.
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