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jeremy johnson

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Building a wine cellar...

by jeremy johnson » Fri Aug 18, 2006 2:33 pm

Hey there...I'm am looking to turn my old coal cute/room into a wine cellar. It's a nice small area, but still big enough to hold 2-4 hundred bottles as well as maybe a tasting table and some chairs. I've read up on the basics, but could really use the advice of someone who's actually done it. What are little pitfalls to avoid? Any tips or tricks? Anything that is easy to overlook? An experienced hand would be greatly appreciated! This is my first cellar and I'm just starting to expand my collection beyond my electric fridge style cellar, so I am a newbie. Also I'm 25 and on a tight budget, so any money saving tips would also be extremely helpful!
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Ian Sutton

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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by Ian Sutton » Fri Aug 18, 2006 2:43 pm

Bit lazy on my part - I posted a comment on this thread on a UK forum (which gives details of Tyson Stelzers handy little book).

Hope it's of use

regards

Ian
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Clint Hall

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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by Clint Hall » Fri Aug 18, 2006 4:32 pm

Jeremy are you thinking of a passive cellar or one with a cooler? In either case, Gold's book is maybe the best source of advice. (How and Why to Build a Wine Cellar by Richard M. Gold)

Best investment you can make is a buck-and-a-half thermometer. Stick it in the cellar now and check it several times every day to see how hot the cellar will be during the summer and how much the temperature varies. This would determine whether you can get by with a passive cellar. Heat above 70 degrees means you should have a cooler. If low temps may be a problem (in Louisville?), before starting construction you probably will want also to check the temps during the winter.
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jeremy johnson

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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by jeremy johnson » Fri Aug 18, 2006 4:39 pm

actually I've already done that, as I keep a thermometer and humidity gauge in my electric cellar...unfortunately a passive cellar won't work because it's about 80 down there right now...the humidity is perfect though! right at 70%...I can say that it's a small space, and once it's well insulated and sealed off, it'll probably hold pretty steady, so it won't need an especially large cooler. And I know it's most likely right about perfect in the winter...(damn summer heat!) So I've gone that far...any inexpensive cooling ideas?
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Howie Hart

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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by Howie Hart » Fri Aug 18, 2006 4:50 pm

jeremy johnson wrote:...any inexpensive cooling ideas?

A small window size AC unit that transfers heat to either outside the house or even a different part of the cellar ought to do the job. Keep in mind that 70% humidity at 80 DegF is not the same as 70% humidity at 60 DegF. The higher the temperature, the more moisture the air can hold.
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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by jeremy johnson » Fri Aug 18, 2006 4:57 pm

riiight...gotcha, do you think a window unit would take moisture out? should I pony up the dough for a smaller unit that is made FOR wine cellars?
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Howie Hart

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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by Howie Hart » Fri Aug 18, 2006 9:12 pm

I'd get a window unit, which shouldn't be too expensive ($90 at Home Depot?) and check the humidity. Then, if necessary, buy a de-humidifier, which shouldn't be too expensive.
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Bob Ross

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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by Bob Ross » Fri Aug 18, 2006 9:36 pm

Folks have given you some good advce, Jeremy. One strong suggestion, though: don't put a table and chairs in the wine cellar.

It's really not comfortable drinking wine in 52 to 55 F range, in a relatively small cellar, people will warm it up pretty quickly, and the space is better used for adding more bottles of wine to your collection. [That will probably happen automatically. :-)]

In any event, taste your wines outside the cellar -- you'll enjoy them much more.

Regards, Bob
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jeremy johnson

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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by jeremy johnson » Sat Aug 19, 2006 12:29 am

thanks bob...good call, and howie- do you mean humidifier? (not DE-humidifier) It seems like potentially the AC unit would lower the humidity level and as I understand it I want it between 70-80%
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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by Howie Hart » Sat Aug 19, 2006 6:31 am

You're correct - a DE humidifier. However, it's possible you may need a humidifier if your basement is dry during Winter, when the 15 deg outside temps with 80% humidity translate into 30% humidity in your house. Draping some wet towels would also do the trick.
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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by jeremy johnson » Sat Aug 19, 2006 10:22 am

ok ok...all this is very helpful...another question-
the area that I converted used to be the coal chute, so it's two wooden walls (which I plan on covering with plastic to avoid condensation and mold, insulation and then sheetrock), and two cement walls (basically one corner of the foundation)...should I cover the cement walls with anything? Should I leave them bare? it seems like there could be the potential for mold on them...would this hurt the wine?
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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by Howie Hart » Sat Aug 19, 2006 10:37 am

I would recommend insulating the entire room - all 4 walls and ceiling with the vapor barrier (plastic sheet) on the outside of the insulation (or both sides). The sheets of foam insulation from Home Depot would be ideal. You may also want to seal around the door and insulate it.
BTW - I have been planning a similar project in my basement for quite a while, but haven't got around to it because instead of a coal bin, I'll be converting a sistern, which has 4 ft high, steel reinforced 8 inch thick concrete walls. Just haven't gotten around to doing that heavy stuff yet.
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Dale Williams

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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by Dale Williams » Sat Aug 19, 2006 11:50 am

Warning -- you definitely DON'T want to put vapor barrier on both sides of a wall, it will trap what moisture does seep in. If not using hard foam, will compromise insulation, and in any case will promote mold. Mold will not harm wine, but you don't want it in house.

The Gold book is very useful. Every situation is different, so hard to give blanket recommendations. My situation doesn't sound dissimilar to yours, this is what I did.

I framed a corner of basement - built 2 walls and used two preexisiting rock walls. In two walls I put r-24 fibergalss, sheetrocked inside and outside, inside plastic vapor barrier. Vapor barrier against rock walls (probably unnecessary, but figured wouldn't hurt). R-30 in ceiling. An insulated exterior door would have been first choice, but because of pipes outside space too tall. So I cut down an interior door, installed, drilled holes, and filled with spray foam. Weatherstripping all around, spray foam in every wall gap (112 year old house, had to built around pipes, beams, etc. ). Betsy was worried we were losing basement space, so I put shelves on exterior walls.

Below grade, keep steady daily temps. Slowly ranges from 52F in winter to 66F (at top) winter. During a couple of protracted heat waves temps up top approached 70F. Probably not a big deal (see Robin's report on the chai at I believe Ch. Margaux), but to be safe this year I put an old room AC into wall. During heat waves I run a couple hours per day, keeps things around 65F.

One can choose to "trick" an AC to go colder than 65F by faking out thermostat. I wouldn't worry too much about AC taking out humidity if it's only running for month or two in summer. Low humidity is a real worry in dry climates, but I doubt you would have a problem in KY (unless you tricked an AC unit into keeping cellar at 55 for 12 months).

Other big decision is racking. I use a combination of "grid" racks (the Wine Enthusiast black tie ones are cheap and effective), stacked OWCs and milkcrate bins, and some plywood bins I built myself. Bins give you more bottles per sq foot, but aren't especially good if you have a lot of one and twos.

Good luck!
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Dale Williams

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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by Dale Williams » Sat Aug 19, 2006 11:52 am

For clarity, with passive cellar, there's a fairly significant temperature gradient in summer between the cold floor and top. Temps I gave were at top.
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Howie Hart

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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by Howie Hart » Sat Aug 19, 2006 1:12 pm

Dale - Thanks for the correction on the vapor barriers. :oops: My thinking was along the lines of the simple rule that one wants to place the vapor barrier on the warm side of the wall, and since a sectioned off older basement section could be colder in summer and warmer in winter, it seemed to make sense, but nobody wants mold. :evil:
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Clint Hall

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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by Clint Hall » Sat Aug 19, 2006 4:04 pm

A few words to add to the discussion of bins. They suck if you ever have to put Burgundy-Rhone type bottles in them. If you watt bins, try to keep them on the bottom row, ideally above some sort of thick cheap rug in case bottles ever pop out. Also keep your most costly bottles in the single-bottle spaces, where they are least likely to fall.

Example: Day before yesterday while my wife was vacuuming in our tasting room outside the cellar she heard a (Rhone) bottle pop out of a bin and bounce on the floor. There was nothing to cause the fall other than the slight vibration of the vacuum on tile.
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jeremy johnson

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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by jeremy johnson » Sat Aug 19, 2006 5:27 pm

yeah, at this point, I'm sticking with single bottle holders unless my collection explodes exponentially, which is actually fine by me ;)

I like Bordex wine racks, and I think I'm going to start with their 120 bottle rack, and add on modularly from there...if I end up getting a lot of cases, then I'll opt for bins
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Ruth Winkel

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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by Ruth Winkel » Sat Aug 19, 2006 6:17 pm

Hi!!!

I have a lot of Tips - .................. but in german :O((((

wich wines, wich years, how many?


LG Ruth
Riesling ist Riesling ist Unsinn!
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Clint Hall

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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by Clint Hall » Sat Aug 19, 2006 6:52 pm

Regarding Bordex racking, I have two 24-bottle free standing units of a similar type (wood and metal) which I put on the flat surface on top of some bin racking. The only problem I've had with it is that the metal part chews up back labels unless you are very careful when you put the bottles in and pull them out.
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Howie Hart

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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by Howie Hart » Sun Aug 20, 2006 10:35 pm

I was at a tasting today (see post on hybrid wine tasting) and the host took me in his basement where he has a small wine cellar. Simply insulated with foam and to cool it during the summer he keeps frozen 1-gallon jugs of water in it and switches them every morning. Even with a warm basement on hot days he says it never went above 62F.
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Clint Hall

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Re: Building a wine cellar...

by Clint Hall » Mon Aug 21, 2006 12:33 am

Howie Hart wrote:I was at a tasting today (see post on hybrid wine tasting) and the host took me in his basement where he has a small wine cellar. Simply insulated with foam and to cool it during the summer he keeps frozen 1-gallon jugs of water in it and switches them every morning. Even with a warm basement on hot days he says it never went above 62F.

Howie, you've just given me the answer to my insomnia problem. All summer I lie awake at night worrying about what will happen to my wine if our Whilsperkool konks out. Everybody ought to have sevetral gallons of water in jugs in case of a water outage, so what I'll do is store some of the jugs in the freezer.

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