Your Wine Cellar

You’ve run out of room. You’ve got wine bottles under your bed, case boxes stashed in your closets, wine tucked here and there throughout the house, and of course you’re worried that they’re aging too fast because room temperature is all you’ve got.

You’ve been thinking of putting in a wine cellar, but aren’t sure which way to go. Do you buy a freestanding refrigerator-style model, or create a walk-in wine cellar? A refrigerator-style unit might work for you, depending on how much wine you have to store. If that’s your choice, stop reading now, because this column is about adding a walk-in wine room to your home, something that more and more people are either doing or contemplating.

I’ve had two “cellars,” one included in the plans when I had a house built, the other when we remodeled an existing storage closet into a wine room. I’m happy with both outcomes.

Mike Stepanovich
Mike Stepanovich

I refer to the room where I store my wine collection as a wine cellar, but of course it isn’t, and there’s a reason. California’s propensity for earthquakes is the culprit. Prior to 1933, basements in California were fairly common; my grandparents’ home in Paso Robles, built in 1916, had a large basement. According to an article on the evolution of California’s building codes on the Stanford University website, that changed in 1933 when the Riley Act was passed, which created the state’s first set of uniform construction standards. Various earthquakes in succeeding years continued to impact building codes, which resulted in strict construction standards to withstand the temblors.

So when I asked my contractor back in 1993 about scooping out a hole in the ground before trenching and building an underground wine cellar, he immediately grabbed a calculator. A minute or so later he quoted me an astronomical price. Incredulous, I asked why so much. He proceeded to educate me about California building codes and below ground construction.

Thinking quickly, I asked how much extra for above ground, with insulation in the walls and separate cooling. That price was only a few hundred dollars added to the cost of construction, so naturally that was what I did.

I’ve since moved, and we wanted to add a wine “cellar” to our home, and so I applied what I learned from my first experience. Here are my tips for a successful wine cellar project:

Use a Licensed Contractor

This is huge. Hire a licensed professional to do your job. The contractor you select will know building codes and will be able to discuss with you how to maximize your space and offer suggestions regarding aesthetics. And in the eventuality that you sell your house, you won’t have any code-violation issues to resolve. He or she will be worth every penny. You may think you can save some money by doing it yourself or have a friend who claims to know how to do it attempt the job. I’ve been there, too, and it only winds up causing you headaches and costing you more money. I asked local contractor Jeff Chaddick to do the work, and he did an excellent job.

Plan for Sufficient Capacity

Your freestanding 500-bottle cooling unit is already full and you’ve got more cases sitting around. You think 600- to 750-bottle capacity will accommodate you? Plan for a thousand—or more. You’ll be surprised how fast it fills up.

Both of my cellars were planned for 1,500 bottles. The first one became overstocked fast; my second one, just completed, would be were it not for our good friends at Imbibe where I have additional cases stored.

Plan for Sufficient Cooling-unit Capacity

I learned the hard way on this point. My first cellar was 8-feet by 5-feet by 10-feet-tall, or 400 cubic feet. So I purchased a cooling unit that advertised that it was good for a 600-cubic foot cellar. The unit was constantly overworked and eventually burned out trying to cool the L-shaped room (I suspect the room’s shape may have been part of the problem). So I ordered a replacement unit that was rated at an 800-cubic foot cooling capacity, and had no further trouble.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on TumblrPin on PinterestShare this