Remember when designing wine storage simply meant a lattice rack
on the back of an island or, heaven forbid, placing a rack in the
hot spot above the refrigerator? Today, the buying, storing and
tasting of wine has become a passion for many of our clients.
Because of this, we have a great opportunity to broaden our design
expertise in this direction.
First, we need a basic understanding of what it takes to store
wine properly. Next, we must define our clients’ commitment to
personal wine storage and establish parameters. Finally, we need to
apply our experience in space planning and our understanding of the
products and materials to the available space to create the ideal
As in other aspects of our design work, teaming with experts in
the wine storage field can be a chance to learn and do a better job
While wine preferences and buying are more an art, wine storage
particularly long-term is more a science. The bottom line is that
good wine that is stored properly increases in value and improves
in taste, while good or poor wine that is not stored properly will
lose all value and will not even be drinkable. From authorities, we
learned that the two most critical issues in the storage of fine
wine temperature and humidity rarely come automatically. In
addition to these, lighting (including sunlight), air circulation
and vibration are considerations.
Although typically, red wine is consumed at room temperature and
white wine is served chilled, the ideal storage temperature for
both is 55’F, with minimum fluctuation in temperature being
critical. Changes in temperature can ruin wine by causing increased
ullage (air or volume of gas in the bottle). Too high a temperature
can speed up the oxygenation process and damage the wine.
Most authorities say that a 75% humidity is ideal. Humidity over
80% will cause mold and decomposition of labels. Conversely, a lack
of humidity will evaporate wine through the cork, causing increased
ullage, eventually ruining the wine.
Lighting, particularly intense light or sunlight, can impact
temperature and should be controlled/ adjustable. Air circulation
will impact the maintenance of steady temperature and humidity; it
is usually kept to a minimum and always controlled and considered
in the storage equation. Vibration, as caused by a nearby motor,
must also be kept to a minimum to allow the natural aging process
to occur. In this environment, the wine must be stored on its side
to keep the cork moist.
Storage options will vary, depending on your clients’ goals. Among
the factors to be considered are whether the need is for long-term
or short-term storage, volume of storage required, and the amount
of space and money a client wishes to commit to wine storage. It’s
estimated that over 95% of all U.S. retail wine purchases are
consumed within 24 hours, which suggests that custom long-term
storage would be appropriate for only a small number of
For many clients, a small wine cooler in the kitchen is more
than enough to store their purchase for the evening or upcoming
weekend. Others may be interested in acquiring the sophistication
to hold their own in a conversation where fine wine is discussed or
served. Clients who have interest in the wine culture are likely to
expand their collections and storage needs with time. Those truly
immersed in the wine experience will have a greater commitment to
the storage of their current and future wines.
Once the interest and need has been defined, the next step is to
identify the amount of space needed and/or available and, as
always, to determine a budget range. With this information, you are
ready to explore potential design options.
Recognizing the need for controlled temperature and humidity,
suitable spots for wine storage will involve refrigeration/cooling
appliances or underground spaces. The location and method of
construction and climate control will influence the selection of
insulation and finish materials for walls, doors, flooring,
lighting and racking.
Underground wine storage or cellars have the advantage of
maintaining constant temperature in the ideal range without
refrigeration. Down 20 feet, temperature changes are less than
2’F +/- regardless of seasonal changes. This is best
accomplished when two or three of the cellar walls are in direct
contact with the ground; the thicker the walls, the better the
Obviously, this is not always possible, desirable or convenient,
and a variety of climate control options exist. Specialized
refrigeration equipment is available for custom spaces to control
temperature and humidity. Self-contained, pre-built refrigerated
cellars can also be purchased. Some of these may include alarm
systems and back-up generators in case of power outages.
While locating a cellar in a remote location offers security
benefits, refrigerated spaces can be located nearer the kitchen,
dining room or butler’s pantry for convenience to tasting or
drinking, if space allows. These are ideal locations for single or
multiple wine cooling units. At 24″ depth, these units can be
worked nicely into a design, and they eliminate the concern that
experts have regarding temperature fluctuations.
My office worked with one client who opted for a commercial
refrigeration unit to chill an entire pantry and convert it to wine
storage. The need to maintain an undisturbed atmosphere and
security called for a locking door, and the racks and surfaces had
to be converted to mold-resistant materials.’
With regard to location of storage, experts remind us that
because of excessive heat or temperature changes, the attic and
garage can be among the worst spots for long-term storage.
Once the location and method for climate control have been
determined, construction and finish materials must be selected.
Both a vapor barrier and insulation must be installed if a cooling
unit is installed.
The interior walls and ceiling must be covered by a material
resistant to mold. Most common are cedar or redwood, with pine
requiring multiple coats of polyurethane to resist mold. Redwood
has added appeal in that it has no odor to seep into the wine.
Stone and granite are also used for walls, and create a different
mood for the space. Exterior doors must be used to seal the cool
in, and often glass panels are part of the door, provided light
into the cellar can be controlled.’
All types of flooring except carpet are used in cellars, and
lighting must be chosen that will minimize heat generation. The
racking systems are most often redwood for the reasons mentioned,
and they may be combined with glass, tiles or metal for visual
impact. These additions can add to maintenance issues, along with
strengthening the design theme, so they should be used with
The selecting and storing of fine wines leads ultimately to the
tasting, and areas in or outside the wine cellar for tasting are an
important and fun part of the design of the wine space. Because the
wine storage is maintained at temperature and humidity levels that
are great for wine but uncomfortable for us warm-blooded humans,
walk-in cellars will require a separate tasting space.’
If refrigerated appliances are used for the wine storage, the
two designated spaces may be combined. When the wine storage has
been planned near the kitchen or dining spaces, tasting can easily
be conducted around the same area.
Wherever it is planned, a tasting space must include storage for
many glasses, as each type of wine has its own glass and in a
tasting, each person is given one glass per wine tasted. In
addition, a space is needed to allow red wines to stand upright
prior to serving and to be opened and rest or oxygenate for a short
time before drinking.’
Decanters and concentrated intense light at eye level, such as a
candle, should be part of an area for decanting, as the wine should
be poured slowly with the light behind it to separate the sediment
from the drinkable portion of the wine.’
In addition, there should be storage for crackers and cheese or
other nibbles that help cleanse the palate between wines, and
general storage for equipment and utensils. An ideal addition would
be a dishwasher for all of those glasses. Finally, a table or place
to set out all of the glasses for a tasting and a spot for tasters
to sit or stand finishes the area.
Attesting to the growing interest in fine wines, there are
several companies that provide numerous options for assistance and
products to create the ideal wine cellar and wine tasting spaces.
It was actually a client who introduced our office to these, as
well as a number of published resources, both a great way to learn
more about this.’
Following is a list of some of our resources: How to Build a
Wine Cellar, by Richard A.M. Gold; Apex Wine Cellars, Bellevue,
Washington; New England Wine Cellars, Sharon, Connecticut, and
Cellar Mate, West Cornwall, Connecticut.’