Why I Skipped Building A Passive Wine Cellar and Decided to Buy a Large Wine Cooler
Wine collecting today reminds me of what baseball card collecting felt like when I was a kid. There’s a pride, a euphoria of holding that prized card or bottle, and knowing that it’s yours, in your possession. You know there are others out there, but maybe not too many and your friend or neighbor certainly isn’t one of those in possession of one. In the case of wine, you have the added benefit of people drinking it all the time, shrinking the number of bottles that are in existence, so maybe the one you’re holding is even more special.
Just like you used to put your prized baseball cards in those hard plastic shells with the screw down bolts in the corner for the ultimate protection, the proper storage conditions for your wine are essential to the long life and maturation of your special bottles.
It’s worth noting here up top that wine collecting isn’t for everyone. Not only will some people not enjoy the taste of older, aged wine, but most of the wine you see at wine shops or big box stores is meant to be consumed now. Your typical bottle of wine isn’t built for the long haul and won’t improve over time. Rather it will deteriorate. So I think the first thing you want to think about with regards to the storage conditions you want to create for your wine is mapping out your goal, what you hope to accomplish.
For me, I had a smaller wine fridge that held around 40 bottles, and it was full. I have everything from nice ’10 Barolo, some ’05 Leo Barton, a few ’12 Insignia, a bottle of ’97 vintage port to drink with my children in 12 years, to name a few. I was acquiring more special bottles and needed more room.
In addition to this storage, I have a basement room with wine racks that has absolutely no temperature or humidity control. I keep around 50 bottles on average in these racks, which make up our normal drinking wine. I like to have a little of every varietal and region on hand for guests when they come over. We cycle our way through these wines, and replenish as necessary. But because they are generally consumed within a year or two of hitting the racks (and the temp is in the mid-high 60s on average, no light, conditions are ok), I’m not too concerned with aging them.
In beginning my research on a larger wine cooler, I first explored the notion of making my existing wine room into a passively controlled wine cellar. This would mean insulating the walls and sealing up the door frame in hope that I can maintain a consistent temperature and proper humidity without a cooling unit. It sounded like a great idea, and I read the most brilliant book ever on doing so called How and Why To Build a Wine Cellar by Richard Gold. This is a must read for anyone looking to build a wine cellar, and the amount of engineering/scientific/thermodynamic (I’m not sure what to call it, but nerdy) depth the author includes is way overkill on the issue. But alas, you don’t have to worry about the book not answering any questions you have.
Since I live in the Southern part of the country, it became clear that a passively controlled wine room was going to be difficult to achieve. The temp would likely just not get and stay to where I’d like to see it. So I began looking at a cooling unit and explored the costs and installation of one. I’m pretty handy, but this turned into a rather complex project that had several more costs adding up than I initially anticipated. Plus the thought of removing and redoing all the walls and ceiling that was already in place just didn’t sound appealing.
Another bonus that swung me towards getting a large fridge was that I had success with my previous smaller fridge. Every cork I pulled was perfect. The fridge worked so good I almost hesitated to make a change at all. But I needed room, and then a gift fell in my lap. The Costco monthly flyer arrived in the mail with a wine fridge on the front. Instantly every neuron started firing. Here’s a quick and easy solution that should also be effective. I can get a great price from Costco, for less than I was planning to pay for an isolated cooling unit alone, and with no construction. And it’s Costco, obviously a store I favor, but if it doesn’t work out, then no worries, I know I can return it with ease.
My mind was made up. I ended up not opting for the discounted Wine Enthusiast fridge that was advertised but had my heart set on a EuroCave branded fridge since other family members had luck with them in the past. And they really are the most trusted name out there. I was lucky again to find the Artevino II by EuroCave 200 bottle wine fridge at Costco.com for $2200. This was exactly the size I wanted. The EuroCave name (second label, but still). And the Costco guarantee.
I bought it, and now a few months later, I love it, but that’s a separate review you should check out if you’re in the market.
My overall take away, from loads of research and exploring many different options, is this: First buy Richard Gold’s book. It’s cheap, short and a treasure of information. Next, decide if a passive cellar can work for you. If you live in the northern part of the country and you have a basement or situation that fits the description of ideal conditions in the book, then a passive cellar is a no brainer in my opinion. If not, a full blown controlled environment is another option, albeit more expensive, but definitely desirable.
But if you need a fast, effective and rather inexpensive way to create proper storage conditions for wine, a wine fridge can do the trick. And a bonus, it’s movable.
Where do you store your wine for aging? Any tips to share on building a passive or climate controlled cellar? Let us know in the comments below.