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Should I Have a Cellar? (Part 1)

2012 April 30

This is the first part of a two part article. I ended up with so much to write about on this topic, it seemed too much for just one article.

Does this sound familiar to you?

  1. It’s the weekend, let’s visit some tasting rooms.
  2. Mmm, I really like this wine.
  3. Let’s get a few bottles of it.
  4. I’m joining their wine club.
  5. Drive to the next place.
  6. Repeat 2 – 5.
  7. Next free weekend, repeat 1 – 6.

Do this a few times and most wine lovers eventually become wine collectors. It’s inevitable that when you find something you really like, you’ll buy more than just one or two bottles so you can enjoy them later. If you’re like me, you don’t plan on collecting wine; it just happens. Eventually, you’ll have enough wine to fill a small room and, with summer approaching and temperatures rising, you’ll begin to worry about storing that collection properly. After all, you have a lot invested in those liquid assets. During my time working with a wine accessories company, I heard a lot of questions from customers about wine storage and thought it might be helpful to post some of the most common questions and answers here in a FAQ.

Q: How large a wine cellar should I have?

A: That depends on many things such as space and money, but mainly, how much wine to you plan to keep. I have about 400 bottles divided between a cellar and a wine refrigerator and I think I have plenty. I have a friend with lots of disposable income who has thousands of bottles that overflow beyond his cellar and he still continues to add to it faster than he can drink it. It’s all up to your desires, however, here are a few things to consider when you’re sizing up a cellar:

  1. Your wine will expand to fill all available space. I guess you could call this Parkinson’s Law of Wine. If you make a cellar with space for 600 bottles, you will fill it and probably go beyond its capacity, because, let’s be honest, racks sitting empty don’t look very impressive.
  2. You bought wine for yourself to drink, not for your kids or relatives to inherit. If your cellar is so large that you couldn’t possible drink all of it in your lifetime—even if you drank a bottle a day—then perhaps you have too much. You are the only one who can honestly appreciate the wines you have. To someone else, it’s just wine, some valuable, others not so much. Don’t go overboard, know your limits.
  3. Your tastes will constantly change. With a smaller cellar where you turnover the wines more regularly, you have a better chance of drinking wines at their peak, whereas with a larger cellar, you’ll have to manage your inventory more diligently so as not to overlook wines that are ready to drink.

Q: If my tastes constantly change, how can I avoid buying cases of a wine that in 10 to 20 years, I’ll no longer want to drink?

A: When you first get a wine cellar, you tend to buy lots to fill up that space. That lush California Cab you tried at their tasting room was so wonderful that you bought a whole case and joined their wine club. Or maybe you read some scores on recent Bordeaux and bought a case or two of futures. Whatever the reason, you become a bit top-heavy in one particular type of wine that you later discover you don’t like so much. Let’s face it. Wines change with age and unless you’re drinking 20 year old Bordeaux regularly, you probably won’t know how those two cases of Bordeaux will taste in the future or if you’ll even like what they’ve become.

The solution is: 1) take every opportunity to taste older vintages of the styles of wine you enjoy so you’ll know what to expect down the road, either with a wine tasting group or library tastings at the winery, and 2) don’t buy too many of any one particular wine. Granted, you might kick yourself for not buying more of something that turns out great and increases in value, but you’ll also feel vindicated when you know you only have a couple more bottles of something that you no longer enjoy. As your tastes diversify, so should your cellar. Who knows? That old Bordeaux may become too valuable to drink and could fetch enough at auction to fund your new tastes.

Q: Should I turn a closet or room into a cellar, or buy a standalone wine refrigerator?

A: That depends on your needs and your space. If you have space to spare, great. If that space is in a cool basement, even better! A room or closet space in a basement that can be converted into a cellar is the ideal place to store your wine. Not only will a basement fulfill the requirements for storing wine (more on that in Part 2), it may not even need additional cooling. You’ll still need to buy racks to hold your wine, although, if you space remains dry, you could just store wine in their own cases. If you don’t have a basement, an interior room or closet may work, but you will probably need to add a cooling unit and properly insulate the space.

If you don’t have space that can be converted into a cellar, a standalone wine refrigerator may be what you need. It’s self contained and you don’t need to buy racks or a cooling unit, nor do you need to insulate. As your collection expands, you can simply add another unit or get a bigger one. Another advantage to a wine refrigerator is that if you move, your cellar moves with you. I have both a wine refrigerator and a cellar space in an old pantry with no additional cooling. The wine fridge keeps my long-term holdings and my cellar space is for wines I intend to drink in the near future.

Part 2 of this article continues with more specific wine cellar Q&A.

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