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Building the Perfect Wine Cellar.

“Wine is the most civilized thing in the world.” ~Ernest Hemingway

There is little that symbolizes our sense of romance more perfectly than a bottle of wine. Wine becomes the embodiment of celebration and merriment as we raise our glasses, make our heartfelt toasts and clink our glasses!

Today, more homeowners are discovering the pleasures of storing wine in their homes. Wine cellars, once considered an indulgence, have become more accessible, convenient and practical. There are a wide variety of options available, ranging from a small under counter cooler to a walk-in wine cellar with an adjacent “grotto” tasting room. Small coolers can store 25 to 100 bottles; larger refrigerated cabinet units can hold up to 500 bottles. With a walk-in cellar the sky is the limit, and it will accommodate the wines that are ready to drink now as well as that special Napa Cabernet or French Bordeaux that will improve over years of cellaring.

For many years, my own “wine cellar” was a spare closet in the basement, a marginal solution at best. I became inspired to design and build my own real wine cellar after Robin and I attended a meeting in the Napa Valley area. We spent an extra five days touring the vineyards and sampling many wonderful wines. After seeing some incredible wine cellars and tasting rooms, our old closet in the basement no longer measured up! However, there was a 6’ by 7’ corner of my basement workshop next to the family room that I really wasn’t using to its potential . . .

I began my education on wine cellar construction. The three enemies of wine are heat, light and vibration. Of these, heat is the major concern. Most experts agree that a constant temperature of about 55 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 60 to 70% are ideal for long-term wine storage. Temperature fluctuations can push wine past the cork as it expands and suck air into the bottle as it cools, increasing the ullage and therefore the amount of oxygen. The addition of oxygen can age wine prematurely.

As I started to gather information regarding wine cellars, I mistakenly believed that a basement area would be a suitable place to site a passively cooled cellar. I read the only book that I could find on wine cellar construction and the author convinced me that it is extremely difficult to regulate the temperature in a passively cooled wine cellar. In fact he recommends insulating all walls equally, even the side facing the foundation. The book, “How and Why to Build a Wine Cellar, 3rd Edition” by Richard M. Gold, Ph.D. is available on Amazon.COM and is full of great information. I also gleaned many details for wine racking from racking suppliers on the Internet.

Here are a few of my notes on the construction of my cellar:

    Standard 2x4 or 2x6 framing is fine as long as you can fit the required insulation in the walls and ceiling. You may need to “furr-out” existing framing.

    A vapor barrier is required if refrigeration is used. The plastic should be applied to the warm side of the wall and ceiling. In this case that would the exterior of the cellar.

    The general rule of thumb is “more the better”. Minimum requirements are R-19 in the walls and R-30 in the ceiling. You can use fiberglass batts, Styrofoam or foil-face rigid insulation, sprayed foam or blown-in insulation. Use whatever works in your situation.

    I used Tyvek on the interior of the walls and ceiling, and taped the joints to further limit any migration of air.

    You can use a wide variety of wood paneling including cedar, mahogany and redwood. This is generally left without any sealer or finish so that moisture is not trapped under the finish. Drywall can be used if it is the moisture resistant green board type. It can be painted with mildew resistant latex paint.

    An exterior grade door must be installed as a cellar door. It is very important to have complete weather-stripping on the jamb and a good quality sweep on the bottom. Any glass inserts must be double-pane insulating glass.

    Tile can be used, but a concrete floor can be fine as is or stained with an opaque concrete stain.

    Lighting can really enhance the ambience of a cellar. Use dimmers to control the brightness (and the heat!). Rope lighting is easy to install and can be used for display areas.

    There are several different types of cooling systems including units that exhaust into an adjacent room and split systems that have condensing units located outside the house. We used a “WhisperCool” through wall unit and it is performing beautifully. Whatever unit you use should be sized for the cubic space that you have.

    The possibilities are numerous and range from boards on cement blocks to custom designed racking that looks like it came from the finest furniture craftsman. I used red cedar to match the paneling and left it unfinished.

Everett Pollard is president and senior designer of Northcape Design Build in Sunapee, N.H. To view pictures of his projects, visit and click on “portfolio”.