Once you understand the proper conditions wine needs to be stored in, you know that you can't put your wine absolutely anywhere in your house. To best protect your wine and help it mature, you need a place in your home where you can maintain and monitor the conditions, ensuring that they remain at optimal levels. For some people this means adapting a space to create a wine cellar while others will need to use a wine cooling unit.
Passive Wine Cellars
If you have a place in your home which meets all of the basic conditions necessary for storing wine, or which can meet them with just a bit of rearranging, then you have what's called a "passive wine cellar" — a place which can be used as wine cellar because it already has all the inherent properties of a wine cellar without the need for additional construction, mechanical temperature regulation, etc.
Needless to say, not many people are lucky enough to have passive wine cellars but there are a couple of places in most homes which are worth investigating more closely.
Using Your Cellar as a Wine Cellar
So what about your basement? Most basements are already cool, dark, and humid — especially relative to the rest of the house. If you think you can use your basement as a passive wine cellar, you need to take some steps to deal with some common problems people encounter trying to store wines in the basement:
- Temperature: Although basements are cooler than the rest of the house, you need a space that is well away from your heating unit because the area around that can warm up quite a bit during the winter.
- Humidity: The extra humidity in basements can be good, but it's possible to have too much of a good thing. If humidity goes up above 95%, mold can start to form and this will ruin your wines quickly.
- Stability: Basements can be stable because they are basically large concrete boxes, but you still need to separate wine from vibrations sources — and this means a space well away from a washer, dryer, freezer, refrigerator, or other equipment.
- Light: Although you shouldn't have to worry about direct sunlight, you will have some sort of lighting system in your basement and lights generate heat — possibly too much heat, depending on how strong the lights are. Remember that the lights will be on every time the basement is used. Choose low-wattage bulbs, preferably compact fluorescent bulbs.
- Odors: If your basement is used as a workshop with chemicals, as a storage place for things like paint, or is simply where you put cat litter boxes, you'll need to find space that is well away from all those odor sources. You may need to consider adding some form of ventilation, just to be sure.
So, is there currently a corner of your basement that is separated by enough distance from all those sources of problems? If not, is it possible to rearrange things in your basement in order to create such a space? If so, then you can get started using it as a wine storage area.
Creating a Wine Storage Area
If you don't have a space that's ready to go for wine storage, you'll have to invest some time and/or money into creating such a space. If you have an area that is at least close to what you need, and if you have the requisite skills, then you can do some home remodeling to transform that space into wine storage. You'll have to enclose it and install a climate control unit designed for wine cellaring. These units will maintain a consistent temperature and humidity, but if you're lucky you may not need to have it running all year round.
If there is no place in your home that is suitable for such construction — a likely situation for people living in an apartment — then your best option may be to purchase a wine cooler. There are small wine coolers holding 6 to 18 bottles and which cost a couple of hundred dollars or large coolers which can hold over 200 bottles and which cost a couple of thousand dollars. You can even get "dual zone" coolers that will keep your red and white wines at different temperatures. Some of these units are designed as built-in refrigerators and others are designed as free-standing, elegant cabinets.
Monitoring Your Wine Storage Area
If you have a wine cooler or a climate control unit for your wine storage area, then these devices will monitor and adjust the temperature and humidity to ensure they remain within optimal boundaries. If you are relying on a more passive wine cellar, then you'll have to be proactive by monitoring the conditions yourself. You'll need a sensitive thermometer and a hygrometer to keep track of the humidity.
Keeping track of conditions is not something you can do sporadically or haphazardly. Initially, at least, you should check conditions several times through the day and at least once a day through all seasons. Keep a log of the temperature and humidity because this will allow you to see if there are any patterns — for example, consistently high temperatures during the day in the summer. You may find that you need to move beyond mere passive cellaring and take more deliberate steps to protect your wine.