Wine Cellar Details

Tips on wine cellar construction. July 3, 2006

I have been asked to build a wine cellar. Does anyone have recommendations as to where to go for technical and design info? My shop is near Detroit, MI. I can build the room as far as cabs, furniture, but have no idea what a wine cellar needs technically and traditionally.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor A:
Wine cellars are nice projects. I worked on a big one a few years back. What is the size? Where is it located - basement, warehouse, etc.)? Is it just storage, or will there be tasting and display?

The basics of cellaring are controlling temperature and humidity. Keeping these two steady will depend a lot on the answers to some of the questions above. Usually this means cooler temperatures and higher humidity. These will probably need to be controlled independently of the surrounding rooms.

There are preferences for using unfinished redwood for everything inside the cellar. If redwood is too pricey, western red cedar is considered a lower cost alternative. The most important thing that I learned was that there is apparently no discernible difference in how good a bottle tastes after $200. With inflation that number might be about $215 now.

From the original questioner:
This will be in the basement. The size is not yet determined but we have up to 300 square feet or maybe a little more to use. We want all the aspects of a complete cellar. I was toying with the idea of using white oak.

From contributor E:

I wouldn’t suggest using any type of cedar for wine storage. I read an article in Wine Spectator about the scent penetrating the bottles and imparting a cedar taste to the wine. I used white oak for mine and had good results.

From contributor D:
Contributor A and Contributor E both have excellent points regarding your project. Above $200, wine is usually collected and never opened and the choice of materials is very important as odors and toxins will seep into the wine over time. You need to interview your client and define their ideas on exactly what they want to achieve with their cellar.

Are they serious collectors with a sophisticated assortment or do they like to entertain and need bulk storage for parties or some combination thereof? Most wines need to be enjoyed within a short time of vintage or they loose their flavor and character so storage of drinking wines needs to reflect their tastes and choices. Corks down always and labeling is important if they have any appreciable variety. Even humidity and temp with protection from too much light. It is a nice touch to incorporate a nice place with a table surface to keep a "Wine Book" and to open wines before bringing up to serve. (You always want to test the wine before serving guests - they can go bad or be opened too soon).

Collectable wines need to have the labels visible so the client can "show off" when guests are brought down to the cellar. These are rarely drunk so they can be stored with display in mind. Some wines your client can tell you if he has any or has aspiration to purchase and they have to "mature" for a number of years before they are enjoyed. A number of good Ports are like this.

These wines need to be stored out of the way but sympathetic to toxins and long term exposure. As far as materials, stone and oak with some metal seem to be the choice of serious cellars in Europe. I recently got "lost" in a 12th century Inn in Europe so I could sneak into the wine cellar. (They are very protective of their cellars here) and it was mostly stone. The stone balances the climate and moisture while oak has low toxins and keeps its strength for years. Bottom line, interview your client and be sympathetic to his needs for now and for the future maturity of his cellar. He will love you for it and probably recommend you to friends.

From the original questioner:
I had heard not to use cedar. I figured if oak was used for the barrels it should be good for the cellar. I like the idea of masonry/stone a lot. My client would like to incorporate all of the mentioned aspects - general storage, display, chilled storage for white wine, tasting area. Is there a company that specializes in climate control systems for residential wine cellars?

From contributor M:
I would suggest picking up a copy of Wine Spectator. You'll find all kinds of companies advertising the cooling units you're looking for.

From contributor J:
We've just completed a few larger projects that included lost bids for the wine cellar portions of the projects. The customers ended up using custom wine cellar companies, no doubt found in the advertising pages of the Wine Spectator etc.

Two things really surprised me: the money the customers were willing to spend for this area and the lack of true craftsmanship in the finished product. The racks were merely stapled together, and there was no jointery at all.

The designs were simple and used primarily the same product, resized and attached to the next. The lighting was cheap 12 volt plugged into any available outlet. Understand that these were "high end" customers using reputable companies. The total amount of lumber used amounts to less than we throw away on a daily basis. I later thought of how simple it should be to target this market with a superior product and design and never look back.

From contributor C:
I recently worked on a design for enclosed wine racks. I got a couple of good ideas from I ended up doing the wine racks/cabinets out of Philippine mahogany with a very dark stain and used Antique Brass woven grilles for the doors. It was very dark, but very exotic looking as well.

From contributor R:
As the owner of a wine cellar, I can say that you have certainly gotten some good advice from the others. I would like to add two things:

On the west coast very many cellars use redwood for their racks. It stands up to humidity well, and there is no odor issue with kiln dried redwood. Up until I had a part failure, I would have strongly recommended Whisper-Cool as the premier home cellar cooling unit. When I paid for Fed-Ex shipment of the replacement part after telling them I was leaving on vacation two days hence, they delayed shipment until the next day causing it to arrive hours after I left on vacation - in the middle of one of the hottest summers I have experienced in this area. No apology, no refund of the shipping cost, no acknowledgement that they screwed up. I resolved never to buy anything from them again and to tell my story every chance I got. (Fortunately my local wine store had a unit and pulled the part out to loan to me while I was on vacation so my collection was not ruined).