Wine Room Finish

Should wine racks be left natural, or finished (and with what)? Experienced voices chime in. June 20, 2005

I've been given the opportunity to do some research and build a wine rack in a wine cellar. Approximately 3,500 bottles will be housed in this room. There will be a fridge unit installed, and the room has been constructed in such a manner that this will be the perfect wine cellar.

Here's my question. We have done these in the past, and the client has asked that the racks be sealed for looks. However, for this one, the client wants us to finish the wine racks so that the natural smell of the mahogany that we are using does not permeate the corks of the wine, and improves the quality of wine. If we do finish it, they want us to use something that is non-toxic and organic.

Our thoughts here would be to cover us from possible mold problems and discoloration by finishing it with a true tung oil or shellac. But then we're cabinetmakers, and not finish chemists. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor G:
I'm not sure about the best finish for the rack, but I do know that the smell of the natural wood will not enter the bottle. That's a myth. Also, cork is being replaced these days with plastic seals. It’s been learned that the cork is not favorable for the wine.

From contributor S:
Why is mold your problem? If there's a problem with the room, then it is the homeowner's issue to take up with his general contractor or architect. Shellac is fine as a seal-coat, but not as a topcoat. Alcohol is a solvent for shellac.

You mentioned that if you finish, it’s going to be organic? Anything with carbon is organic, and I believe that includes all finishes. If there is a mold problem then you will need the durability of the 2k urethane to hold up to applications of Clorox or Lysol.

From contributor A:
I've been colleting and cellaring wine for over 30 years now. There is no interchange between the ambient air smell and the wine itself, much less is there an improvement in the wine to be had with natural unfinished wood.

As for the mold issue - if you have sized and selected the appropriate cooling system (much different from an air conditioner), it will maintain a constant humidity within the cellar and thus mold will not be a problem.

From contributor D:
I have finished many wine cellars in the past 20 plus years, and I have used all types of finishes from stain alone, to CV, on all types of wood. They all looked great when done, yet different. My personal favorite is oil staining the wood with no finish. It gives the rack system a more rustic tuscan or bordeauy feel.

One thing I can add is, no matter what you finish the racks with and no matter how good they look, once the bottles go in no one cares. They become a backdrop for the main attraction – the wine bottles themselves. Most people don't dust their cellars, so an absolutely smooth finish is not necessary.

From the original questioner:
I don't currently have a mold problem, and I'm simply stating that I don't want one. The room is not complete in being built yet. I'm more in reference to serviceability. We just had a different home with a 5,000 bottle wine rack in it flood due to a toilet overflow, and the wine room flooded. It did not mold and it was sealed with oil only.

I just don't want to even think about the nightmare of trying to get rid of the mold if the same thing happened to an un-sealed wine rack. Thousands of little pieces needing to have mold extracted would be a nightmare.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor P:
I would recommend getting a copy of "How and Why To Build A Wine Cellar" by Richard Gold. From all my readings on building wine cellars, he is the ultimate authority on the materials to use.

Mold can be a problem if humidity is not accurately controlled. Finishing the wood racks makes it more difficult for the mold to get established. Gold recommends two coats of spar polyurethane. I have that in my cellar and haven't had a problem; however the polyurethane gives the wood a yellowish tint.