Thursday, October 15, 2009

Protecting & Preserving Fine Wine

Here's a great guest post from Paul G. Cox, the Business Development Manager at Vigilant Woodworks on wine cellars:

If you have a growing collection of wine, it may be time to think about building a wine cellar or tasting/entertainment area in your home. Some time ago the custom wine room was unusual; today more and more wine lovers are learning about wine cellar construction or contracting the work out to those who know how to do the job properly.

Wine cellars are more than a dark, cool place to stock a collection of wine bottles. Today’s custom wine cellar is a controlled environment where humidity and temperature are regulated to allow wine to correctly age without damage to corks, labels or the wine itself.

There are two styles of wine cellars. One is an area that has been particularly made to store wine in the correct environment and the other is a stand-alone system that duplicates those conditions. A stand-alone wine cellar is not as effective as a custom-built version, but some people like the aesthetics of a small cooled refrigerator over a custom wine cellar. Those who do choose a custom cellar have three basic considerations for proper creation…

Temperature Control and Venting

A wine cellar room is used to hold and age the wine in the bottle rather than keeping it at a serving temperature. (A stand-alone wine fridge is excellent for carrying wine out of the cellar to hold at serving temperatures.) Aging wine is a balance of time, temperature and the chemical reactions that happen as a outcome of the two.

Wine should be matured in conditions ranging between 55 and 65 percent humidity and a solid 55 degrees Fahrenheit, within approximately one degree. Wine stored at higher temperatures will mature quicker and wine experiences chemical reactions at higher temperatures that devalue the notes of the wine over time.

In some areas of the country, property holders with basements often realize that conditions are right for basic wine storage, but seasonal temperature and humidity variations ought to be avoided. The perfect storage solution is a custom-built or DIY-construction wine cellar with climate and humidity control using a wine cellar cooling component to maintain the temperature at a stable 55 degrees.

These units come in a variety of sizes and the dimensions of your wine room will dictate what size you need to purchase. Never select a wine cellar cooler too small for your room; you most likely will never get a accurate, optimal storage temperature and the wine cooling system will become overtaxed trying to keep up.

Wine cooling units demand proper venting, and your wine cellar construction project requires either a hole in the wall to allow venting outdoors or enough vent space to flow warm air out of the room. Check the specs of your wine cooling unit; most require a venting space at least two times as big as the wine room space itself.

Electrical power is also an issue. Custom wine cellar builders recommend a devoted power source to run a wine cellar cooling system. Those who want to use a common power source frequently find the system overloading with blown fuses and other electrical problems.

Insulation and Vapor Barriers

The wine cooling system is only part of your climate control plan for a custom wine cellar; you also need a vapor barrier made of plastic sheeting used on the “hot” side of the wall. Some people wrap the interior of the wine cellar before inserting the insulation, leaving the plastic loose so that insulation can be placed between the studs in the wall. Cover the ceiling and the walls, or your vapor barrier will be incomplete. After the barrier is put in, the insulation comes next.

Good wine cellar building needs the right kind of insulation for your walls and ceiling. For instance, if you are building a 2x6 wall, R19 insulation is recommended, but if you have a smaller wall of 2x4, R13 may be your best bet. (The “R” designation represents the heat resistance of the insulation.) Ceilings require R30. Custom wine cellar builders should not install the insulation loose without packing the material into the sections, as this decreases the insulation’s effectiveness.

The next step is to install a kind of drywall called green board, which is moisture-resistant, making it a bit more expensive than regular drywall. Install an exterior-grade door to the wine cellar and your climate control plan is complete.

Lighting and UV Exposure Control

Wine is destroyed by UV exposure, which is why the bottles are normally constructed out of dark glass. Avoid putting in fluorescent bulbs in the wine cellar room, as they give off UV radiation. Control the brightness by using recessed lighting on a dimmer and avoid shining light straight on your wine bottles for long periods of time. Some wine cellar racks are made with compartments that hide bottles from the light which can help reduce exposure, but if your bottles are stowed in clear view, try to avoid the “spotlight” effect on your bottles.

Other Concerns

Nearly any kind of flooring can be used in your custom wine cellar. If your home is big enough for a wine tasting room to complement your cellar, you may wish to give them both an identical look, but by no means use carpet and rugs in the cellar area. They simply can’t hold up to the required humidity levels without surrendering to mold. Mold growth will wreck your wine, as can any powerful odor from chemicals or cheeses. A wine cellar should be used only to hold wine; keep food in a separate area.

Constantly examine the temperature and humidity in your wine cellar with an external sensor or gauge. By no means guess that the wine cooling system will always function accurately. A quick glimpse at the external gauge can offer you early notice if the wine cooling unit is having difficulties, or if the unit is showing a wrong readout because of a bad sensor or other technical troubles.

Constructing a custom wine cellar room may require some attention to the design demands of correct wine storage, however once properly built, you may realize that your collection grows quickly; it’s simple to invest more money in wine when you know it will be held safely for maximum delight.

About Vigilant

Vigilant is a premier design/build firm for custom and specialty cabinetry and millwork, specializing in wine cellars and wine storage and display for the home and commercial markets. Check out our extensive educational resources focused on building a wine cellar on our web site,www.vigilantinc.com.