Nowadays, your wine cellar need not be in a cellar. With basements few and far between in Hampton Roads—and the ones that do exist increasingly being filled in for flood mitigation—today’s oenophiles are turning to little used closets or small rooms to store, age, and preserve their wines.
Proper climate-controlled storage allows wine to improve in flavor, aroma, and complexity, so the best space is dark and located on an interior wall which is less subject to the damaging effects of temperature fluctuations. Controlling the temperature and humidity is critical in order to ensure that tannins do not flourish and overwhelm base notes. Ideally, the temperature should range from about 45 to 65 degrees, or 55 to 65 depending on the wine, and humidity between 50 to 70%.
Dry corks can crumble and compromise the seal leading to oxidation and spoilage, while environments that are too moist can cause mold to form on the corks while damaging the labels and making them difficult to read. Though you can simply insert a wine cooler, kit, or cabinet into your “cellar,” more and more wine enthusiasts are opting for active cooling. A knowledgeable contractor can guide you in choosing the right refrigeration system. Both through-the-wall and split systems come with their pros and cons in the areas of installation, space requirements, noise level, and cost.
Probably not a DIY project for most homeowners, a refrigerated closet with an integrated humidifier requires rigid insulation and a vapor barrier. In addition to the walls, the floor and door will need to be insulated, and the door sealed. Though French doors with glass panels may lend an Old World appeal, less light—especially if it is strong and direct—is better for your wine. So if you opt for a glass-paneled door, be sure it has a double pane, possibly tinted. For what light is necessary, low-heat bulbs, like low-voltage LEDs, inside and just outside the closet are preferable to halogen, incandescent, and fluorescent which generate more heat.
Whether you sort your bottles by region, varietal, or type, be sure they are easy to retrieve without a lot of searching. Horizontal storage, to prevent the corks from drying out while maximizing space, is generally preferable. Wines that are best drunk within a short amount of time are fine to store vertically. Purchased wine racks, custom shelving and cabinetry, and recycled wooden wine crates are all attractive and functional options for storing wine.
If you are a connoisseur, you will likely need to account for a growing collection—one that might include a magnum or two down the road—perhaps with configurable storage. And you almost certainly will want space for displaying some of your most special vintages. Vibration is another enemy of wine, so it is usually best to locate bottles away from the door. If you a serious collector with highly valuable wines, you will possibly need to consider security with locks, monitoring systems, and alarms, as well as a blanket insurance policy.
If you have the space for seating and plan to use your wine closet as a tasting room, you can create a vibe that complements the ambiance of your home or contrasts somewhat to create the feeling of a world apart. For flooring, carpet is ill-advised, as it is prone to develop mold and mildew in a high-humidity environment. Similarly, hardwood installed directly on concrete can warp or buckle—though sealed hardwood is an industry mainstay—so more stable engineered wood is likely a better choice. Other good bets for your cellar flooring include tile, cork, vinyl, brick, or stone like marble or travertine. Some people use rubber because it is durable and easy to install, but it can impart a strong odor. Foam flooring options—like the tile you may see at your gym—are excellent choices because they insulate and are moisture-resistant.
If sipping and savoring selections from a personally curated collection of wines in the comfort of your own home sounds like the most appealing way to imbibe, then creating an equally bespoke wine room or closet may need to be among your top New Year’s priorities.
Virginia Beach native and JMU graduate, Chris Ettel, is founding partner of VB Homes. Ettel serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors and is past chairman of the TBA Remodeler’s Council.