Wineloon's seven steps to the perfect wine cellar
After putting up with builders hanging around my house, generally messing the place up, taking too long and scratching their arses a lot for about 5 months our house extension is just about done.
It's nothing too grand, a single storey one room extension into the garden so we have somewhere to keep the mountains of kids toys we have accumulated over the last 6 years.
There are two other benefits.
Firstly I can watch Sky Sports in piece while the kids watch endless cartoons in the other room (thanks Sky Q).
Secondly, and hence why I am writing about this on Wineloon, I now have a proper cellar under the new extension. Woo hoo! Weighing in at 6 x 4m in size, it has the potential to hold more bottles than even a wine buying obsessive like me can hope to acquire.
Here it is with a few bottles to get started;
Since last Friday when the builders finally put up the wine racks I have been trying to figure how to manage the space. So I thought I'd set out what I have identified as the key considerations for setting up a home cellar on the basis that it might be of use to anyone looking to do the same.
Furthermore some of the most interesting points that I have picked up are not just about how to physically manage the space but what wine I have accumulated in multiple bonded warehouse accounts over the years and what that means for my wine consumption and purchasing going forward. I therefore have some suggestions for buying strategies should you be looking to get your hands on some wine to keep for drinking in the future.
Storing the bottles
I am not exactly sure how many bottles I own, they are scattered across about half a dozen wine merchant accounts sitting in bond somewhere. My wife keeps asking me how many I own and not wishing to lie to her I feel most comfortable with the current position, which is that I don't know. This means I can continue to say I don't know when she asks before quickly changing the subject.
However now that I plan to take them out of bond and stick them in the cellar I need to at least guess so I can buy an appropriate amount of rack space. My best guess is that I have more than 500 and less than 1000, so I have decided to buy enough racks for just over 1000 bottles to start with and I can always increase this later. I don't really want to have much more than 1000 at any point as I think this offers ample choice don't you? Anymore and you risk not drinking them in time.
The racks I went for were from Wineware. I did a fair bit of research and they seemed to be the best mix of flexibility and value for money. I was able to buy racks for over 1000 bottles using their bespoke online tool to fit with my walls and to fit down the relatively small trapdoor leading to the cellar. The cost was just over £1 per bottle which I thought was pretty good value.
Controlling cellar conditions
It is fairly well known that ageing wine requires relatively low and constant temperatures. Ideally 12-14C with movement of a few degrees either side acceptable. Quite a bit more if it is lower (as long as it doesn't freeze) but 15C is probably the upper limit before issues can arise with the wine.
I have not installed a temperature control system but I think the insulation offered by the cellar being partially underground and the thick walls mean it should be relatively constant and cooler than room temperature. There are also air bricks on two wall so that the ventilation and circulation of air should not be an issue. I have bought a digital thermometer which measures temperature and humidity. I will monitor the cellar conditions over the next year and based on the results I can then decide whether I need to invest in some sort of temperature control system. For a cellar this size this is likely to cost about £3-4K plus fitting costs so if it can be avoided I'd like to do so.
Wine also doesn't like direct light but my cellar is fully enclosed bar the trapdoor so this shouldn't be an issue for me.
Managing what is in the cellar
With this much wine, some sort of logging system is essential otherwise you risk spending more time searching for wine you may already have drunk than you do actually drinking the stuff.
Again, I looked into a few options and the best I could find was Cellartracker. This is controlled using an app on your phone or tablet, much like Spotify. Once you have logged all the wine in the cellar you can scroll through your wines before deciding what to drink. It does take a while to log the wine. This is easier if it has a barcode as it can be scanned rather than manually searching for the wine but most of my bottles don't have bar codes. The ones with car codes tend to be from larger producers.
Once logged you can read reviews, suggested drinking dates, etc. You can also make your own comments as you make your way through a case which I think will be interesting over time as you track a wine's development.
Another benefit is you can monitor wines in different locations, be it in bond or in another cellar. This works well for me as I have a Eurocave in the kitchen so I can manage the flow of wine from the cellar (for ageing) to the Eurocave which I keep at drinking temperature.
It's a free app and I was pretty impressed, I'd highly recommend it even for smaller cellars or wine collections held in bond. I would have started using it before now to monitor my in bond collection in hindsight.
You can probably do it on CellarTracker but what I haven't done is to try to specify where each bottle is located in the cellar. Instead I have allocated areas for different regions, to start with; Bordeaux, Burgundy, rest of France, rest of Europe and new world. As I take out all of my in bond bottles I may have to rethink this depending on how it works out.
Seven steps to the perfect cellar
Now that I have started to see my collection, I now realise I have an unbalanced collection, too much Bordeaux and Burgundy. Now I love them both but I don't drink that much of either that regularly. In my head they are still special occasion wines. Going forward I will drink them more often (especially Burgundy) and buy less of them in favour of other regions I enjoy more. I specifically will look to redirect future buys towards Northern Rhone, Northern Italy, Loire and Portugal.
With this in mind I have set myself a few rules for purchasing. In hindsight I wish I'd done this earlier, so maybe these will be of use to those of you looking to start a cellar.
Don't buy any more cases of twelve. Six is plenty and two six packs of two different wines is much more interesting and rewarding. Even if one is better than the other you will learn more and who knows your tastes may change anyway.
Where possible try to buy across a favourite producer's range, that way you'll learn about differences in terroir.
Don't buy the same producer year on year, unless you risk losing a valuable rare allocation! Much more interesting to experience different producer styles, but stick to those held in high regard. When you have tried a good range of producers pick your favourites and explore their ranges (see 2 above)
Only buy good vintages, there are enough of them, stock up if you are feeling flush. I'd much rather have 4 cases of 2010 Bordeaux than 1 each of '10, '11, '12, '13. Also look at other regions as an alternative to your favoured regions when they have a poor vintage. Following the good vintages means you will have quality and range in your cellar.
Look at buying the best wines from lesser regions rather than average wines from more established ones. They will be better value and more interesting. This will also give your collection more breadth.
Buy wine which has some personal meaning to you, like those from estates you have visited and enjoyed. Think of the fun you'll have reminiscing about them in years to come. You'll probably bore your friends to tears in doing so but who cares. Same applies to special years in your life like the year you got married or had your kids. Buy some nice cases from these vintages which you can drink to celebrate these personal events over the years.
Buy quality every time. There's no point in laying down average wine for 10 years and then wondering why you bothered when you finally drink it. Buy less of the good stuff rather than a whole case of average stuff. You'll savour it rather than try to get through it before it gets over the hill. This is where tasting is important. Where possible try before you buy. Get out and go to as many tastings as you can.
So there you have it, my seven steps to the perfect cellar based on my own lessons learned. I hope they help you on your wine buying journey. Good luck and as The Specials once sang "enjoy yourself, it's later than you think".