Wine Cellar Frequently Asked Questions

Our experts have been asked many questions about wine cellars, wine racks and wine storage over the years. Here are the most popular wine storage frequently asked questions to get you started. If you still need answers,

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Planning a Wine Cellar FAQs

Why do I need a wine cellar and what are the ideal conditions for storing wine?

A: If you love wine and want to collect and age it, then a wine cellar or conditioned wine cabinet is a necessity. Wine is alive and it responds to its environment. In fact, a wine's surroundings will determine its ideal maturity date and will also impact its character when it is consumed.

There are four key elements that need to be controlled to protect your wine for extended periods of time. These elements are temperature, humidity, light and vibration.

1) Temperature: An important long-term storage factor. Temperature levels in a wine cellar must be cool and constant. The generally accepted proper wine storage temperature for storing wine is approximately 55° F or 13° Celsius, although a range of 50° to 60°F is considered acceptable. White wines prefer it as cool as 45 degrees. It is also important that there is little or no variation in this temperature over time. In general, higher temperatures make wines age faster, while cooler temperatures slow the aging process. Higher temperatures may also cause alcohol separation. When temperatures become too low, however, deposits or other suspensions may develop in the wine.

Sudden or wide fluctuations in a wine's temperature will interrupt the proper aging process. Temperature variations not only shrink and swell the cork, but they may also directly affect the organic components in the wine. Gradual fluctuations of up to 10°F between seasons will not likely damage your wine, however, more frequent fluctuations of this magnitude will negatively affect the proper aging process.

2) Humidity: For long-term wine storage, a relative humidity of about 65% at approximately 55°F is ideal, however, a range between 60% and 80% is acceptable. Wine is stored on its side so that the wine is in contact with the cork at all times, keeping the cork wet. Humidity levels in a wine cellar are not a factor for bottles that are hermetically sealed with mechanisms like a screw top.

With corked bottles, low humidity levels will dry the air-side of the cork, allowing for air leakage or capillary pull action of the wine toward the dry side of the cork. This allows oxygen to come in contact with the wine, promoting aging. High humidity levels will not harm the wine. In fact, to a true oenophile, moldy wine bottles may be an indication that the wine has been stored properly for long periods of time. Cardboard boxes will not survive in cellars with high humidity levels, and should therefore be removed from the cellar. These boxes will become soggy and structurally unsound, thus putting your wine at risk.

3) Light: Ultraviolet light causes premature aging of wines. Ultraviolet light breaks down some of the complex components in wine and may even produce unpleasant aromas. Sparkling wines are the most sensitive to light and should be stored in the darkest part of your cellar. Cellars should only be lit during periods of use and fluorescent light sources should be substituted by either low ambient incandescent or LED sources. Infrequent light exposure won't have a negative impact on your wine collection.

4) Vibration: While generally not a problem in residential wine cellars, excessive vibration can disturb a wine's sediment balance. Sediments are meant to fall out of wine and vibration could reintroduce them back into liquid form. Wine should be organized and stored away from cooling system vibrations.

Additional considerations: Wine should always be stored away from strong smelling compounds and foods. Aromatic woods such as cedar should never be used in storage racking or boxes. Strong odors can penetrate a weakened cork and can eventually change a wine's flavor.

How much wine can I store in my available space?

A: The chart below shows the approximate number of bottles of wine that will fit in a wine cellar space. For example, a 5' x 10' room with a 90" ceiling height will accommodate about 950 bottles. This number varies greatly depending on your cellar design.

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Ceiling Height

84”

90”

96”

104”

Room Dimension

Number of Bottles

5' x 5'

540

594

648

702

5' x 10'

880

968

1056

1144

10' x 10'

1400

1540

1680

1820

10' x 15'

1960

2156

2352

2548

15' x 15'

2520

2772

3024

3276

15' x 20'

3040

3344

3648

3952

20' x 20'

3580

3938

4296

4654

20' x 25'

4100

4510

4920

5330

25' x 25'

4600

5060

5520

5980

Use our Average Wine Bottle Capacity Calculator to determine how big a wine cellar you need to store your desired number of bottles.

What sized wine bottles should I account for when designing a wine cellar?

A: See our Wine Bottle Storage Charts to help you understand which bottles fit into our various wine racks.

Do I need a cooling system for my wine cellar?

A: The basements of most modern homes are too warm and dry to passively provide the ideal conditions for wine storage. In most cases, it is necessary to actively condition the environment inside the wine cellar. The most common conditioning unit on the market is a through wall system that is similar to a common room air conditioner. These units remove heat from the cellar space and blow it into a room on the other side of the wall. A workroom or utility area in your basement is ideal for this. More sophisticated ducted and ducted split cooling systems allow for more flexibility and remote heat exhaustion.

Do I need an actively conditioned wine cellar?

A: In general, actively conditioned wine cellars, those highly insulated with proper construction, are better for storing fine wines than passive wine cellars which rely on natural cooling and moisture. Proper wine storage requires constant temperature and humidity control that a passively cooled wine cellar might not always be able to deliver.

A high-quality mechanical cooling system will maintain a constant cool temperature and assist with humidity control to promote the proper aging of your wine. Learn more about the ideal conditions for storing wine.

Wine Cellar Construction FAQs

What are the construction specifications for a conditioned wine cellar?

A: The wine cellar must be properly constructed to promote proper wine storage conditions and energy efficiency and also to prevent potential damage to your home or building from potential condensation issues.

Walls: Should be 2" x 6" wood or metal frame construction. If cement or block walls are part of the design, these walls must be well insulated with vapor barrier.

Insulating Walls: R-19 minimum to R-30

Insulating the Ceiling: R-30 minimum to R-45

Vapor Barrier: 6 mil polyethylene, sealed rigid foam or blown insulation in all walls and ceilings. All joints must be well sealed and taped. If using polyethylene sheeting, the sheeting must be located between the insulation and the warm side of the wall to prevent potential condensation issues.

Sheathing: 1/2" moisture resistant green board with mildew resistant paint or a hardwoodtongue and groove wood paneling such as mahogany.

Flooring: Brick, tile, stone or wood are all acceptable flooring products for you conditioned wine space.

Cellar Door: An exterior grade insulated door with complete weather stripping and double insulated glass is a must to ensure the proper temperature and humidity levels of your wine room are sealed within the space and efficiently maintained.

What wood should I use when building a wine cellar?

A: It depends on how wet they are.

Tropical hardwoods such as mahogany are ideal for wine cellar racking. Rot and moisture resistant, these woods are also hard, giving them the strength to hold large quantities of wine. Redwood, a softwood can be used as well. Avoid using aromatic woods such as cedar or woods such as birch, cherry and oak which will hold mildew in a damp environment unless treated.

Are concrete walls acceptable for a wine cellar?

A: If your cellar is a passive one without a cooling system then you can use your concrete walls. However, if you are using an active cooling system you must insulate and install vapor barrier over all concrete and stone walls. Concrete and stone are terrible insulators and will continually pull cold air from your cellar.

Proper Wine Storage FAQs

How should a wine bottle be stored?

A: Corked wine bottles should be stored on its side, keeping the wine in constant contact with the cork. A moist cork remains swollen, preventing air from reaching the wine. This reduces the risk of premature aging through oxidation, which occurs when oxygen reaches the wine, turning it to vinegar.

How should I store screw-capped wine bottles?

A: There's no advantage to storing them horizontally as you should with corked sealed wine bottles. We recommend storing them vertically, for a couple of reasons:

  • First, it helps save valuable space leaving you room for storing more bottles of wine. Screw-capped wines have a synthetic liner that grips the rim of the bottle. Synthetic liners don't need moisture to maintain their seal and therefore do not need to be stored horizontally. Also, it is still unknowns as to whether the synthetic liners, over the course of decades, will impact the flavour of the wine.
  • Second, it's more convenient when you want to use and serve you wine. After years in a cellar, bottles stored horizontally should be turned upright roughly eight hours before they're uncorked (24 hours is better). This will ensure that any sandy deposit from long term storage sinks to the bottom. If the screw-cap wines are stored upright in the first place, there's no wait time.

Can white wine and champagne be stored in the same cellar with reds?

A: Yes! The ideal storage conditions are very similar for white and red wines. However, 55 degrees is too warm for drinking white wine and Champagne so 45 minutes in your refrigerator will be needed to get them ready to drink.

Are wine bottles in a display row being properly stored?

A: Wine bottles displayed on an angle should be raised no more than 20 degrees. This allows the wine inside the bottle to stay in contact with the cork, keeping it wet and sealed against the elements. Ambient conditions should remain at about 60% humidity and 55° F to avoid wicking of moisture from the wet cork.

How long can wine be stored?

A: In general, red wines are aging wines and whites are drinking wines. Actual maturation times for red wines depend on the type of wine and its complexity, quality, and vintage. Tannins, which come from the grape stems and skins, are the backbone of the aging process. Tannins produce a sharp, bitter taste, which over time will precipitate out of the wine allowing the other characteristics of the wine to come forth.

When stored properly, complex red wines can be stored for decades or even centuries because they usually have a higher tannin content.

Does wine need to be turned periodically to prevent the cork from drying out?

A: No, wines stored on their sides in a properly conditioned space do not require turning.

How can I tell if my wine has been improperly stored?

A: First look at the location of the wine in the bottle. The bottle curves to the neck at the shoulder. When standing, a properly stored wine will fill the bottle to half way between the shoulder and the top of the bottle. Wines that are "low in the shoulder" have experienced evaporation and oxidization though the cork. This would indicate that the wine has prematurely aged. A cork that bulges beyond the top of the bottles is another indication of premature aging. This can be felt under the capsule.

Also look for excessive sediment in the bottle. This may be an indication of improper storage.

Wine Racking FAQs

What is the difference between your Classic and Estate wine Racking?

A: Our Classic series wine racks are 77.5" high, while our Estate wine racks are 92.5" high. There is a slight difference in the product offerings within the lines.

What is the difference between your kit wine racking and custom wine racking?

A: Our ready to assemble kit racking lines consist of pre-designed items that can be combined to create a wine cellar. Even with the largest kit wine rack selection available, you are limited by their height and item offerings.

Our custom wine racking is designed for you based on the exact dimensions of your room with an endless number of design features. Custom wine racking normally costs about 40% more than a kit facsimile.

Can I mix your kit and custom racking and why would I?

A: We are the only company that allows you to mix kit and custom wine racking in your design. You may be perfectly happy with a kit cellar design, but would like a custom feature added in to make it perfect. We can do that! Be aware however that our made-to-order custom pieces might affect your lead time a little.

Are your racks assembled with screws or nails?

A: Our kit wine racks can be either screwed or nailed together. Both methods are strong, but nailing can be hidden more easily. Our custom wine racks are meant to be nailed using a pneumatic nail gun. You have options either way, just let us know and we'll accommodate your preference.

How do I touch up my finished wine racks after assembly?

A: We send a stain blending stick with our finished wine components. Use the stain stick on areas where cuts are showing.

How do I anchor my wine racks to the wall and adjacent components?

A: The simplest way to attach your racks to the wall is to drive a long 3" screw through the top, back space bar into a wall stud. You may also use a 3" angle bracket (not supplied). The best method for attaching wine racks to each other involves screwing the adjacent uprights together with a 1.25" screw at several locations (pre-drilling recommended).

How do redwood wine racks differ from your mahogany wine racks?

A: Redwood is a light, soft wood that is used in wine cellars, because of its resistance to rot and mildew in a damp cellar. However, our wood of choice, mahogany, is a hardwood that is also resistant to decay, so it is has more longevity and is less likely to dent.

Learn more about our materials and finishes

Specifications of Vigilant Wine Rack Kits

Should I be concerned by lacquer odor on my wine racking?

A: The simple answer is no. While we use very low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) finishes, there may be a slight vapor order on your finished wine racks when you open the boxes. This odor will subside quickly and will not return.

Customer Service FAQs

How do I get missing or damaged parts replaced?

A: We work diligently at ensuring your order is complete and damage free before it leaves our facility. However damage can sometimes occur during shipping. If you have any issues with your order, call us 1(888) 556-2032 or e-mail usinfo@vigilantinc.com and we'll help you resolve the issues.

How long does it take to get replacement parts?

A: It normally takes 3-5 business days to get your parts unless you would like to pay for express shipping.