As you get more and more interested in finding a really good bottle, you start to think about building your own wine cellar. No matter where you live in Marin County, whether in Larkspur, San Anselmo, San Rafael, Novato, or Mill Valley, you have easy access to lots of good wine you might want to store up.
What all is involved in a wine cellar? How much will it cost? Can I do it by myself or do I need professionals to help build it? Those are some questions that come to mind as you start to contemplate whether you will actually build a wine cellar.
The term “wine cellar” is applied broadly to different things. We’ll be focusing here on wine cellars, or more broadly, wine rooms for residences and small businesses.
Some use the words “wine room” instead of wine cellar, since a cellar might connote only an underground room. Wine cellars, or wine rooms, can be installed almost anywhere in the house. So we’ll be talking about wine cellars that are not necessarily underground. Some also refer to the wine cellar as a “wine vault,” perhaps because there’s some precious stuff saved in there.
As you think about a wine cellar, you might appreciate a little background information, which you can find in the articles below. You can use them to form a better understanding of what you might be getting into. We’ll be looking at residential wine cellars, not commercial ones. The same vendors who offer home wine cellar design services also often offer commercial services, but we’ll be looking at residential wine cellars and related information.
What Are Home Wine Cellars?
Our main focus will be rooms where you can store bottles of wine over the long term. There are lots of terms thrown around, so let’s spend a little time clearing them up, for what we’ll be talking about. Some companies sell what they call stand-alone wine cellars, which are typically big cabinet-like structures that store wine. These structures are also called wine refrigerators. Wine refrigerators, also called wine coolers, come in many sizes, holding anything from a few bottles to dozens of bottles. A wine chiller is a smaller device that is used to bring a bottle of wine to the correct drinking temperature. There is sometimes some confusion or overlap, since wine refrigerators may also hold wines at certain temperatures – chilling them, in effect.
Let’s dwell a little on wine refrigerators, as some vendors offer stand alone or free-standing wine refrigerators and call them wine cellars. As you shop in Marin County, whether in San Rafael, Novato, Mill Valley, San Anselmo, or Larkspur, you’ll find plenty to consider. Wine refrigerators generate their own bits of controversy, many over the question of what the best cooling technique is.
Wine refrigerators cool by one of two methods. Compressor-based technology uses a method similar to that used in a standard refrigerator, in which the metamorphosis from liquid to gas and back again is combined with a degree of evaporation to produce cool to cold air. The other technique is thermoelectric in which two elements or devices are heated and cooled, with the heat being transferred away from the cold side. Thermoelectric wine refrigerators typically use less energy and have fewer moving parts. When you compare the two, remember that thermoelectric refrigerators can be less than efficient when the temperature is more than 80 degrees, and they cool only to about 50 degrees. They can also be less efficient at handling large numbers of bottles. Compressor-based wine coolers typically can handle more bottles and can chill a larger number of bottles.
Some point out that compressor-based refrigerators have some degree of vibration. There have been no scientific studies to prove the point, but it’s something of a commonplace that fewer vibrations are better for your wine, since there’s less chance of disturbing the sediment and more chance of keeping the wine as clear as possible. Top-line compressor-based products will often offer vibration-suppression technology.
Humidity plays an important role in wine storage – whether in a wine cellar or wine refrigerators. Wine chilling systems – standalone or as part of your wine cellar, are not the same as standard refrigerators. Wine must be stored with a relative humidity of 55% to 75%, while the standard refrigerator has a relative humidity of about 20%. The humidity is required to keep the cork moist. If the cork dries out, it contracts and allows oxygen into the wine, along with any smells that might be around. For this reason, some even recommend that you only use a wine chiller to bring your wine to the correct temperature – so that you don’t place your wine in a standard refrigerator at all.
What’s the Difference Between a Wine Cellar and a Wine Refrigerator When I’m Looking Around Marin County?
A wine refrigerator or a wine cooler is a place to keep wines handy for drinking. Wines should not be stored in a wine refrigerator for more than a year. A wine cellar is designed to be a place where wines can age over time. As you recall, some manufacturers sell standalone wine cellars. If you are considering a standalone wine cellar or buying a kit that lets you assemble a standalone wine cellar, be sure to ask if the wine cellar is designed for long-term wine storage.
Try to find out how durable your wine refrigerator is. Some have warranties of only a year, while some have slightly longer warranties that cover certain parts for up to five years. Wine refrigerators do fail. This failure is significant because one of the keys to storing and aging wine is ensuring that temperature does not fluctuate significantly. Wine stored in a failed wine refrigerator is at risk of changing temperatures drastically before you can replace the storage. Be sure to ask any vendor of standalone wine cellars about how long their warranties last, known failure rates, and whether wine can be successfully stored for the long term.
I Want to Build a Walk-In Wine Cellar in Marin County
Let’s just state again that we’re using “wine cellar” to cover both cellars, or rooms in your basement, and wine rooms, which can be anywhere in the house. You should look for the place that is already the most cool and moist – conditions that wine needs and that will help reduce your energy costs. Some additional considerations are where you will be venting your wine cellar. We’ll discuss cooling systems in a bit, but every wine cellar cooling system needs a place to vent hot air. If the exhaust is going into another room in your house, then that room will need both a fan and a vent of its own so that it can move air around the room and out of the house.
You have a number of options when creating your wine cellar – everything from do-it-yourself to plans you can find online. Custom wine cellar plans are available from a number of vendors. Many vendors will work with you on designs as part of the process of preparing a quote for you.
As you design your room, you’ll have to decide what you want it to do for you. Are you looking only for a place to store wine or do you want to be social in the space, to host tastings, for example? These considerations will obviously play into the designs you look for or end up creating with your wine cellar builder. Wine cellar size depends on the size of the collection you have and how big you want to build that collection. Often, if you can build a bit bigger than you first think, you’ll have a better fit over the long run. But don’t think you need huge spaces – wine aficionados have built wine cellars in apartments.
So What Do You Have to Do to Build a Wine Cellar in Marin County?
You’ll find some basics apply whether you are in San Rafael or Novato, Mill Valley or San Anselmo, Larkspur or Sausalito, as you build your wine cellar. Whether you do the work yourself or hire someone, start with the proper permits for your local city or area. You’ll also need to comply with state, national, and federal building codes.
Your first step is to find the space at your house for your wine cellar. It may be you are renovating an area, or you are building an addition. First, as we mentioned, look for areas that are already cool and moist. A wine cellar will have much higher humidity than the rest of your house, so the construction must take the additional humidity into account – you don’t want mold growing or any rot to set in. For this reason, the vapor barrier and insulation are particularly important.
Typically, insulation consists of either the combination of a 6 mil vapor barrier and insulation batting or spray foam insulation. When using a vapor barrier and fiberglass batting, you’ll typically have to wrap the wall studs and joists in the vapor barrier. Be sure you check the codes for the proper application of the vapor barrier – sometimes codes require that the barrier be placed on a certain side of the wine cellar, often what is called the warm, or exterior, side of the cellar. When placing the batting, be sure there are no air pockets.
As you wrap the studs and ceiling joists, you’ll want to leave enough vapor barrier material at the corners so you can overlap and tape the corners off. You’ll then need to fill any holes in the joists or studs with sealant rated for fire protection. This will reduce air movement.Spray foam insulation is more expensive, but if you use a closed cell, non-shrinking spray foam, then there is no risk of a vapor barrier being punctured by a nail, screw, or other implement as electrical or other lines are placed in the wine cellar.
Consider that your wine cellar will need electricity and possibly water, and you’ll have to know whether you need to run electric lines or water lines into the space. You may also need to install lines to allow condensation to drain out, a water line so that any devices you install can keep the area humid. Depending on the type and complexity of the cooling unit you choose, you may also need line voltage, ducting, and control wires, for example to manage alarms. You should carefully check with your wine chilling company to see what kind of supply lines and drain lines are needed. For many more complicated things, such as ducting, it’s often mandatory that licensed heating, air conditioning, and ventilation personnel install them.
Finishing the walls, floors, and ceilings requires a little more consideration than when you are finishing a bedroom, for example. Often the walls and ceiling are covered with green board, which is water-resistant drywall. This kind of drywall is used normally in kitchens and bathrooms, any place with the potential for high humidity. Wine cellar construction is a bit different from standard construction. It’s recommended that you use screws to attach the green board to the walls and ceiling.
Make sure the green board goes all the way down to the floor – sometimes there are gaps left on the assumption they will be covered by molding. In a wine cellar, the molding goes on the front of the wine racks, so the drywall must go all the way down to the ground. Obviously, this means that you should not place molding against the drywall, as this will prevent the racks from fitting flush with the wall. Again, when painting the drywall, be sure the paint extends all the way down to the floor – you don’t want to see any gaps if that particular area doesn’t happen to be covered by a wine rack.
For something more exotic than dry wall, you might decide to attach some tongue and groove wood or other material to the walls and ceiling. The tongue and groove material may be designed to complement your choices of wood, lacquer, or stain used on your wine racks. To attach the material, you will have to install marine-grade plywood on the walls or ceilings, using screws. The tongue and groove material is then attached to the marine plywood. Wine cellar ceilings can also incorporate many sophisticated looks, such as raised panels. These don’t directly affect the insulation quality in the wine cellar but are design options available.
When it comes to your floor finish and coverings, remember how much humidity will be present. Rugs and carpets are not likely to withstand humidity well. Vinyl does not last very long in high humidity because the mastic holding it to the under floor will never completely dry and the vinyl can buckle and move. Consider using common floorings like tiles, cork, or hardwood. Some wine cellar builders even offer reclaimed wood from wine barrels as an option. You can have a concrete floor, as long as it is sealed. Within the constraints placed by humidity, your choice of finishing materials is dictated by your design sense.
The door to your wine cellar is also slightly different from a standard interior door. It must be an exterior grade door, not an interior one. Seal the door on three sides with weather-stripping and install a threshold and door sweep at the bottom of the door. These steps are required to seal in the coolness and humidity you are trying to achieve in your wine cellar. Doors are offered in several materials, including wood and glass. Glass doors should be thermopaned, again to support the conditions in the wine cellar and prevent condensation.
Keep Cool In Your Marin County Wine Cellar
At the heart of your wine cellar is the wine cooling unit, so choosing the right one is a big consideration. The cooling unit maintains the air at the correct temperature for your aging wine – between 55-58 degrees. Some units also have the capacity to monitor and manage the humidity in the cellar. You’ll need to look carefully at your choices to know whether your chosen cooling system is also going monitor humidity.
Look carefully at the cooling capacity of the unit. Some units can only regulate temperatures relative to the surrounding atmosphere. For example, some units can only reduce the temperature by 30 degrees. This is important because if you live in very hot climates or you are venting to a room that does not cool off, then the unit will not be able to reach the desired temperature, will run continually and will risk freezing or premature collapse.
To demonstrate, suppose you set your wine cooling unit to 55 degrees. If you vent into a room with no air movement and no venting, that room’s temperature can rise. If it rises past 85 degrees, the cooling unit will not be able to reduce the temperature in the cellar to 55 degrees and will keep on running. Be sure to check for this kind of relative temperature behavior when you choose your unit, keeping in mind the conditions in your home.
There are three main types of cooling unit for you to consider when you shop in San Anselmo, San Rafael, Larkspur, Mill Valley, Novato, or in Fairfax or Corte Madera.
The self-contained or through-the-wall unit sits, as you might expect, in the wall of your wine cellar. It is one of the easiest to install and does not require help from professional heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) professionals. It pulls hotter air from the wine cellar and exhausts it into another room or area close to the wine cellar.
It’s important that the area that the through-the-wall cooler exhausts into has its own way of moving air through the room and venting the air out. Otherwise heat will build up in the exhaust area. Some through-the-wall units can exhaust outside, but you should ask carefully whether the unit supports this function. Also consider how hot the outside is.
If the outside rises well above the temperature you want to keep in the cellar, you may run into the relative heat limitation discussed previously. If the through-the-wall cooler is in a wall that fronts the outside, it protect it from rain and sun. Some choose not to use a through-the-wall system because they are comparatively noisy and may not match the décor of the wine cellar they are in.
A ducted unit uses one duct to send out cooler air and one duct to exhaust hotter air. It uses ducting, whether already installed in your house or installed with the cooling unit. There are limitations on how far the ducting can extend, so be sure to check if the ducts you have or install are close enough. Some prefer a ducted system because noise can be greatly reduced depending on installation, and the ducts themselves can be hidden, rather than having a presence in the room. When you buy a ducted system, be sure you know how many feet of ducting the system supports –for example, can the ducting be no longer than 25 feet to ensure proper functioning?
If you choose a split system, you will definitely need a professional to install it. In a split system, the evaporator part of the system is placed in the cellar, or nearby. The condenser part of the system, which is the noisy part of the system and the part that needs to dissipate the heat, is placed away from the cellar.
As you choose your cooling unit, ask your vendor for some statistics. Your dealer should be able to show you how much the unit can cool by dimensions and also usually by number of bottles. The vendor should also be able to show decibel measurements of the noise generated. You’ll want to look for reliable units. Remember that one of the ultimate goals of your wine cellar is to store wines so they can age with as little temperature fluctuation as possible.
Making Your Marin County Wine Cellar Beautiful
Getting the space built, renovated, insulated, wired, and at least to the bare bones takes some care, whether you are working in San Anselmo, San Rafael, Larkspur, Novato, Mill Valley, or the smaller cities of Tiburon, Corte Madera, or Fairfax. Once you’ve done that, you can have some fun deciding on furnishings.
Lighting options are pretty much unlimited in a wine cellar. Some believe that UV lighting might affect wine adversely over the long term, so some advise that it not be used in a wine cellar. Don’t be surprised if you are told to avoid UV lighting, even though there is no proof that it causes any problems. If you are going for can lighting, be sure the cans are thermally fused – also called IC rated cans. Sellers also commonly offer back lighting for racks and spotlights for end displays. You’ll want to check that the electrical power in the wine cellar can support all the lighting you decide to incorporate.
For ultimate bottle storage, you’ll use racking, or wine racks. You’ll probably be able to choose between metal or wire racks and wood racks. Wood racks – often mahogany or pine – are preferred because they don’t tend to scratch the wine bottles or mar the labels the way metal racks can. Also, metal can bend over time.
Choosing the right size rack is also important, since bottles come in different sizes and styles. Much wine comes in Bordeaux-shaped bottles, but Pinot Noir and other varietals also come in longer bottles. Universal racking can cover this contingency, but it takes more space. Also, consider how many big bottles you want to store. Do you want to keep a jeroboam of champagne or two? Oversized bottles are fun and gaining in popularity. In addition, you might have special bottles you want to show off, in which case display shelves can allow you to set off a particular bottle or two.
Individual racking for each bottle is recommended over bin racking. In a bin, the bottles rest on each other, again raising the possibility of scratching or tearing the label. If you are less concerned about these problems, you can use bin storage in your cellar. It’s really a question of how much the bottle’s appearance matters to you and whether you might sell the bottle later, in which case condition matters.
Wine cellars are not always used just to store wine. You might want to include a table and chairs for tasting, or not. Depending on the sophistication of your chilling system and whether it can supply humidity or not, you might want to install a fountain to provide moisture. Tiles, mirrors, and other decorative objects are available, so your décor can be as elaborate as you like. Remember that the air is extra moist if you choose furniture to go in your wine cellar. You can even install windows, though again, thermopanes would be needed to keep the humidity in the right state.
Green considerations apply in wine cellar construction, for example using paints on the walls and ceilings that are water-based and do not have volatile organic compounds (VOCs) Similarly, any stains or lacquers used on woods would not contain VOCs. In your timeline for building your cellar, remember to include time to air out the cellar after any painting or staining or similar activity. Not only do you not enjoy the fumes, but you also don’t want them getting into your wine at all.
If you really want to modernize your cellar organization, you can find cellar management applications. Typically, they let you enter data about a bottle such as date of purchase, number of bottles, and the like. Tasting notes and the ability to scan the label are often included. Some come with databases of material that can supply additional information about your bottle. Some allow you to create bar code labels for each of your bottles.
What If a Wine Cellar is Not Right for Me?
If you don’t want to build a cellar for any reason, you can find storage facilities that store wine in controlled conditions. These facilities will store wine for a fee. The storage facilities should be temperature and humidity controlled.
You should also look for secure access – you and storage facility personnel should be the only ones who can access your wine. Some facilities will pick up wine for you, sometimes for a fee. The fee may be waived for large loads. Storage is often in cardboard boxes with dividers keeping the wine bottles separate. Fees may be by case or by pallet.
You may have to share a pallet if you don’t store enough wine yourself. Ask the facility about picking – do you get to pick your own wine when you want? Or do employees pick for you? Some of the storage facilities also buy and sell wine.
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