As your cases of good wine grow, you start to wonder how best to manage it over time, and a wine cellar comes to mind. No matter where you live in Santa Clara County, whether in Mountain View, Santa Clara, San Jose, Sunnyvale, or Milpitas, you have easy access to lots of good wine that deserves proper aging.
It can be overwhelming to consider a wine cellar. What’s involved? How much will it cost? Can I do it by myself or do I need professionals to build it? These are some questions that come to mind. We should probably take a moment to define what we’re actually talking about. The term “wine cellar” is applied to different things. We’ll be focusing here on wine cellars, or more broadly, wine rooms. 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.
Use the articles below to get an overview of what you might need to build your wine cellar. 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 Does It Mean When They Say “Wine Cellar” in Santa Clara County?
So, the wine cellars we’ll be talking about will generally be wine rooms, where you can store bottles of wine. Let’s spend a little time also making clear what we will not be focusing on. 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.
Wine refrigerators are worth a word, even though they are not our main focus. As you shop in Santa Clara County, whether in San Jose, Sunnyvale, Milpitas, Santa Clara, or Mountain View, you’ll find plenty to consider. Wine refrigerators generate their own bits of discussion, mostly over the question of what the best cooling technology is.
Compressor-based technology uses a method similar to that used in a standard refrigerator. The technique takes advantage of the change from liquid to gas and back again and add in a degree of evaporation to produce cool to cold air. The other technique is thermoelectric in which a hot element and a cold element exist, with the heat being transferred away from the cold side. The technique is based on the Peltier effect. Thermoelectric wine refrigerators typically use less energy and have fewer moving parts. However, they 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. Compressor-based refrigerators are sometimes criticized for having vibrations due to the moving parts. 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. Vibrations could tend to disturb the sediment and thus damage the wine’s clarity. Top-line compressor-based products will often offer vibration-suppression technology.
Wine chilling systems – standalone or as part of your wine cellar, are not the same as standard refrigerators, primarily because the humidity varies significantly from the kitchen device. 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.
In Santa Clara County, What’s the Difference Between a Wine Cellar and a Wine Refrigerator?
The key difference between a wine cellar and a wine refrigerator is that the wine cellar is designed to be a place where wines can age over time. A wine refrigerator or a wine cooler stores wines at proper humidity and temperatures for a short period of time. Wines should not be stored in a wine refrigerator for more than a year. 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. It’s important to note that many wine refrigerators have warranties that last only a year. 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 Proper Wine Cellar in Santa Clara County
So, you’ve decided to build a wine cellar. To clarify, by this we mean a room for long-term wine storage, whether or not that room is in the basement.
While a wine cellar can go almost anywhere in your house, there are certain things that make for better locations. 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 chilling systems in a bit, but every wine cellar chilling 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.
Wine cellar designs are easy to find online, but you’ll want to make sure you are getting what you need. Sometimes professional help is useful. You can find do-it-yourself wine cellar building kits or you can look for wine cellar plans. 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? 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, and the space you have available. 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.
What Does Building a Wine Cellar in Santa Clara County Entail?
Whether you are in San Jose or Sunnyvale, Milpitas or Santa Clara, Mountain View or Gilroy, you’ll follow some of the same basic steps to build your wine cellar. Whether you do the work yourself or hire someone, of course you should start with the proper permits for your local city or area. You’ll also need to comply with state, national, and federal building codes.
You’ll begin by identifying the area in your house to use as the 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 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 lower the occurrence of air movement.
Spray foam 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.
Utilities play a key role; you’ll need electricity certainly and most liking water lines if they are not already run 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.
Once the wall studs and insulation are in place, you’ll need to finish the floor, ceilings, and walls, and wine cellar construction differs a bit from standard construction. Often the walls and ceiling are covered with green board, which is water-resistant drywall. This drywall is used normally in kitchens and bathrooms, or anyplace with the potential for high humidity. It’s specifically recommended that the green board is screwed into the ceilings and walls. Also, make sure the green board goes all the way down to the floor – sometimes there are gaps left on the assumption the gaps will be covered by molding. In a wine cellar, the molding goes on the front of the wine racks, so the drywall must extend all the way down to the ground. Obviously, this means that you should not place molding against the drywall, since this will prevent the racks from fitting flush with the wall. Again, when painting the drywall, be sure the paint continues 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.
If you choose something more exotic than drywall to finish the floors and ceilings, for example tongue and groove wood or other material, it will need to be installed properly. 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. The tongue and groove material may be designed to complement your choices of wood, lacquer, or stain used on your wine racks. 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.
On the floor, 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 never completely dries, leaving the vinyl can buckle and move. Common floorings are 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 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 the Cool in Your Santa Clara County Wine Cellar
Choose a cooling unit with care, since it is at the core of your wine cellar’s proper functioning. 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 cella, but by no means can all of the manage humidity. Inquire carefully on this topic.
It also pays to understand just what a cooling unit promises to do. Some units can only regulate temperatures relative to the surrounding atmosphere. This matters 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 failure. To demonstrate, suppose you set your wine cooling unit to 55 degrees. This particular unit can only reduce the temperature by 30 degrees, relative to the temperature surrounding it. 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.
Your adventures in Santa Clara, San Jose, Mountain View, Milpitas, Sunnyvale, or in Campbell or Palo Alto will uncover three main types of cooling units. The self-contained or through-the-wall unit sits in the wall of your wine cellar. 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.
Exhausting outside may be a possibility for your through-the-wall unit, but not all units allow this. 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 outside, it must be protected from rain and sun. It is one of the easiest to install and does not require help from professional heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) professionals. 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.
When you decide to use a ducted cooling system, you will need an inflow duct to send cool air to the wine cellar and an exhaust duct to direct the hot air outside. 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?
Perhaps the most complicated to install, a split system does require a licensed professional to install it. In a split system, the evaporator 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.
Always check the cooling unit’s declared capacity, no matter which kind of cooling unit you decide on. Ask your dealer for statistics for the cooling volume – you’ll need greater cooling capacity for more bottles and more space – and 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.
Setting the Scene in Your Santa Clara County Wine Cellar
Whether you are working in Santa Clara, San Jose, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Milpitas, or the smaller areas of Cupertino, Palo Alto, or Campbell, once the space is constructed, you can decorate it to your taste. Lighting and racking are two of the biggest factors. 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. There’s no proof one way or the other, but don’t be surprised to encounter this advice. 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 install. Because lighting can cause heat, it’s a good idea to consider adding a timer so that lights are not left on too long by mistake.
When it comes to storing your bottles, you’ll choose racking, also called wine racks. You’ll probably be able to choose between metal or wire racks and wood racks. Wood racks – often mahogany or pine – are often chosen because they don’t tend to scratch the wine bottles or tear 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.
You’ll find plenty of other options to decorate the space. 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. You might want to include a table and chairs for tasting, or not. Remember that the air is extra moist if you want to put furniture to go in your wine cellar – upholstery may not be the best way to go. You can even install windows, though again, thermopanes would be needed to keep the humidity in the right state.
You can be green even in your wine cellar, and it will benefit the wine by protecting it from possible infiltration of volatile chemicals. In practice, this means 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.
Manage your wine collection with available software programs if you wish. Typically, these applications 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.
I Don’t Really Want a Wine Cellar, After All
If you decide a personal wine cellar is not for you, you can find storage facilities that specialize in wine. 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 maintaining separate spaces for the wine bottles. Fees may be by case or by pallet. You may have to share a pallet if you don’t store enough wine yourself to occupy the full pallet. 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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