Your growing wine collection is really making you think you need to give the storage it deserves so it can age properly. You think a wine cellar might be in your future. No matter where you live in Sonoma County, whether in Windsor, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Petaluma, or Healdsburg, you have easy access to lots of good wine. But the thought of a wine cellar can be daunting- what all is involved in a wine cellar? Can I do it by myself or do I need professionals to help build it? How much will it cost?
The term “wine cellar” is applied loosely to different things. We’ll be focusing here on wine cellars, or more broadly, wine rooms. Some use the term “wine room” instead of wine cellar, since a cellar might imply 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 for background information and 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 Do They Mean When They Talk About Wine Cellars in Sonoma County?
Let’s spend a little time clearing up what we are and are not 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.
It’s worth spending a few minutes on wine refrigerator, even though they are not our primary focus. As you shop in Sonoma County, whether in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Healdsburg, Rohnert Park, or Windsor, you’ll find wine refrigerators cause a little controversy over which is the best type. There are two main types of cooling used. Compressor-based technology uses a method similar to that used in a kitchen refrigerator, in which the change from liquid to gas and back again is combined with evaporation to produce cold air. The other technique is thermoelectric, in which there is a hot element and cold element, with the heat being transferred away from the cold side. Thermoelectric wine refrigerators generally 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 chill a larger number of bottles than thermoelectric refrigerators. Compressor-based wine coolers or wine refrigerators are sometimes criticized for having vibrations due to the moving parts. There have been no scientific studies to prove it, 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 maintaining the wine’s clarity. Top-line compressor-based products will often offer vibration-suppression technology.
Wine chilling systems, no matter where they are used, are not the same as standard refrigerators, with the key difference being humidity. 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.
I’m Looking in Sonoma County, But Different Things Seem to Have the Same Name
Terms are tossed about, but the difference between a wine cellar and wine refrigerator lies in their ability to store wine over a period of aging or not. A wine cellar is designed to be a place where wines can age over time. 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.
You will come across standalone wine refrigerators that are sold as wine cellars. You can also get kits that let you assemble standalone wine cellars. If you are considering these standalone wine cellar, also know as free-standing wine cellars, be sure to ask if the wine cellar is designed for long-term wine storage. 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. 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. 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.
Building a Proper Wine Cellar in Sonoma County
Location, location, location – where should your wine cellar go? As we recall that we are using “wine cellar” to mean any room for storing wine, a wine cellar can go anywhere in your 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. It’s also important to have a good venting option. 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 plans can be found online, and some do-it-yourself kits include designs as well. Custom wine cellar plans are available from a number of vendors. Most vendors will work with you on designs as part of preparing a quote for you. As you design your room, you’ll have to decide what you want to use it for. 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 your space, partly, and also on the collection you have and how big you want to make that collection. Often, if you can build a bit bigger than you first consider, 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 Sonoma County Require?
Whether you are in Santa Rosa or Petaluma, Healdsburg or Rohnert Park, Windsor or Sebastopol, the steps to create a wine cellar are the same. Start with the proper permits required by your city or local region whether you do the work yourself or hire someone. You’ll also need to comply with state, national, and federal building codes.
It may be you are renovating an area in your house, or you are building an addition to the home. 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 to prevent mold or rotting. For this reason, the vapor barrier and insulation are particularly important. Typically, insulation consists of either spray foam insulation or the combination of a 6 mil vapor barrier and insulation batting. When using a vapor barrier and fiberglass batting, you’ll 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. When placing the batting, be sure there are no cavities for air. 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 to decrease air movement. Use fire-resistant sealant. 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.
Determine whether you need to add utilities or if you have support for all the machines you will be adding – you will need at least electricity and probably water lines. 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.
Cover the walls and ceilings with green board. This kind of drywall is used normally in kitchens and bathrooms, or anyplace with the potential for high humidity. Use screws, not nails, to attach the green board. Make sure the green board goes all the way down to the floor. In other types of construction, workers sometimes leave gaps between the drywall and floor on the assumption the gaps will be covered by molding. In a wine cellar, the molding is applied to the front of the wine racks, so the drywall must go all the way down to the ground. Clearly, this means that you should not place any 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.
You may choose to install something more decorative, such as tongue and groove material on your walls and ceiling, instead of drywall. To do so, 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.
Humidity places a part in your choice of floor covering. Rugs and carpets don’t withstand humidity well. Vinyl does not last very long in high humidity because the material holding it to the under floor will never completely dry. The vinyl can then 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.
Similar constraints apply when you choose the door. Though it can meld function and design, 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.
Keeping Your Sonoma County Wine Cellar Cool
At the heart of your wine cellar, 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. Not all units can supply extra humidity if it is lacking, so be sure to enquire on this point.
You also need to pay attention to what the cooling unit promises to deliver. 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.
When you shop in Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Windsor, Healdsburg, Petaluma, or in Cotati or Sonoma, you will come across three main types of cooling units. The self-contained or through-the-wall unit sits in a hole carved out for it 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.
The through-the-wall cooling unit has some key venting requirements. It’s important that the space 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. If the through-the-wall cooler is outside, it must be protected from rain and sun. When considering a through-the-wall unit, consider how hot it can get outside your house. 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. 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 sophisticated option is the split system. A split system does require a licensed 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.
A ducted unit is also relatively sophisticated, using ducts to send air into and out of the cellar. You’ll 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?
Any cooling unit will come with different capacities – ask the vendor for the specifications that indicate what size room the unit can cool. Some vendors can also provide the unit’s cooling capacity in terms of how many bottles it can cool. You will also probably want to ask about 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 Stage in Your Sonoma County Wine Cellar
After you’ve done the hard work of getting studs and ceilings in, and utility lines set, whether you are working in Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Windsor, Petaluma, Healdsburg, or the smaller areas of Cloverdale, Sonoma, or Cotati, you can have some fun deciding on furnishings.
Lighting gives you a way to set the mood in your cellar and highlight some of your collection. 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 incorporate. Consider a timer, since lights are a heat source and you wouldn’t want them left on inadvertently.
When it comes to the wine racks, your vendor will probably offer a choice 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 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, but bins can accommodate more bottles in less space.
Vendors offer many options for decorating your wine cellar. 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, which you might want to do if you are using the cellar as a tasting room, too. You can even install windows, though again, thermopanes would be needed to keep the humidity in the right state.
Green building has come to wine cellars, primarily in the form of 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.
Software programs both commercial and open source allow you to manage your cellar. 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.
A Wine Cellar Isn’t for Me After All
When a wine cellar is not a fit for you for whatever reason, you can also find storage facilities that store 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 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.
Read moreRead less