How to Store Wine: A Step by Step Guide - Wine Turtle

How to Store Wine: A Step by Step Guide

This post was updated on: February 1, 2020

How to Store Wine: A Step By Step Guide

A Step By Step Guide on How to Store Wine

Wine storage, while very important, is not a one size fits all process.  Wine storage needs will obviously differ between somebody who occasionally enjoys a bottle of wine and a serious wine collector who may own thousands of rare vintages who has no plans of drinking the wine.  So, how to store wine?

Needless to say, there are countless other levels of storage needs that run the entire spectrum between the occasional wine drinker and the serious wine collector.  This article will focus on wine storage for wine collectors and will go into more detail than the casual wine drinker may need. 

Along the way, however, we will provide helpful hints and tips that anybody can use to make their wine storage fit their needs the best. 

Step 1:  Assess How Many Bottles You Really Have

Prior to deciding on the perfect wine storage solution for your needs, it is vitally important that you count the number of bottles of wine you currently have and add to that the number of bottles you estimate that you will buy in the future. 

This is especially true for the serious wine collector, who may own several age-worthy bottles that should be stored resting on their sides for what could be decades.  The reason that resting the bottles on their sides is crucial is that if you do not have enough space and then you have to store the bottles standing upright, their corks could dry out, which will eventually cause the wine to spoil. 

Just imagine if you paid a large sum of money for a valuable bottle of wine, only to store it improperly and have it spoil.  Make sure you have enough space to store the bottles properly.

Now on to figuring out how much space you will need for your wine collection.  First, you should count the number of bottles that you currently own, and round that number up to the nearest 10. 

Then you will need to estimate the number of bottles you plan on purchasing and adding to your collection in the future.  It is better to estimate this number to be on the high side, to make sure you have enough space to accommodate your collection. 

You can use an equation similar to the one below to calculate your expected future purchases:

(A x T) + N

where A is the average number of bottles, you plan on buying and aging every year.  T is the average amount of time in years you plan on keeping these bottles before you sell or drink them. 

N is the number of wines you plan on buying each year to store only for a short time before you drink them.  Then round this number up to the nearest 10 and add it to the number of bottles you already have.  You can then use this number to figure out how much space you will need.

If the number you calculated is under 500 bottles, which will most likely suit the everyday average wine collector, you will need less than 25 square feet of space, assuming the storage space has a ceiling of at least nine feet high. 

If you have 500 bottles, you need at least 25 square feet, and if you have 1,000 bottles, which is more than most individuals have, you will need at least 50 square feet. 

Above this amount, a general rule of thumb is for every 500 bottles of wine you add, you should plan on adding at least 50 square feet of space for storage.

Step 2: Build Your Own Wine Cellar or Not?

Stackable Wine Racks

By using the formula above, you now have an idea of the amount of space you will need for your wine storage.  Based on this information, the next decision is whether a home cellar or a storage warehouse is better for your needs. 

The rule of thumb is if you own fewer than 500 bottles, which is probably the majority of people reading this, it really is not worth it to build your own wine cellar at home.  It would be much cheaper, easier and less time consuming to either store them in a large wine fridge or, if you are not planning on drinking your wine anytime soon, you can actually ship them to a professional wine storage warehouse instead. 

Professional storage is actually relatively economical, and would most likely be cheaper than building and maintaining a small wine cellar in your home.

Now, if you are a more serious collector and have or plan to obtain between 500 and 1,000 bottles, a home wine cellar is probably worth the price and would easily fit within most homes.  With this many bottles, the cost of shipping them to a professional warehouse and the annual cost of storage would not be worth it. 

For the most serious of collectors, who have more than 1500 bottles, a home wine cellar is probably out of the question, as the majority of them will not be able to fit inside of the average home cellar.  A large cellar such as this would prove very costly to maintain.  Just the cost of regulating the temperature in such a large cellar would likely be more than the cost of the annual professional storage fees.

What kind of costs are we talking about here?  If you choose to go with the professional storage warehouse, the fees will often be 1.5 percent or less of your collection’s value each year.  If you choose to go with building and maintaining a home cellar, the costs can vary anywhere from $300 to over $800 in added electricity costs alone, and this does not include the cost of constructing the cellar or repairs. 

There are many other factors you would need to take into consideration in making this decision.  A major advantage of building your own wine cellar is that you obviously always know where your wine is, you have very easy access to it, and you don’t have to pay for shipping or transportation, or bear the risk of an accident occurring during the transport.

A downside to storing your wine in your home wine cellar includes a moderate to high risk of wine spoilage if your temperature controls fail at some point.  You are also responsible for taking care of your wine, and it may be harder to resell bottles that were kept in your own cellar, as it would be more difficult to prove that the wine was adequately cared for during its storage. 

If you decide to use a storage warehouse to store your wine, you have the benefits of having wine experts watch over your collection, you have lower spoilage risk, as the storage facility most likely has backup controls for temperature, and it is easier to resell your wine, as you can prove the wine was well cared for.

There are also negatives to choosing this option.  First and foremost, you have to ship the wines to the location, which involves both costs and risks.  Another drawback is that you do not have easy access to your wine. 

All in all, the decision is one of personal preference, but if you are a wine collector whose primary goal is to sell your wine for a profit at a later date, then a professional storage warehouse is usually the better choice.

Step 3: You’ve Made the Decision To Store Your Wine at Home.  Now What?

So after debating the pros and cons of storing the wine yourself, or shipping it to be stored at a professional wine warehouse, you have decided to build your own wine cellar. 

This may be the perfect choice if you own a modest number of bottles, think 500 to 1,000, and you have no problem with doing the maintenance work.  Building your own home wine cellar from scratch involves only three basic steps.

1 - Get the project started

First things first, you will need to hire a contractor to get the project started.  The contractor should be someone you trust and listens to you as you explain your needs and opinions. 

You should have a budget in mind before you meet with a contractor, just so you avoid paying more than you can afford or more than is practical for your cellar.  Can you do it yourself without a contractor? 

Maybe, if you are a skilled tradesman, but usually it is not a good decision to build one yourself because of how critical it is to install the insulation and temperature controls to make sure the function properly.  Trying to cut out the contractor, you could make a mistake that eventually leads to your collection being ruined.

Now that you have talked yourself out of building the cellar yourself, your contractor will draw up the plans for your cellar.  They will figure out the best way to make sure that the room is well insulated and that there is moisture protection to guard against possible mildew growth. 

The right contractors will use materials that are free of odors, as any type of strong odor could actually impact the flavor and quality of your wine.  Light destroys wine quality, so your contractor will need to make sure to also insulate the room from all sources of light. 

A perfect cellar should have no windows, but if that is unavoidable, he will need to cover and insulate them to keep your cellar dark and free of any light sources.

2 - Install environmental controls

Perhaps the most important step in building your wine cellar is the next step, which is the installation of your cellar’s environmental controls.  For the most part, it is generally a better idea to install temperature controls in your wine cellar than to simply rely on the cellar’s natural temperature to keep your bottles at the perfect temperature. 

As it is very unlikely that you would build your cellar well underground, your cellar will most definitely fluctuate in temperature without controls, and this fluctuation will damage your collection over time. 

Humidity must also be controlled, though higher humidity is better than low humidity. To store your wine in the perfect atmosphere, the temperature should be kept at a steady 55 degrees with a 70 percent relative humidity.  As such, you will need a cooling unit and a humidifier in your wine cellar to maintain these conditions.  You should also have a backup plan as to what you plan to do in the case of a power outage or equipment failure. 

Short power outages or equipment failures that can be resolved in a short period of time will not damage your collection, so you should just make sure that your cooler has parts available, and that you maybe even keep a small portable generator handy, just in case of a prolonged power outage.

3 - Organize your cellar

Finally, we are on to step four, which will be the most fun part of the entire wine cellar building process.  This is the step where you get to organize your wine cellar.  The amount of organization needed is directly proportional to the number of bottles you own.  As with many things in life, a great organization can save you from many problems down the road. 

In this case, if you organize your cellar and keep it that way, you should not have the problem of losing valuable bottles when you need to find them.  If you do not know how your wine is organized, in an attempt to find a particular bottle, you will unnecessarily disturb other bottles in your search. 

Perhaps the best way to organize your cellar is to keep the bottles that you are ready to drink in the near future closer to the door.  Then put bottles that will need another five years of aging in the middle of the cellar. 

Finally, you should put bottles than need even a longer amount of time, over five years as far away from the door as possible.  By doing this, you will leave the bottles you have that need to age undisturbed, and you will be able to easily find a bottle that you are ready to drink.

If you do not have the time, or knowledge to do this organization yourself, you can actually enlist the help of a wine cellar organization expert.  

Yes, they do exist!  This expert can help you organize your wine collection by region, varietal, and even vintage.  The expert will assist you in deciding which of these categories matter the most to you and will give you valuable tips on where to store these bottles based on the space and cellar that you have just constructed.

Even the best-planned organization of a wine cellar becomes challenged as you add new bottles to your collection.  Your wine cellar organization expert can actually provide you with a barcode system, which will allow you to keep track of your bottles.

So, given all of these facts, how much will a homemade wine cellar cost, once you have completed the above steps?  You can expect to pay anywhere from $15,000 and up, and this doesn’t include the maintenance costs or the organizational costs.  If you don’t have this kind of money to spend, then professional wine storage may be the route for you to go.

Step 4: Professional Storage

For a collector who does not want to be bothered with the details of building and maintaining their own wine cellar, or who doesn’t have the upfront costs of building one, professional wine storage is a decent option to choose.

While at first glance, the storage fees for some wine warehouses may appear to be high, they are still typically more cost-effective than building your own wine cellar.  Many professional wine storage options typically cost less than 1.5 percent of the total value of your collection. 

For example, every bottle you store costs about $0.39 every month, so by doing some simple math calculations, you can see that if you have 100 bottles, it will cost you about $39 per month in storage fees. 

To put this in perspective, a small wine cellar in your home that requires a medium sized air conditioner would increase your monthly electric bill by over $70 per month.  It is for this reason that many wine collectors choose to go with the professional wine storage option.

Now that you have made the decision to use a warehouse to store your wine, what is the next step?

After choosing the warehouse that you want to store your wine collection at, you will need to ship it there.  A full-service storage company will inspect, inventory and then store your wine one they receive it. 

Some warehouses even offer a service in which they send a van or a truck equipped with a cooling unit that will keep your collection at an ideal temperature throughout its journey to the warehouse. If your warehouse does not provide this service, then you need to know how to properly ship your wine.

Your wine should be packed into individually wrapped foam holders, and then placed tightly into a sealed box.  You should never ship during the high heat of summer or the cold of winter.  Choose Spring or Autumn for the best shipping conditions.  This will ensure your wine arrives at the warehouse in the best condition possible.

Most wine storage warehouses will ship bottles back to you at your request, so if you have a special occasion, you can request them to ship a bottle back at a certain date.  The warehouses also let you sell your bottles directly through the warehouse, which saves you the hassle of shipping the wine to your buyers.

Step 5: If You Don’t Want to Build a Cellar, and You Don’t Want to Use a Warehouse

wine fridge

If all of the above discussion has left your head spinning and wondering why you began a wine collection in the first place, then a wine fridge may be the option that is best for you. 

Wine fridges are excellent and economical choices for collectors who have a relatively small number of wines that are ready to drink.  These wine fridges keep wine bottles at a perfect temperature, just by simply plugging the fridge in. 

There are even some wine fridges available that have dual zones, in which you can store some wine at a cooler temperature to serve, and keep others at the optimal 55 degrees to store. 

The wine fridge does not suit wine that is intended to age for the long-term as well as a wine cellar or professional storage does.  As mentioned above, humidity is a very important factor to aging, and most wine fridges lack the ideal humidity conditions that are vital for this aging.

A major selling point of a wine fridge is that it allows you to store your drinkable wines in an easily accessed location.  This way, your younger drinkable wines are always available to serve at home.  You can then use the professional wine storage warehouse option to store your wines that need to age long term and require the proper environment to do so.

In Conclusion

We have discussed in depth the three main ways for a wine collector to store his or her wine: the homemade wine cellar, professional wine warehouse storage, and the wine fridge.  Each option has its pros and cons and choosing one will depend on the type of collection you have. 

The best option if you have several age-worthy valuable bottles would be to use professional storage, for the reasons mentioned above.  If you enjoy drinking your wines and do not have an absurdly large collection, the wine fridge or small home wine cellar should do the trick.  If you have a large collection, you can utilize all three options, if need be.

When it comes to storage, it is the safety of your wine that should always be the top priority.  Not taking the proper care will end up harming your most valuable wines.  Treat your best wines with the care they deserve.  You will rest easier doing so.

About the Author

Although not having any formal training in wine, Tim has developed an irrefutable love of wine and interest in anything related to it ever since he was a little kid. Coming from a family of wine lovers, it was from a young age that he got exposed to wine and the culture that goes with it and has been addicted ever since. Having traveled to dozens of wine regions across the world including those in France, Italy, California, Australia, and South Africa and tasted a large selection of their wines, it is with great joy that he hopes to share those experiences here and take you along on the journey.

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