Starting Your Own Wine Cellar

Posted on: 19 June 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Tom Mann, wine enthusiast and associate director of fine wine merchants Bordeaux Index, shares some top tips on starting your own wine cellar.

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One of the great pleasures in life is having a well-stocked wine cellar. Wine enthusiasts the world over dream of having that dark, cool space under the house where their beloved liquid lies resting. Unfortunately for most of us, this is destined to be just a dream.

Why store wine? Even the most humble of wines will improve with six months in the bottle, and more than a few will respond positively to a few years ‘laying down’.  Then there is the best stuff - anything from good Bordeaux to Argentinean Malbecs.

The vast majority of any cellar tends to be red, as these are the wines that need time to evolve, integrate, and develop complexity. There is something especially satisfying about pulling a bottle from the cellar that you have nurtured and looked after.

There are many options available to someone who wishes to start their own cellar. First of all, what space do you have available, and what condition is it in? There are three absolutely crucial factors to consider:

Temperature:

This is the most important factor. The ideal temperature for storing wine is between 11-16°c. The lower the temperature, the slower the wine will evolve, and vice versa. The key here is consistency. Much better to have wines stored at a constant 17°c, than periodic peaks and troughs in temperature.

Humidity:

For long term storage, this definitely requires attention, as it serves to keep the corks moist. Excess humidity is not a problem as far as the wine inside the bottle goes, but it will cause mould in the cellar and the labels will gradually deteriorate. Too little humidity and the cork will eventually dry out and shrink, with the possibility of air getting into the bottle.

Light:

The best place to keep wine is in a cool, dark spot - it doesn’t like too much light over a long period of time.

Other factors to consider are excess vibration, and weight - if you live in a flat, remember that a case of wine weighs 17 kilos!

The ideal is a cellar underneath your house. Some of the most famous cellars, such as Glamis Castle, or the cellars of the Earl of Roseberry and Andrew Lloyd Webber, are underneath various houses or castles in the country, providing perfect conditions for long, slow development of wine.

However most of us don’t have this option, though there are a number of alternatives available which can be combined to provide an almost perfect solution.

Off-Site Storage

The first is off-site storage. There are a number of professional warehouses all over the country, such as London City Bond or Octavian, where private customers can store their wines.

Warehouses are excellent places to keep wine that is years from being ready to drink. Customers can either open their own account, or ask their merchant to store it for them. If you store in a merchant’s own reserves, this usually means a cheaper annual rate, as they get a volume discount.

At Bordeaux Index we offer competitive rates of storage, and unlike other merchants, store half cases as well as full cases of 12. Rates are £7.50 per case of 12 bottles and £3.75 per case of six bottles per year, excluding VAT. We keep private reserves and our own stock completely separate, in two different warehouses, and allow customers who have never purchased from Bordeaux Index to utilise the service, at no additional cost.

Off site storage has two advantages - 1) your wine is fully insured, and 2) you can keep the wine ‘in bond’. The Government allows you to defer paying duty and VAT on wine, provided you store it in a licensed bonded warehouse. Of course when you want to drink it, the Treasury must be paid!

Home Storage

Wine storage at home is also worth investigating, as there are several options.

If you have a flat, a wine fridge is the way forward. These come in various sizes, from 60-240 bottles, with customisable racking options. Prices start at about £1,500 (Eurocave & Liebherr are the best makers). They will keep the temperature at whatever constant level you choose, and are perfect if you also have a bonded warehouse account, enabling you to have cases that are ready for drinking delivered to your home.

Convert a room at home:

If you have the space, you could convert a room at home. The smallest practical space would be about three metres square – ideally in a basement, but if you have a big enough space, above ground is fine. Attention needs to be paid to insulation, flooring (stone is better than wood or carpet) and an air conditioner that will need to be professionally fitted. This option gives you the most flexibility, and can range from a small room to a professionally designed monster cellar designed for entertaining in as well. However this will just suck up the cash…. for obvious reasons!

Spiral cellars:

If you have a house, a possible option is to construct a spiral cellar. Typically dug under the kitchen, this is essentially a pre-fabricated concrete cellar accessed through a trapdoor. Typical capacity ranges from 1,000 to 1,900 bottles. Like a traditional cellar, this uses the ground as insulation, and airflow is maintained through two passive pipes to prevent excess humidity. Look at www.spiralcellars.com for various options.

Underground Cellar:

The last, and most fun option, needs a garden. With some suitable space, you can build your own underground cellar. It should be large enough to stand up in, and can essentially be as big or small as you like. This again uses the ground to insulate, and the brick construction enables a spacious, elegant and completely custom-built solution, with a choice of racking. This is not the cheapest option by all means, but perfect for those with a serious wine collection. Visit www.club-site.co.uk for information.

Bordeaux Index – Wine Selection Simplified

Bordeaux IndexBordeaux Index is one of the largest fine wine merchants in Europe, and prides itself on its no-nonsense, unstuffy approach to wine selection.

Passionate about only the finest, high-quality wines, Bordeaux Index has excellent contacts throughout the world, and can source the rarest, most sought-after wines. Every client receives a first-class, personalised service, from recommendations on the best wines for drinking, to in-depth market analysis and advice on investment.

Always keen to look to the future, Bordeaux Index has recently launched a revolutionary two-way trading platform - LiveTrade, a first in the world of fine wine trading. 

Visit www.bordeauxindex.com for more information, stock lists and advice on wine for drinking and investment.

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