Creating the perfect wine cellar

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Changes that come with fall and winter weather may lead us to spend more time indoors; we notice the projects that could use some tinkering in the house or additions that might enhance how we enjoy our homes and entertain in them. With the holidays approaching, there is usually an increased interest in changing our family room furniture or rearranging the extra room to accommodate a new interest or need.

When I took a look at my house one year around this time, I noticed how many different areas of the house were occupied by wine bottle racks. There was a wine-nook in the formal room and a lovely wine collection in the dining room; my everyday wines were organized near the kitchen nook, and that didn’t even count the stashes of wine I had in closets in cool, consistent locations. And so during a particularly stormy day as I quaffed a glass of Barbera, I realized the benefit of gathering all the wine bottles into one organized and consistently temperate location. A project was born–my very own wine cellar. Could I make it work?

We Americans have been into wine for only a few hundred years, yet we admire the wine cellars we observe throughout the estates of France, Italy, Germany, England and beyond. Many of those multi-generational family estates have had their wine collections protected in cellars for a thousand years or more. The cellars were made to resist all elements of weather, war, pestilence and looting, and often held valued treasures of art, heirlooms and architecture. Today many of these cellars are pristine, complete with each family’s unique wine story accompanied by heroic tales of survival through some of the world’s worst calamities and atrocities. When we visit these old world cellars, we seem to travel through time and see that wine has always been and will always be a signature of who we are.

Amazing stories of family pride and perseverance in the wine industry are chronicled in the documentary Somm: Into the Bottle by Jason Wise. The film explores the “where” of wine and visits cellars not available to the general tourist, in regions of the world where wars were fought, battles were won and lost, where the caves and cellars stood the test of the human condition and contain the rarest wines of the world. Some hold the few bottles left in existence of a varietal of that region that still exhibit its extraordinary character. But how? The cellars of these regions were so perfectly maintained that actively growing mushrooms are thriving among the wine bottles. The existence of the mushrooms proves the presence of balance, a microclimate within the wine cellar.

We don’t all have ready access to a chateau; we can nevertheless be mindful of where we choose to collect our wines at home. Whether you have a few dozen of your favorites or enough cases of wine to consider them furniture, there are some keys to great cellaring.

The perfect cellar has a rotation of wine for immediate use and long-term storage. A rack system makes it easier to separate drinkables, purchased to enjoy with 18 to 24 months; laid down wines, for consumption after 24-plus months; and aging wines, which you might hold from 3 to 20 years, depending on vintage.

Wine bottles, like people, like to be comfortable without much change in temperature. Keeping the cellar consistent in temperature, light and moisture can provide the best conditions for keeping your wine.

Get spirited
Invest in a few select spirits to offer folks who prefer a more robust evening aperitif. Since it’s known to be the ultimate offering to a guest, why not keep a special bottle of cognac or absinthe in your collection?

Make room
By adding a small prep table, you can inspect and open your selection and even sample before presenting it to your guests. Adding two to four small bar stools invites your guests into your cellar experience at home.

Various configurations can create a desirable wine storage area. A contractor will be extremely knowledgeable if you’re considering any sub-floor stairs, insulation, moisture control, refrigeration and racking. Many of the new designs can even be built with independent temperature controls to make a snazzy home for your wine bottles.

At first, after I inventoried my red wines, white wines and drinkables versus aging, I converted an interior linen closet into a pretty nice wine cellar that was accessible and organized by region and varietal. When I outgrew the linen closet, I set my sights on a pre-fab insulated storage shed off the garage in an ever-cool area of the property. I’m still working on that one, so I’ll keep you posted!

Happy Thanksgiving, and may you enjoy all blessings with thankful hearts this holiday season. ■

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