What wine wants

Wine likes a stable temperature of about 55 degrees F. Below 50 degrees, wine stops maturing. Above 65 degrees, it may turn into vinegar — one reason why a rack of wine atop the refrigerator is a bad idea. Other key factors:

  • Consistency is key; a spike in temperature can ruin wine.
  • A relative humidity of about 60% is ideal. Corks dry out with less than 50% humidity; with more than 75% humidity, labels get moldy or fall off.
  • Too much light or vibration damages wine over time. Providing a stable, consistent environment is what wine storage is all about.

Storage options — wine coolers

To start, decide how much wine you’d like to store. If you’re thinking 20 to 150 bottles max, then a plug-in wine refrigerator, also known as a wine cooler, is your best bet. Wine refrigerators control temperature and humidity, and most have dual compartments for white and red wine. They come as freestanding or under-counter units.

A $500 wine cooler holds two or three cases. At the other end of the scale, a 170-bottle wine refrigerator, holding over 14 cases, costs about $2,000.

Storage options — built-ins

If you’d like to store more wine, a walk-in wine cellar might be the ticket. A wine cellar is a room dedicated to wine storage, with lots of open racks and a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment.

For about $3,000 in materials, a competent DIYer can build an 8-by-8-foot cellar that’ll store about 60 cases of wine — more than 700 bottles. That includes ready-made bottle racks, cedar paneling, wiring, a door, a cooler unit, and a humidifier.

Your chief costs will include the cooler unit ($800) and ready-made bottle racks ($62 per 44-bottle rack, or about $1,000 for an 8-by-8-foot cellar). Invest more in finish detailing, and you can have a showcase focal point.

To ensure proper humidity and temperature control, however, you should follow established guidelines for building a wine cellar, which include installing insulation and vapor barriers on walls, floors, and ceilings, and having backup battery protection for electrical equipment.

If you opt to hire a contractor, budget at least $6,000 more.

Where to locate a wine storage cellar

Wine lovers usually choose the basement as the spot for a wine cellar, with good reason. Basements have relatively stable temperatures in all seasons, low humidity fluctuations, and plenty of available space. However, basement conditions aren’t foolproof; you’ll still need a temperature- and humidity-controlled appliance or room for your wine.

The bottom line? You can build wine storage anywhere, as long as you control the storage environment.

Energy costs

A cooler unit for an 8-by-8-foot cellar costs about $10 per month to run, roughly the same as a mid-size refrigerator. Lighting costs are minimal — most of the time the light is turned off unless you opt for display lighting that’s switched on while entertaining.

Will a wine cellar save you money?

One saving you’ll experience immediately is the 10% to 20% price reduction for buying by the case instead of by the bottle.

Other than that, wine aficionados often hope that certain long-held vintages will increase in value. Check reviews and reputable vineyards for advice on young wines worth cellaring.

Will a wine cellar boost the value of your home?

Just as not everyone loves a swimming pool, not every potential buyer is an avid wine collector. Still, for an upper-end house, it’s usually a marketable asset.

“Among upscale buyers, there are more wine drinkers,” says Jeff Votaw, a broker and partner with Foundation Trust in San Jose, Calif. “A wine cellar is a plus — the nicer it is, the better.”