Designing Spaces for Wine Storage

Remember when designing wine storage simply meant a lattice rack on the back of an island or, heaven forbid, placing a rack in the hot spot above the refrigerator? Today, the buying, storing and tasting of wine has become a passion for many of our clients. Because of this, we have a great opportunity to broaden our design expertise in this direction.

First, we need a basic understanding of what it takes to store wine properly. Next, we must define our clients' commitment to personal wine storage and establish parameters. Finally, we need to apply our experience in space planning and our understanding of the products and materials to the available space to create the ideal solution.

As in other aspects of our design work, teaming with experts in the wine storage field can be a chance to learn and do a better job for'
our clients.

While wine preferences and buying are more an art, wine storage particularly long-term is more a science. The bottom line is that good wine that is stored properly increases in value and improves in taste, while good or poor wine that is not stored properly will lose all value and will not even be drinkable. From authorities, we learned that the two most critical issues in the storage of fine wine temperature and humidity rarely come automatically. In addition to these, lighting (including sunlight), air circulation and vibration are considerations.

Although typically, red wine is consumed at room temperature and white wine is served chilled, the ideal storage temperature for both is 55'F, with minimum fluctuation in temperature being critical. Changes in temperature can ruin wine by causing increased ullage (air or volume of gas in the bottle). Too high a temperature can speed up the oxygenation process and damage the wine.

Most authorities say that a 75% humidity is ideal. Humidity over 80% will cause mold and decomposition of labels. Conversely, a lack of humidity will evaporate wine through the cork, causing increased ullage, eventually ruining the wine.

Lighting, particularly intense light or sunlight, can impact temperature and should be controlled/ adjustable. Air circulation will impact the maintenance of steady temperature and humidity; it is usually kept to a minimum and always controlled and considered in the storage equation. Vibration, as caused by a nearby motor, must also be kept to a minimum to allow the natural aging process to occur. In this environment, the wine must be stored on its side to keep the cork moist.

Design elements
Storage options will vary, depending on your clients' goals. Among the factors to be considered are whether the need is for long-term or short-term storage, volume of storage required, and the amount of space and money a client wishes to commit to wine storage. It's estimated that over 95% of all U.S. retail wine purchases are consumed within 24 hours, which suggests that custom long-term storage would be appropriate for only a small number of clients.

For many clients, a small wine cooler in the kitchen is more than enough to store their purchase for the evening or upcoming weekend. Others may be interested in acquiring the sophistication to hold their own in a conversation where fine wine is discussed or served. Clients who have interest in the wine culture are likely to expand their collections and storage needs with time. Those truly immersed in the wine experience will have a greater commitment to the storage of their current and future wines.

Once the interest and need has been defined, the next step is to identify the amount of space needed and/or available and, as always, to determine a budget range. With this information, you are ready to explore potential design options.

Recognizing the need for controlled temperature and humidity, suitable spots for wine storage will involve refrigeration/cooling appliances or underground spaces. The location and method of construction and climate control will influence the selection of insulation and finish materials for walls, doors, flooring, lighting and racking.

Underground wine storage or cellars have the advantage of maintaining constant temperature in the ideal range without refrigeration. Down 20 feet, temperature changes are less than 2'F +/- regardless of seasonal changes. This is best accomplished when two or three of the cellar walls are in direct contact with the ground; the thicker the walls, the better the insulation.

Obviously, this is not always possible, desirable or convenient, and a variety of climate control options exist. Specialized refrigeration equipment is available for custom spaces to control temperature and humidity. Self-contained, pre-built refrigerated cellars can also be purchased. Some of these may include alarm systems and back-up generators in case of power outages.

While locating a cellar in a remote location offers security benefits, refrigerated spaces can be located nearer the kitchen, dining room or butler's pantry for convenience to tasting or drinking, if space allows. These are ideal locations for single or multiple wine cooling units. At 24" depth, these units can be worked nicely into a design, and they eliminate the concern that experts have regarding temperature fluctuations.

My office worked with one client who opted for a commercial refrigeration unit to chill an entire pantry and convert it to wine storage. The need to maintain an undisturbed atmosphere and security called for a locking door, and the racks and surfaces had to be converted to mold-resistant materials.'

With regard to location of storage, experts remind us that because of excessive heat or temperature changes, the attic and garage can be among the worst spots for long-term storage.

Once the location and method for climate control have been determined, construction and finish materials must be selected. Both a vapor barrier and insulation must be installed if a cooling unit is installed.

The interior walls and ceiling must be covered by a material resistant to mold. Most common are cedar or redwood, with pine requiring multiple coats of polyurethane to resist mold. Redwood has added appeal in that it has no odor to seep into the wine. Stone and granite are also used for walls, and create a different mood for the space. Exterior doors must be used to seal the cool in, and often glass panels are part of the door, provided light into the cellar can be controlled.'

All types of flooring except carpet are used in cellars, and lighting must be chosen that will minimize heat generation. The racking systems are most often redwood for the reasons mentioned, and they may be combined with glass, tiles or metal for visual impact. These additions can add to maintenance issues, along with strengthening the design theme, so they should be used with care.

Tasting time
The selecting and storing of fine wines leads ultimately to the tasting, and areas in or outside the wine cellar for tasting are an important and fun part of the design of the wine space. Because the wine storage is maintained at temperature and humidity levels that are great for wine but uncomfortable for us warm-blooded humans, walk-in cellars will require a separate tasting space.'

If refrigerated appliances are used for the wine storage, the two designated spaces may be combined. When the wine storage has been planned near the kitchen or dining spaces, tasting can easily be conducted around the same area.

Wherever it is planned, a tasting space must include storage for many glasses, as each type of wine has its own glass and in a tasting, each person is given one glass per wine tasted. In addition, a space is needed to allow red wines to stand upright prior to serving and to be opened and rest or oxygenate for a short time before drinking.'

Decanters and concentrated intense light at eye level, such as a candle, should be part of an area for decanting, as the wine should be poured slowly with the light behind it to separate the sediment from the drinkable portion of the wine.'

In addition, there should be storage for crackers and cheese or other nibbles that help cleanse the palate between wines, and general storage for equipment and utensils. An ideal addition would be a dishwasher for all of those glasses. Finally, a table or place to set out all of the glasses for a tasting and a spot for tasters to sit or stand finishes the area.

Attesting to the growing interest in fine wines, there are several companies that provide numerous options for assistance and products to create the ideal wine cellar and wine tasting spaces. It was actually a client who introduced our office to these, as well as a number of published resources, both a great way to learn more about this.'

Following is a list of some of our resources: How to Build a Wine Cellar, by Richard A.M. Gold; Apex Wine Cellars, Bellevue, Washington; New England Wine Cellars, Sharon, Connecticut, and Cellar Mate, West Cornwall, Connecticut.'