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Wine cellars are an investment, not a necessity.

Wine Cellars are an investment in the future, and they’re currently being used as an accessory.

A lot of people who start drinking wine and have the opportunity to design or remodel their houses decide to add a wine cellar. However, so few of those people will actually get any added value (aside from the higher realty value) out of the addition. How many wine cellar owners are getting real use out of their wine cellars, and what are the circumstances in which building one would be a good investment?

A wine cellar has to meet certain specifications to be effective at storing and properly aging your wine. It must be temperature controlled to be 65 degrees (F) or under (most wine professionals recommend keeping red wine between 50 and 65 degrees and white wine between 40 and 55 degrees). It must be dim or dark to prevent UV damage to the wine. It must have humidity control to prevent the corks from rotting or drying out. It must have racks that will keep the bottles sideways and the corks expanded and wet. And those racks must keep the wine bottles visible, organized, and in pristine condition—ripped or marked-up labels hurt the resale value of the wine, if the owner plans on cashing in on his investment.

In order to make the wine cellar worth the price of construction, the owner should have a few goals:

1.       Buy wine that you plan on aging, and buy it in bulk. If you dedicate space in your house to a wine collection, it should be a wine collection that you don’t plan on removing the next day—you want to let the wine rest and age without disturbance, especially if you’re saving the bottles for a special occasion or resale. A wine cellar is not ideal for everyday-drinking wines. The setup and price of such a room is expensive and unnecessary if the bottles you own are going to go in and come right back out.

2.       Keep your bottles organized. Finding dusty old bottles buried in the back corners of your vast personal wine cave may be a beautiful idea, but the likelihood of that bottle still being drinkable or in good enough condition to sell is almost nonexistent. If you invest in nice wine to age to its peak, that wine should not be lost to the same netherworld where missing socks can be found. Keep track of the bottles you’ve invested in and don’t throw that money away.

3.       Don’t build a cellar until you know a little bit about the wine you plan on collecting! If you are a fan of Burgundy wines and plan on picking up a few cases, the shelves should be constructed a bit wider than those for Bordeaux bottles so they can accommodate the wider bases and lower shoulders of the traditional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay bottles. German Rieslings come in skinnier bottles and need deeper, narrower bottle slots. And if you plan on collecting large-format bottles, have space for those!

4.       If you’re lucky enough to be designing your dream house, consider the placement of your wine cellar in relation to your other rooms. If you plan on entertaining a lot of people, having the wine cellar in the far corner of the house isn’t going to be practical (though it may discourage people from sneaking in and opening one or ten of your bottles themselves). You want the wine cellar to be easily accessible to the area of the house you plan on drinking wine most often. Also, maybe don’t put the humidity-controlled wine cellar right next door to your private sauna. Just a tip.

5.       Get your wine collection appraised and insured. If you’re making an investment in wine, you want that investment to be protected against damage or theft.

If you decide you want a wine cellar but don’t want to (or are unable to) add one to your house, there are a few public wine storage locations where you can keep your bottles safe and properly stored for a modest rental fee. 55 Degrees in Napa, CA, is probably one of the most well-known of these facilities—and they provide excellent service for people who decide against having precious Bay Area real estate devoted to their wine collection.

And if you don’t collect wine for aging or resale, skip the wine cellar and go for an appropriately-sized wine rack that keeps your bottles where you need them, when you need them! Most people will be fine with a 6- or 12-bottle racks that you can pick up at a home goods store (or a thrift store—you’d be surprised at how many of these get donated).

Wine cellars are not a necessity for most wine drinkers, and those of us who don’t sit on several cases of high-end wine for years at a time don’t need to devote a room to keeping our wine cool, dark, and dry. Serious collectors, have at it—the rest of us can put that money and square footage to other, more practical use. Just keep the bottles organized and in plain sight, and you’ll be prepared for any occasion that requires wine!

The Wine Doctor
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