By Lucy Hargreaves, Spiral Cellars
You’re into your wine so you know it needs to be treated with TLC. The big four – temperature, humidity, UV light exposure and vibrations – are the key considerations when deciding how best to store your prized collection at home (in bond, IG Wines has it covered!). So here’s why it is important to stick to the rules…
Temperature is the most critical aspect in storing wine; if it becomes too warm it speeds up the ageing process and the wine will lose its vibrancy, becoming old and flabby. Wine is happy in environments where any temperature changes are very gradual, such as slow fluctuations between summer and winter temperatures in below-ground cellars. The ideal temperature range is between around 8-18°C and, as long as there are no sudden fluctuations, the wine will be happy at either end of the scale.
The impact of high temperatures on wine can be catastrophic – individual wine collectors in France felt the full effects of extreme temperatures on their wines when the heat wave of 1976 struck. There was no commercial way of storing wine at that time and, unless a house had an existing cellar the wine was often stacked up in the garage, an unprotected space where temperatures can fluctuate easily and frequently. Many bottles were tipped down the sink that year, in some cases no doubt followed by the owner’s tears.
Humidity is also key to wine storage. By storing wine bottles horizontally and in a slightly damp atmosphere the corks aren’t able to dry out and so air can’t enter the bottle and oxidise the wine. This is of course a balancing act in itself as an environment that is too humid can damage the bottle labels, and so identification and display are affected.
Direct sunlight on wine creates adverse chemical reactions that can spoil it. Aside from the packaging of wine, often in dark green bottles, which helps to prevent the impact of light, collectors can also protect the wine by ensuring it is kept in a dark environment. Ideally, this should be within professional storage, whether that be a wine cabinet or a cellar, as both have been designed to eliminate this risk.
Vibration of wine is likely to accelerate the ageing process, as any movement disturbs the sediments in the bottle and disrupts how it would age naturally. A stable environment is critical so that, once laid down, the wine is then not disturbed until it is ready to be drunk. Above-ground storage, such as cabinets, may be subject to everyday floor movements as residents walk around, whereas built-in cellars are more stable as they are cushioned by the surrounding earth.
How not to store it
I have heard many horror stories over the years of collectors storing their wine under the stairs, in the garage or even in the conservatory, and each time they have opened bottles to find the wine is spoilt. These areas of the home all receive regular, and sometimes sudden, fluctuations in temperature and are usually dry environments with heating and damp proofing contributing. They may be dark spaces but are rarely vibration-free.
One area where many homeowners consider storing their collections is in fact a main contributor to spoilt wine – the kitchen. Wine racking built into cabinetry may offer an ideal place to stack bottles so they are close to hand but this is usually the warmest room in the house, with temperatures changing on a daily basis as the oven is used and then switched off. If you have bottles stored in this way, please move them to a cold corner of a north-facing room now! And then think about professional wine storage.
What’s right for you
There are various factors to consider when deciding on which professional wine solution is most suitable for your needs, from the size of your existing wine collection and how much you intend to collect annually, to whether the wine storage should be a behind-the-scenes operation or a feature of the room. With all of this in mind, a reliable, proven and aesthetic solution is required.
There are a range of options available, from wine cabinets and temperature controlled rooms to full basement conversions. Basement cellars are the traditional solution and offer the perfect conditions, but can be an extremely costly undertaking. Wine cabinets provide easy access to a small collection of wine but are subject to failure, just like temperature controlled rooms, if there is a power cut. Not only does this cause the temperature to increase suddenly, but if the owner is away the wine will sit in warm temperatures for a dangerously long time. The other end of the scale can be just as disastrous – I was once told by a client how, whilst on holiday, their wine cabinet failed and got stuck in freeze mode. The owners came home to bottles of wine resembling giant lollypops!
Just like a traditional cellar, a Spiral Cellar makes the most of the earth’s attributes but is a cost-effective and maintenance-free option. A watertight cylindrical concrete system is sunk into the ground floor of a house, from the kitchen or lounge to the garage or garden room, within 3-8 days. Its position in the ground means the cellar remains at a consistent temperature of between around 8°C–18°C (which fluctuates throughout the seasons), without the need for climate control, and the ventilation and concrete construction maintain a humidity of approximately 70%, both ideal for storing wine.
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