Building a wine cellar can create the ideal environment to store your wines. Temperature is always a major consideration in wine storage and the ideal wine storage temperature is between 55ºF and 58ºF (13ºC–15ºC), although any temperature between 40º–65ºF (5º–18ºC) will suffice as long as it doesn’t fluctuate too much. Ideally, the humidity should be around 70%. If you can’t achieve these temperatures in your passive wine cellar then you may require a wine cellar cooling unit.
A standard home refrigerator makes a poor wine cooling solution for several reasons. It is designed specifically to store and look after food products, not to store wines. An atmosphere that works well for meat and vegetables is far too cold and dry for your expensive wine. The preferred temperature for home refrigeration is somewhere between 35ºF and 38ºF (1.7 to 3.3ºC)
Home – or even commercial – refrigeration equipment is built to cool food quickly to prevent it spoiling. This is achieved by blasting cold air until the desired temperature is reached. Then a cycle kicks in whereby once the set temperature is reached, the refrigerator shuts off. When the temperature rises to a pre-determined point, cold air is again blasted. This continuous fluctuating temperature cycle isn’t good for your wines.
Standard refrigeration equipment is designed not only to cool but also to remove moisture. Wine gives off neither heat nor moisture so you end up with an environment that’s way too dry for wine. This will cause wine corks to shrink, which will allow air to get in. Once the air is in contact with your wine the irreversible process of oxidation begins and your wine is ruined!
Vibration can also be an issue with a home refrigerator. Wine requires a calm vibration-free environment in which to develop so any vibration will eventually destroy a fine wine.
Similarly, home air conditioning provides a poor environment for aging your wines, as it removes the humidity from the air which can lead to corks drying out. Additionally, if air conditioning is only turned on at certain times during the day then the wine will become subject to wide temperature fluctuations, which will inevitably cause irreparable damage to your wine.
To properly cool and humidify a cellar you will need a cooling system designed specifically for cooling a wine cellar.
Wine cellar cooling units can be set at any temperature within the optimum range for successfully aging wines and they cool the air slowly and gently. They are designed to maintain humidity rather than dehydrating the cellar although sometimes additional humidification may be required in extremely dry climates. This type of wine cellar cooling unit is usually installed approximately 18 inches from the top of the room in order to achieve maximum cooling. The unit will also require an unobstructed airflow and adequate ventilation to dissipate the heat generated by the unit.
It is also possible to install a split air system into a wine cellar although these units can be very expensive with prices running into many thousands of dollars.
A split air system is installed outside the wine cellar and the supply and return air is ducted to and from the wine cellar. This wine cellar refrigeration system works like a central air-conditioning system and is similarly quiet. This system would usually include electronic controls and a digital display. There are many options available with split system cooling including humidifiers, dehumidifiers and alarm units. With the addition of the options, a split air system will provide you with total control of your wine cellar refrigeration, albeit at a large cost.
If you find that your wine cellar requires a cooling unit it is worthwhile shopping around and comparing brands. There are few bargains, however, you should be able to save money with a little research.