Inventorying and cataloging your wine is a decision that often depends on a number of factors. Your system could be as rudimentary as a paper folder of receipts, or as complex as an electronic self-contained database replete with its own label maker and bar code scanner. And of course you could forego an inventory system altogether.
Before making a decision, consider the following:
1) Insurance requirements
Depending on the value of your wine collection, your insurance provider may have specific requirements vis-à-vis inventory/cataloguing in order to prove your collection’s worth in the event of a claim.
Please inquire with your insurance professional.
2) Your interest and/or willingness to create and maintain an inventory system
Wine collectors, and their approach to inventory systems, vary dramatically. Some see it as a nuisance and do not bother. While other “wine nerds” (not a bad thing) derive much enjoyment from precisely cataloguing and tracking every bottle.
Before investing in an elaborate tracking system, ask yourself if the process of maintaining an inventory is something that interests you. And also question your willingness to maintain that inventory over the long term.
3) The size of your collection
A good memory can go a long way in terms of keeping a handle on your collection. However, very large cellars (>7500 bottles) can quickly become unwieldy, especially if a percentage of the wine you collect has a relatively small (and rapidly approaching) drinking window.
4) The nature of your collection
Further to 3), the composition of your collection may impact your requirements of an inventory system. For example, a 1200 bottle collection comprised of 1200 unique bottles/vintages is something quite different from a 1200 bottle cellar made up of only 100 cases of unique bottles/vintages. In other words, managing 1200 labels is much more complex than managing 100.
Also, the age-worthiness of your collection should be considered. A cellar exclusively stocked with first-growth Bordeaux will be very forgiving in terms of drinking windows—that kind of wine is generally built to age for three or more decades, so “forgetting” about a case or two in the corner of your cellar has little consequence.
Contrast this with a mixed collection partially comprised of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (best consumed when young)—a forgotten case of this wine may result in heartache and waste.
5) The nature of your wine consumption.
Finally, consider how you drink your wine and also the typical circumstances in which you pull (or add) bottles to your cellar.
A collector who enjoys inventorying his/her collection (perhaps more than the actual consumption) may spend quite a lot of time in their cellar, meticulously cataloguing all new additions and subtractions.
Contrast this with a primarily social wine drinker, hastily pulling five bottles from the cellar after work in advance of a catered dinner party, who then pulls five more bottles midway through the meal (while his/her guests are waiting). Obviously, maintaining an accurate inventory under these conditions is difficult.
A List of Inventory Options:
Collect receipts for your wine purchases
A rudimentary way to keep a rough estimate of your collection’s value. Obviously this does not automatically account for price changes over time.
Bottle neck tags / Shelf labels
Implementing a bottle tag and/or shelf label system can go a long way in terms of tracking drinking windows. That said, a wine cellar full of bottles with neck tags will change the aesthetic of the cellar.
Tracking your collection with a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel is a much more rigorous way to maintain an inventory. Customize your inventory to include as much (or as little) detail as you would like.
Specialized Wine Cellar Management Software/Hardware
Companies like eSommelier specialize in creating hardware and software designed specifically for inventorying wine cellars. eSommelier offers a self-contained display unit (connected to the Internet) that includes a label maker and bar code scanner, and which can ultimately capture a significant amount of detail about your wine collection, including: wine scores; optimal drinking windows; dollar values; reviews and more.
Professional Inventorying Services
Genuwine Cellars offers formal Sommelier Services that include collection valuation and inventory set up (spreadsheet or eSommelier).
Depending on your location, you may find sommeliers and other wine professionals in your area willing to perform these services as well.