A wine cellar represents a significant investment in advance of another significant investment—a fine wine collection.
This document is intended to satisfy part of the due diligence we recommend in advance of making your final decisions. The objective is not to make you an expert on wine cellar construction, but rather to empower you with an appropriate set of questions, and to give you a notion of whether the answers you are getting back (from your prospective builder/designer, etc.) are legitimate.
Recommended Due Diligence:
Become acquainted with the general principles of proper wine storage
Our guide: Wine Cellaring: General Principles will provide you with a foundation in this area, and will arm you with a basic understanding, enough to at least determine whether a prospective builder meets a minimum standard.
Research the company/contractor/builder
There is an unfortunate misconception among millworkers, architects, contractors, and carpenters that a wine cellar is merely a dressed up ‘closet for wine,’ and therefore straightforward to design and straightforward to construct.
The vital fact that is overlooked is that wine is a living entity, which is to say its structure is volatile and susceptible to damage from a number of sources. The potential for error is surprisingly high.
Genuwine Cellars was born out of a love of wine and founded by two alumni of the International Sommelier Guild. We know wine—how it ages, how it is best stored, what can damage it, etc.
Before you commit to any company/builder, it is prudent to ask if they have built wine cellars in the past. Be wary of the “It’s not rocket science” attitude because although it clearly is not, it is a building project rife with the potential for errors and serious consequences, including a damaged wine collection.
Get a feel for the company/contractor/builder’s wine cellar design acumen
Anyone can build a room to store wine, but inexperience in this particular niche can negatively impact your cellar, often in ways that you may have never even considered.
For instance, issues such as bottle capacity, case storage or large format storage are items that should be discussed. Proposed wine racking should be able to accommodate different bottle sizes (including oversized bottles), and your cellar should be able to accommodate your collecting habits as they evolve; we know that a collector’s habits tend to change over time, and just because you are not buying by the case now does not mean you will not be in five years.
If the company you are thinking of going with is asking you rudimentary questions like “What is the average bottle height and width?” then be wary. This question and others like them are ones that we have long since asked, and perfected the answer to, based on nearly twenty years of experience.
Ask questions about materials and build quality
Contractor A may offer a better price than Millworker B, but are you receiving a fair ‘apples-for-apples’ comparison?
The quality of wine cellar racking materials (and the professional level of their build) can vary quite dramatically even across specialty wine cellar fabricators.
Also keep in mind that while certain materials and finishes may be appealing, not all may be suitable for a climate-controlled environment. Genuwine offers custom stain matching for the purposes of securing the aesthetic you desire, while still using wine-cellar materials.
Consider the door (wood, glass or otherwise)
The door is the most overlooked component of a wine cellar, even though it usually represents its weakest point. Under proper cellar conditions, a regular interior door will warp and bend. Genuwine Cellars went so far as to develop their own series of wine cellar doors designed for the sole purpose of withstanding cellar conditions and maintaining a sealed environment.
With respect to glass wall and door systems, consider that glass industry-standards for tolerances (i.e., gaps between glass panes) are not acceptable, nor suitable for the purposes of wine room storage. Reducing these gaps is vital to create a sealed-environment, and represents a significant escalation in terms of the complexity involved. Has this been considered?
Conventional home/commercial climate-control involves a different set of technologies from wine cellar cooling units. While both share basic elements, it is the differences that your HVAC professional needs to be aware of. Like anything, there is value in expertise and experience, and you should strive to work with a climate-control company that has a history of successfully installing mechanical into wine cellars.
An obvious question, but one that may be overlooked—what if the wine racking and millwork is installed but it ends up off-gassing in the cellar? Who is going to uninstall and replace this?
Ultimately, the unique nature of wine cellar construction/use makes it possible to receive a stunningly beautiful cellar that will surely please on Day 1, but that may be faulty and not so pleasing on day 3 when the cooling unit has frozen over and caused water damage to your renovation or new build. We strongly recommend you perform the above due diligence in an effort to avoid this kind of scenario.