Building a Passive Wine Cellar
A cellar may be humble or grand, large or small. But if it is to qualify for name, it must achieve three things. It should be dark, it should be free of vibration and, above all else, and it should reduce both daily and seasonal temperature variations to a minimum.
Ideal Cellar Conditions
The siting, or placement, of your wine cellar within your home is your first major decision. There are four components of ideal cellar conditions: an absolutely constant temperature, varying between neither day and night nor summer and winter; substantial humidity; a very cold mean temperature; and the absence of air movement (let alone any movement of the bottles). The first two factors are of major importance; the third is important but needs to be taken in context, while the last is of least importance, but needs to be mentioned.
Consistency of temperature is more important than the degree of temperature. Temperature variations is harmful because it leads to the expansion and contraction of the wine in the bottle, hastening the ingress of oxygen – and thereby oxidation.
Ullage is the air space present in a bottle of wine between the cork and the surface of the wine. In old wines it is fairly reliable indication of likely quality: the greater the ullage the more suspect the wine. Excessive ullage indicates a loose cork, widely or frequently fluctuating storage temperatures, or low humidity (Gold 31). Some ullage with age is inevitable, but anything more that 12 mm (1/2 inch) per decade is avoidable.
Excessively high relative humidity inevitably leads to mold. The carbohydrates in your wine cellar: cork stoppers, paper labels, paper surface of the drywall, and wooden shelves can all become mold food (Alexander).
Wines:Best Kept in the Dark
When no one is in the cellar, it should be kept in pitch darkness. Fluorescent or other forms of electric light have little or no effect over short, intermittent periods. Light-bodied white wines and champagnes are far more sensitive to light than are red wines, and special care should be taken to protect these (Bramhall).
The serious cellar should be just that: a cellar. It should not be a general entertaining or show-off area for a large number of people to congregate in. Firstly, the very presence of a dozen or so guests will significantly increase the circulating air temperature; and secondly; the temptation to pick up and fondle the prized bottles of the cellar is almost irresistible. “On the other hand, the presence of the proprietor alone has a markedly soothing effect both on the proprietor and, the wines.” (Rizzo)
Inhabitants of the Cellar
A large cellar (more than 200 bottles) should be inspected carefully at least once a month, as nature is equipped with a disturbing attack of vandals. The cork moth is a more commonly encountered pest, which can threaten an entire cellar (Rizzo). The cork moth is like any other moth. Its presence is usually indicated by fine, wispy strands of excrete hanging from the end of the bottle, just like that of a woodborer. Small borer like holes may be seen in the corks if the capsules are removed. The only answer to get rid of them is to hang pest-strips permanently until all signs of activity cease.
Wine stored in cardboard cartons is subject to silverfish activity (Rizzo).
(Silverfish – cardboard eating bug) One might think that the silverfish would confine their attentions to the cardboard containers, but quite evidently the labels offer a change of diet. The common chemical methods (insect sprays, and so on) usually bring a speedy end to such an invasion once it is noticed ( Rizzo).
Rats can find their way in and proceed to chew through lead capsules, seeking the glue and/or minute residues of dried wine for food ( Rizzo). There is no damage to the wine itself, but the appearance of many old treasures is irrevocably impaired. Keep traps around the wine racks to avoid this from happening and remember to make periodic inspections.
Ideal Storage Temperature
The one requisite that has general consensus among wine authorities is that the ideal storage temperature is 55 F (13 C). The