Wine Cellars on a Shoestring

July 16, 2007

You guys brought up some great questions about storing wine in response to what temp to serve wine. So I dug about for cellaring strategies for those of us who can’t afford a cave of our own. Wine cellar

Cellar Basics

First off, here are the conditions we’re trying to emulate from a real wine cellar:

• A consistent temperature somewhere between 50 and 65 degrees
• Bottles stored on their sides to keep the corks moist
• Humidity level between 65-70%
• Light and vibration kept to a minimum

It’s the last two—humidity, and light and vibration—that rule out the fridge as a viable long-term cellaring answer. Here are three affordable options, though, that come somewhat close to matching the conditions above. 

Your Basement
One of the easiest solutions for a makeshift cellar is to outfit a space in your basement with wine shelving and a humidifier. A basement is naturally cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter because it’s below ground—it is, after all, a cellar. Here are three things to keep in mind if you want to take this route:

1. Pick the right spot – Choose a place that stays at a consistent temperature. If your basement is a living area as well, you’ll want to isolate a room that doesn’t fluctuate with the thermostat.
2. Keep it calm – Make sure your wines aren’t near anything that vibrates, like water heaters, air conditioners or washing machines. Temperature change and disturbance are some of wine’s worst enemies.
3. Think short term. Don’t keep wines in the basement for more than a couple of years. For longer cellaring, you may want to invest in a wine fridge.

An Old Refrigerator
Most wine experts do not condone using a refrigerator as a wine cellar (then again, they’re also the ones with real wine cellars). And they are right—a regular refrigerator is just too cold and dry for wines to be stored optimally. However . . . some refrigerator thermostats (but not all) have a dial that can be pulled off to reveal a calibration screw. Turning this screw clockwise should raise the range to right about cellar temperature. It’s not an exact science and it may require a bit of trial and error, but it’s worth a try if you have an old refrigerator lying around.

As far as moisture level goes, if you’re planning on drinking the wines in the near future humidity won’t be too much of a problem—each time you open the door, moist air will enter. But if you want to use it as a storage device, pour a pound of salt into a baking sheet with a raised edge, place it on the bottom rack of the fridge and fill it with water (refill as needed). This should raise the humidity level to around 70%.

The Tricked Out Closet
This is the option that Christopher and I use. We’re in California, so we don’t have a basement, and we use our extra fridge for extra food. But we’ve made the most of our hall closet. Here are a few tips:

• The idea is, again, to choose an area with the least light and vibration and most consistent temperature. An interior closet away from any heating or cooling devices, windows or stairs is your best bet. 
• The better insulated, the better off you are. Wine in a poorly insulated closet will be at the mercy of the house temp. A well insulated door will help keep cool air in and hot air out.
• Keep wines as close to the floor as possible. Heat rises, so bottles on top of the coat rack are probably warmer than you want them to be.
• As with basement storage, the closet will work for a couple of years, but it isn’t a long-term solution.

One disclaimer with all three: these are merely suggestions for you to try, I can’t be held responsible for the results. If you have an out of the box solution of your own that I didn’t capture here, please share!



5 Responses to “Wine Cellars on a Shoestring”

  1. Robyn Says:

    I just saw that Target has a small wine cooler on special this week for pretty inexpensive if someone really wants to go that route.

  2. lia Says:

    Great tip Robyn — thanks! I think this may be the one you’re talking about, a Vinotemp 28 bottle free-standing wine cellar for $199. Seems like a great price to me!

  3. Mike Says:

    I thought I would leave a couple thoughts for those that want to collect/store/age wine. I like your ideas about how to do something affordable! And, there are a number of smaller wine coolers for the $200-300 price range that will do a good job for a few cases.

    For those who endeavor to build an actual walk-in cellar, I recommend research, research, research! It is expensive, but when it is done, I don’t think there is anything quite like walking into your own, private wine sanctuary. 🙂

    I wrote an article on custom wine cellars at

    Nice blog, Lia!

  4. lia Says:

    Thanks for stopping by Mike — and thanks for the tips. My goal is to move my stash out of the closet one day, and into a REAL cellar. I’ve got your site bookmarked for when the time comes . . .


  5. Aletha Lastrapes Says:

    Not too many years back if you heard the term wine cooler, your thoughts automatically went to Bartles & James and if someone told you about their wine collection you pictured a dusty underground vault, where bottles lined the walls in orderly rows, slowly aging to perfection. Your average person that lived in your average suburban home could enjoy a good glass of wine when out on the town, but seldom had the capacity to store wine in optimal conditions at home. With the advent of under counter coolers, a wine cellar is no longer a necessity in order to be a collector of fine wines. In fact, anyone can turn their kitchen into modern day wine cellar.,

    Take a look at our personal website too

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