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Organizing a Wine Cellar

Wine cellars run the gamut from a few mixed cases in a coat closet to elaborate underground temples to the beverage. The organizing challenges vary as well, but there are several basics in proper wine storage to get you started.

The ideal temperature for wine storage is 55 degrees and the humidity, to keep the corks moist, which keeps the bottles from leaking, needs to be about 70 percent.

We know that humidity can make paper labels unreadable over the long term, so having another method of labeling bottles, like plastic neck hangers, is a good idea for bottles that will be cellared a while under those conditions.

Also, a wine cellar must be dark — like True Blood vampires, wine doesn’t do well in the sun. Florescent lights, which give off UV light, are also a no-no, but being able to switch on a strong light in the cellar in order to find what you’re looking for is a good thing. Vibration is also a detriment to wine in storage, which is why storing your wine on top of the fridge is such a bad idea. Another Cellar 101 rule is that any wine with a cork should be stored on its side to keep the cork in contact with the wine, and therefore, moist and expanded. The Wine Appreciation Guild offers several types of racks and can also custom build cellars. To contact them go to www.wineappreciationguild.com.

I’ve asked several longtime wine industry pals to share some of their tricks for organizing and enjoying the wine in their home cellars. I was surprised that most of them have low-maintenance, uncomplicated organizational systems for their personal cellars.

Kevin Vogt, a Master Sommelier and chief wine guy at DelMonico’s in Las Vegas said, “I almost hate to say it, but my wine cellar is basically divided into two sections … one that my wife can blindly grab a bottle from, and another that she shouldn’t.”

Industry veteran and Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein (www.winecouch.com) suggested, “It’s key to have a balanced cellar so you can drink the right wines for the right occasions. Don’t exclusively own collector wines because you might break into a once in a lifetime wine on a Tuesday night with pasta if that’s all you have! All wine storage, based on your drinking habits, should be made up of once-a-day wines, once-a-week wines, once-a-month wines, once-a-year wines, and once-in-a-lifetime wines. How much make up each of those categories depends on budget, space (storage), and consumption habits.”

Bartholomew Broadbent, an importer of fantastic Ports and Madeiras (www.broadbent.com), said, “I am not into fancy wine cellars. Functionality is all that counts for me. In my current house, I have four closet-sized Eurocaves. I have taken out most of the shelves to maximize capacity, leaving three shelves for convenience. This way, instead of being able to store about 10 cases, you can store about 25. I put the wines that I wish to hold for a long time in the bottom rows, at the back of the cabinets. As the cabinets are two bottles deep and I pile the bottles about 10 high, it guarantees you’ll age the wine without the temptation to drink it. You’ll probably only see those bottles when you move house because it is an almighty effort to dig them out.”

Master of Wine Peter Marks also had some very practical suggestions. “The larger the cellar (or number of bottles), the greater the need for a system,” he said. “I suggest if you have more than 12 cases of wine (144 bottles) then you probably can’t remember each and every bottle off the top of your head. A simple notebook or computer inventory software will help you keep track of the gems. If you have wine bottles stored off site, away from your home, then I highly recommend you keep some sort of log or record of what you have. It’s easy to forget and lose track of bottles when you don’t fawn over them all the time.

Rebecca Chapa, a professional taster and wine educator (www.rebeccachapa.com) said that even though a wine lover may not have ideal cellar conditions, it is more important to avoid drastic ups and downs in temperature than it is to keep a wine storage space at a strict 55 degrees. She also reported, “I recently found a cool new program to help you keep track of inventory, it’s called Bento for Filemaker and it has an application for iPhone so you can be sure you aren’t buying something you already have at home.”

We’ll discuss more on organizing wine storage in future columns. If you have any great tips on the subject, please send them in via e-mail.