THE BASICS OF PROPER WINE STORAGE are temperature control (cool and consistent), humidity control, and absence of direct sunlight and vibration, but unless you store your wine in a deep cellar, these conditions will not occur naturally. They can, however, be obtained through construction. To gain further insights into the process of building a proper wine cellar I spoke to Jay Rosen, the owner of Washington Valley Cellars, a New Jersey company dedicated to construction of distinctive wine cellars.

Whether the wine cellar is part of the initial design of a house or is being retro-fitted into an existing room, the first requirement is to find the dark and vibration free location. After that your builder can provide the rest through humidity controlled refrigeration, good insulation, and an effective vapor barrier. I am going to say that last one again—an effective vapor barrier. You need that to prevent moist air from entering the cellar. If it does, it meets the cooled air and condenses, and that leads to mold. Now imagine mold rotting labels, rotting the cardboard and wooden cases, rotting the wooden racks, escaping the cellar and infecting your home. Okay. This is too terrible, so we’re going to stop imagining now. The message is that proper refrigeration—that keeps humidity at the optimal level—and a good vapor barrier are required to protect your wine and prevent mold.

Temperature and humidity, though, are not the only important considerations. The type of lighting is important as well. Low heat lights, such as LED, are better than halogen or incandescent, and fluorescent lighting should be avoided not only due to heat but also high levels of UV rays that can damage wine. If the cellar is above grade you also need to make sure that the floor is sufficiently supported and does not collapse under the weight of the wine. 

All set? Not quite. Your new, beautiful wine cellar depends on electricity to maintain the storage temperature of your wines, and you absolutely need to protect it against power outages. The service contract on the cooling system should include 48-hour site visit and remediation, and a back-up system, whether a generator or battery, can provide the short-term power needed to keep your cooling system running until the contractor gets there.

While all these considerations may seem daunting, they are routine to an expert wine cellar contractor, such as Jay. So, while you may be tempted to do it yourself (note that I said you might be tempted. I’m not!), with a valuable wine collection at stake leaving it to the pros is probably a good idea.