Friday, May 11, 2012

Wine Cellar - Planting The Vine

Aren't blogs just the most wonderful thing?  When you should be working, a blog is the perfect excuse not to (oops - ended with a preposition - hope my english-teaching sister doesn't read this).  "Oh, gotta stop - I just had a thought - better blog it before it's gone!!"  Off we trot to the computer, glad to take a break.  That happens to be my happy state at the moment, as I scribe these words into the electronic annals of the google dungeons.

But I digress.  I'm here to tell you about a wine cellar project.  Not your typical woody kinda project, but wood will be involved, so it will be blogged.  It's more of a home reno project, with things like vapor barrier, insulation, drywall (ugh!), paint - and then we will get to some wooden shelves and such.

The genesis of this project began in my wee brain six years ago when we moved into this newly-built house.  And therein lies the problem.  Six years.  No progress.  Wine being stored under the stairs.  The fancy 1,000 bottle cellar suitable for your snootiest wine snob was nowhere to be found.  Hmmm.....what is the issue?

The issue is I suffer from delusions of grandeur (isn't that step 1? Admitting you have a problem?).  We didn't need a big wine cellar and we didn't have the space.  It just so happens that under the stairs was working fine, thank you.  A cellar in the 100 - 200 bottle range worked great for us over the past few years.

Under the stairs was actually a really good spot.  It is in the basement and the in-floor heat did not extend into this area; one wall is an exterior wall and is underground - so it's pretty cool under there.  Humidity is about 50%, which is pretty decent for our dry climate.  But the walls shared with other heated rooms weren't insulated, and the temp was about 68F, which is 10F to warm.

It was obvious the grandiose plan needed to be downsized and modified.  The new plan, which is being executed now, is to finish off the area under the stairs and make it an acceptable wine cellar that could handle any wine for decades at the proper temperature and humidity.  That means implementing the following steps:

1) Cleaning it out - what's all this luggage doing under here, anyway?
2) Adding a stringer in the center of the stairs.  This is just to provide a spot to attach drywall, it will not be structural.
3) Putting up vapor barrier.  It will go on the warm side.
4) Insulating
5) Drywall.  Mud and tape?  Dunno - depends on if the wife wants it.
6) Paint the concrete floor.
7) Put down a sill under the door, and weatherstrip.  The door isn't insulated, but it should be OK.
8) If necessary, remove a section of vapor barrier and insulation from the exterior wall.  This should help reduce the temperature.
9) Several open containers with water will help keep the humidity up.

So for a couple hundred bucks (at least an order of magnitude less than a "proper" wine cellar), we will have a nice, cool, humid spot where the snootiest wine snob would be happy to lay down their priciest french bordeaux.  Working part time, a couple of weeks, tops.  What's not to like about this plan?  Cheap, fast and top notch results.  If push came to shove, I could easily jam 500 bottles under there (not that I ever will).

The other thing I like about this cellar design is it's completely passive.  The cool temps come from being underground and well insulated from heated rooms, and humidity comes from standing pails of water.  No electric air conditioner, no humidifier, nothing to break, no bills to pay.  Perfect for those of us with a bit of Scottish heritage.

Step 1 is done and I'm putting up vapor barrier.  Here's a few pics.

Wine & Luggage storage.  What?  You don't
store your wine with your luggage?
Your normal door to under-the-stairs

The shelves on the right are some that I picked up at Costco for a ridiculously low price.  When I got them home and unpacked them from the box, I found they had been treated with an oil finish of some type that did not dry.  This is NOT what you should store your wine on!!  The oil soaks into the labels, ruining them.  I had to hose them down and leave them outside for several weeks to weather off the oil.  No wonder they were cheap!  Typically, wooden racks for wine storage should not be finished.

Cleaned out and putting up vapor barrier
Vapor barrier on left wall

The picture below shows an electrical hookup for a light under the stair landing.  I'll put in a recessed light here (if I can find one small enough to fit in there, I think those are 2x6s).  This will give plenty of light in the deeper recess in the back.  There is already a light over the door that has a door-activated switch, which is a nice feature.

As mentioned, I'll put a 2x6 stringer up the middle of the stairs so there will be a spot to attach the drywall.  Otherwise, there will be a nasty sag in the drywall.  The stairs will also get the vapor barrier/insulation treatment.

That's installment one - planting the vine.  I'll have to come up with some other clever phrases for the upcoming installments; harvesting, crushing, fermenting, tasting, etc.  Now my wee brain is empty, so I better get back to work.


  1. Waterproofing los angeles

    Wow, great article, I really appreciate your thought process and having it explained properly, thank you!

  2. Glad you liked it, Gaveet, and hope it helps if you decide to do something similar. This project turned out better than I had hoped in regard to proper temp & humidity, plus it's all passive.