Wine Cabinet Construction and Technology

More wine-storage concepts, information, and wine-cellar construction tips and techniques. November 11, 2005

I have the opportunity to build a wine cabinet for a customer in need. This is to be a small furniture grade piece to store and showcase only about 100 bottles, 36"x 60" max. They are condo dwellers. The cabinet construction is not an issue but what seems to be is finding the cooling unit to fit this small cabinet. My hope was to find a compact unit that I could conceal in the toekick or a shallow back wall, but I haven't turned up any units for a small application

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
This may be a little out there but if you bought a small, 3í tall refrigerator, it has the size compressor and blower that you need. Take it apart and install it into the cabinet. The fridge costs maybe $150.00.

I would build a box the size of the cabinet and put in a thermometer and see if it works. You could even put in the temperature dial. Itís something to try if you can't find what you need.

From contributor B:
Itís not normal to supply cooling to a display unit like this. Using one of the units suggested previously makes sense. Also, insulate the daylights out of the one you are building. Personally, as a fine wine collector, I would not add cooling to something like this but I would make sure it was really well insulated. The thing that kills fine wines is not temperature (within reason) but fluctuation in temperature. About two years ago I drank a 25 year old California cabernet that was stored on its side in an inside closet, and it was fabulous. No cooling.

From the original questioner:
As far as pirating the cooling unit from a stock wine cooler, that might be a possibility. I know the units you're referring to but I think they are refrigerators for chilling and not necessarily storing but it's worth a look.

It is possible to purchase furniture grade cabinets on line like the one I will make, complete with cooling units built in. So they must be out there some place.

From contributor C:
I've collected wine for about 30 years. I've lectured on wine cellar design around the U.S. and abroad and then about 4 years ago, I decided to start building them. When doing any type of wine storage for a client, you first need to know the types of wine that they drink and their goals (long term storage vs drink in the next 1-5 years).

The enemies of wine are temperature (especially wide fluctuations), light and vibration. For 100 or less bottles, the small wine units from Sam's, Home Depot, etc (about $300) work fine and are really throw-aways - if they break, get a new one. They can be nicely framed into an enclosure assuming you can make allowances for the heat exhaust.

Again, the types of wine a customer drinks comes into play when considering whether you spring for a unit like this or not. 100 average bottles might represent $2000-$2500 while 100 expensive bottles can represent over $10,000.

If you are going to build a unit yourself and add cooling:

1. Totally vapor barrier seal the warm side.
2. Insulate
3. If glass doors, use thermopane
4. You will need a thermal break for all attached hardware. Any metal that goes all the way through from the inside of the cabinet to the outside (i.e. door handles) will end up sweating on the outside due to the temp difference.

That said, you can simply build a non-cooled enclosure with a door that blocks or filters light. The effects of keeping wine at, say, 72 degrees are:

1. Reds that would age 10-20 years might only live 5-10 years
2. Whites that would age from 3-15 years would now live about 1-5 years.

As for cooling systems, I do strongly encourage my clients not to get the ones with all the electronic bells and whistles. These electronics can fail with the first power surge. Also always have a surge protector available where it plugs in.

Regarding reliability, it's not if but rather when the units will fail. Local refrigeration people really can't work on them so you will need to send the units back to the factory for repair and/or replacement. Always design so you or your client can easily remove the unit.

From the original questioner:
I've been here in CT, remodeling since '89, mostly kitchens and baths and additions and I have actually done a wine cellar or two in the past as part of basement remodels. I shifted gears a few years ago to focus on my own custom kitchens and the transition from field to shop has been moving forward nicely. I read that article, "Cellar Smart" by Ellen Cheever in the magazine Kitchen and Bath Design, and was fascinated at the prospects of it here in CT. I spent about a month researching it and after visiting about dozen custom wine cellar sites, I found that the construction descriptions were almost identical from site to site. It's all basic construction, and hereís the bottom line as I see it:

Rule #1) A wine cellar must maintain a constant temp and humidity level with little fluctuation. The mean temp can vary between 50 and 57 degrees but that is not as important. With the advent of synthetic corks even humidity levels are not as critical, besides the wine itself keeps natural cork from drying if bottles are laid on their side.
Fluctuation hurts wine, correct?

In construction terms, I want to build a room that is sealed, insulated, vapor barriered, and tight. I'm building an exterior structure inside. Correct???

Rule #2) Install a unit that will maintain a constant temp and humidity level to allow your wine investment to rest and mature comfortably, undisturbed.

Rule #3) Refer back to rules #1 and #2.

After that it's all fluff. The racking that you see in some of the photo galleries is really low level cabinetry. But, I've taken this whole theme to a higher level. My presentation and cellar designs include optional stone walls interior and exterior, tile or slate floors, tasting area with sinks and stone tops, and humidors for your cigar collection. You can have stained or etched glass designs with back lighting if desired. The fluff is endless and only limited by ones imagination.

The biggest issues become temperature control and humidity. With humidity, you have to be aware of the materials you plan to use. For example, you can't use standard sheetrock for your walls, just like you don't use it in bathroom construction. Greenboard or another moisture proof board should be used. The wood you use has to be fit for the humidity levels. I heard of a guy who did a beautiful cellar and used black walnut for the floors. Two months later they couldn't open the doors because the walnut cupped so bad.
Am I on the right track? What do you think?

From contributor E:
Great thread! Don't hold back. We need more.

From the original questioner:
To contributor E: If you've haven't had a chance yet, take a minute to check the link that David Hall provided above. It's a great article written by Ellen Cheevers about personal wine cellars. This will familiarize you with your new venture. When you read her article, go to some of the web sites she references, such as, and look for the instructions on how to construct a wine cellar. It doesn't matter whose site you're on, they all have the same info. It's basic construction 101.

You're going to frame a room in someone's lower level, basement preferably, ideally below grade. When you plan out any wine cellar always consider humidity. When you frame the walls use a PT plate for the floor, especially if it's concrete. The rest of the framing can be construction grade. The interior walls should be sheetrocked with Greenboard that's moisture resistant or MR sheetrock. Here's a tip - cover the interior walls first, then insulate the room from the outside. If you want to guarantee your interior seal, use a spray polyurethane foam on the inner wall first. I use a product called "Tiger Foam" look them up on the web. It leaves no odor behind after it cures. 1/16" of film will expand out to 3/4" or so and give you an R7 insulation rate. You can fill the rest of the void with traditional fiberglass. R11 is fine. That brings you up almost to R19 which is more that enough to control climate. The best part about the spray poly is that it gives you a 99% seal. You can't do that with fiberglass alone or with Tyvek. Now your room is tight.

The temp control units you will find are rated for cubic feet so find one that fits your space. The 8 x 13 room you mentioned won't be too hard to fit up. A note: Humidity does not mean wet or condensation or mold, if a customer questions you on this issue. The units themselves create their own humidity levels and maintain it along with temp. Consistent temp means no condensation. If the room is tight the unit can maintain with little or no fluctuation and that's the key. But humidity will affect the wood you use for racking or veneers. Cedar, Redwood, Mahogany, Teak, are some choices.

The ideal storage temp for wine is 50 - 55. You can store anywhere from 45 - 70, believe it or not, without hurting the wine. The important part again is that the temperature remains consistent. Warmer temps will make the wine age faster but unless it's excessively hot it won't damage the wine.

From contributor C:
I donít claim to be an expert, but I have been involved in cellaring and collecting wine for about 30 years. Regarding preparing the "space" for a wine cellar, here are my comments.

The three most important factors are vapor barriers, insulation and sealing for air leakage.
The vapor barrier goes on the warm side of the cellar walls, ceiling and floor. I use 6-8 mil poly. If the floors are cement (a great moisture wick), I put down vapor barrier on top of the cement floor before the flooring goes on.

Next comes the insulation. This should be unfaced so that you don't end up with two vapor barriers. The inside wall finish can be what ever you like - sheet rock, green board, ply, stucco, etc. Next, all possible air leaks from wiring, plumbing, etc should be sealed.

If there is glass in the door, it should be thermopane. All four edges of the door will need to have door seals that compress when the door is closed. The door should be slightly difficult to close. A good final test for the room is to turn off all lights, close the door and then see if you can see light coming in anywhere.

The ideal temperature range is between 55 and 60 degrees. Once you start approaching 50 degrees the wine goes into hibernation.

Humidity is where most people have a misunderstanding. Any wine cellar will eventually reach the humidity level of the home itself. This is just fine and there is no issue with mold, moisture, etc that would require special materials on the walls, if you have put in a good vapor barrier. There are some people who feel that the humidity needs to be higher than the existing home. This is not the case. The wine is continually in contact with the cork, keeping it swelled and sealing the wine. There will be a slight difference in humidity between the cellar and the adjoining rooms simply because of the roughly 15 degree temperature delta.

Cooling units do not add humidity. Instead they tend to control it by burning off excess humidity. If you put a cooling unit into a cellar with freshly poured cement floors or walls you will find that the cooling unit is draining out moisture. This is something you should be prepared to handle. For the cooling unit, try to steer you client into the bare bones, non-electronic model. All the fancy digital readouts and the associated electronics simply present the potential for early failure due to power surges. You should supply a plug in surge protector for the cooling unit no matter what you do.