Sunday, March 13, 2011

The wine cellar - Part 1

 I actually planned to put a wine cellar in my house years ago but debated on whether to buy a refrigerated cabinet that could be put in the kitchen or convert an area of my basement to a wine cellar equipped with an environmental control unit for humidity and temperature. I waffled back and forth looking at prices, models, floor plans and magazines try to come up with my ideal wine cellar and the best place to put it. Refrigerated units capable of holding up to 200 bottles are attractive, low maintenance and reasonably priced but the thought of having another refrigerator dependent on power and the cabinet location in my house did not not appeal to me. The size of the cellar was probably the most important factor on my mind. I wanted something that could hold an adequate amount of wine (approx 100 to 400 bottles) plus room for expansion if it was needed at a later date so I ruled out buying a refrigerated cabinet. Some of the wine magazine articles I read showed cellars that could hold up to 5000 bottles but the cost of construction was well beyond my budget. I was looking for something a little smaller, manageable, visually appealing and did not require a 2nd mortgage to finish.
  Functionally speaking, a wine cellar needs a location where sunlight is at a minimum, humidity is in the 50% to 75% range and the temperature is between 5C and 18C. The consistency of the temperature is more important than the actual temperature of the room as wine does not like big fluctuations in heat or cold. So a wine cellar that goes between 5C and 18C on a daily basis is not desirable even though it's within the temperature range. You need a constant temperature that does not vary by more than a few degrees so that the wine stays stable year after year. This is why underground cellars in European countries have done such a good job over the centuries and long before refrigeration was invented. The ground temperature below the frost level is very consistent and varies by only a couple of degrees during the year. It was looking more like the basement wine cellar was the way to go so I surfed the web and flipped through more magazines for wine cellar articles.
  About a year ago, I came across an article in a wine magazine talking about a "passive wine cellar". The theory behind a passive wine cellar is that you build a room insulated from the rest of the house and use the outside basement walls and floor to keep the room at a constant cool temperature. Sounds interesting, relatively inexpensive and an environmental control unit would not be required so I looked at some more plans, read some more articles and finally decided to draw up my own version of a passive wine cellar and build it. Now before people start flooding me with nasty emails like disgruntled Justin Bieber fans after the Grammy's. I'm going to put a disclaimer/warning in here about the hazards and pit falls of doing your own home construction.
"Anyone attempting to build a wine cellar in their house should hire a qualified home construction contractor who will get all of the required permits and arrange for an inspection by the appropriate municipal and provincial agencies thereby insuring that everyone pays their fare share of over inflated fees and taxes."
 So after selecting a suitable space which had one outside wall and an open concrete floor area, I mapped out a floor plan using masking tape and walked through it to get a feel for the space. Luckily, the area I had selected was off of a bigger storage area and had it's own light source. It would only require putting up 2 insulated walls and finishing some drywall on another unfinished wall.

 I managed to find an unfinished 144 bottle wine rack on sale for $130 at one of the local home improvement stores. This would be a good start towards my 400 bottle wine cellar. I also picked up a can of pecan wood stain that would give the rack a nice rich looking colour to make it stand out in the cellar.

The walls went up with relative ease and drywalling became an adventure in applying multiple coats on plaster  followed by sanding until my hair looked like Albert Einstein's but the room was beginning to take shape and look like the wine cellar I planned.

The next phase of construction is to insulate the inside walls to keep the temperature of the wine cellar unaffected by temperature changes taking place in the rest of the house and construction of a ceiling should also be completed. I should have the room finished in a couple of months (pending permits and inspection) with some wines to go in it and of course another blog posting to show the final product.

Here's my picks for this week.

Les Vignerons Du Castelas - 2007 - Cotes du Rhone Villages - France

A nice blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mouvedre grapes comes together in this dark ruby red Cotes Du Rhone Villages. Aromas of dark berries, spice, floral and alcohol combine with flavours of sour cherry, oak and pepper with a nice finish of full tannins.
Price - Under $14 (LCBO)
I like this wine because it represents the really good wines that you expect from the Rhone region.  It can be paired nicely with grilled steak or ribs.

Robert Mondavi Woodbridge - Sauvignon Blanc - 2009 - California 

A light pale yellow Sauvignon Blanc with aromas of pear, grapefruit and stone fruits. Grapefruit pith, pear and tropical flavours blend well with the long tart finish and a lingering grapefruit taste.
Price - $12 (LCBO)
I like this wine because it pairs really well with BBQ chicken and summer salads.