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Wine Cellar 101: How to Build & Maintain Your Collection

Select and preserve your wine with care

Tracy Block Staff Reporter
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Updated:
7 min read
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Wine is a living organism and needs lots of rest before you pull the cork or twist the cap and let the genie out!
Sommelier Stacie Hunt


Prior to the pandemic, the US wine industry was reportedly struggling with both an oversupply of wine grapes and a decrease in sales. However, everything changed once COVID-19 touched down. In fact, by March, sales increased by 66%, as imbibers stocked up on potables, while April saw sales shockingly inflate by 225%. If you’re one of many Americans currently stockpiling vino, learn how a proper wine cellar can help preserve your new collection.

Starting Your Collection

AIS-certified Silver Pin Sommelier, Stacie Hunt first entered the wine industry with a broken heart and an open mind. Today, she’s a wine educator, broadcaster, and journalist, as well as an advocate of wine discovery and proper preservation. “With wine, there are so many first times – the first time you taste a grape you’ve never heard of before, the time you tasted wine standing in a vineyard, the time you celebrated a special conversation or moment, the time you discovered a wine region you didn’t know, the time you tasted a wine that made you close your eyes,” Hunt explains. “That’s exactly where to begin stocking for the first time!”

As you begin collecting wine, Hunt suggests asking yourself the following questions:

What are your ‘go-to’ bottles, or ones that you generally order in a restaurant? This tells you what you like to drink and likely matches what you like to eat/cook. You’ll build your cellar (and your palate) from this baseline.

How often do you enjoy wine? This will tell you how many bottles will make you feel good to have on hand.

Are you a white, rosé, or red fan? This tells you where to focus your search and purchases.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can get to shopping and collecting. Hunt says she’s big on variety – not just expensive bottles for special occasions. “I’m a big believer in Tuesday night wines!” she begins. “These are wines I want to drink while I’m making dinner, eating takeout, dropping by a friend’s house, heading to a party, or enjoying a Netflix night.”

Additionally, Hunt keeps a case of her favorite, value-priced wine so that she has it on hand without having to worry about precious pours that should be saved for special events. “After that, I have Thursday night, Friday night, and Saturday night wines. The price point may go up a bit, and the number of bottles will go down a bit,” she adds. “Sunday wines are for brunch, sitting by the pool, lake, river, front stoop, backyard, while deep in a DIY project or writing, or cleaning your closet.”

To illustrate, Hunt’s repertoire includes “delicious wines” in the $15 to $25, and even some “secret” $8 finds in her Tuesday night rotation. Typically, she searches for wines from the South of France made by masterful, unorthodox winemakers, like Paul Mas. “He has an unorthodox approach to winemaking, in that he makes crafted wines that can be very affordable – and organic,” she says.

Well, what about all the varietals? This is going to depend on your personal preferences, including your wine regions of choice and your individual palate. To get started, make a list broken down into sparkling, white, red, and rosé. Then, decide on the regions you favor, followed by the varietals you prefer from each destination. It’s also important to determine how much room you have to house your growing collection, so each bottle can have a safe place to rest and age.

What’s a Wine Cellar, Exactly?

“So, a home wine cellar can be as simple as a place you’ve designated in your home, to wine refrigerator units of many sizes, to stackable wine racks in your basement or closet to a custom-built, temperature-controlled room/closet,” shares Hunt. If you are a wine lover, enjoy the idea of having everyday wines at your fingertips – and very special wines that you’ll save – or have the insatiable desire to peruse and shop for wines, Hunt says a wine cellar is worth your investment. “You’ll find that as a few years go by, you may have wine for trading or selling, or just pouring when you feel like it,” she notes.

Determining the type of wine cellar to install begins with assessing both your collection and your home. Hunt says you can install a physical wine cellar in the most surprising of spaces: under a stairwell, in the bottom of your closet, and even under the bed. “Think of the darkest, coolest areas of your home where there are no outside walls facing south or west (where the heat is the most intense),” she offers. “Temperatures in the range of 65 to 68 degrees are ideal, and stay away from rooms with washers or dryers, as the heat and vibration makes wine ‘nervous.’”

And, if you have a basement, Hunt says to take advantage of that space, where the dirt, soil, and humidity is best, as it keeps the wine naturally cool and the corks in their best shape. “If you live in a desert region, heat and too much light are negatives for storing your wines,” Hunt says. “A/C can also be a bummer because it dries out the atmosphere.” So, Hunt recommends keeping your wines in the lowest area of your home. “Never store wines high-up in a kitchen or above the refrigerator. Heat rises and refrigerators vibrate,” she says. “Wine is a living organism and needs lots of rest before you pull the cork or twist the cap and let the genie out!”

Install a Tech-Savvy Wine Cellar

If you are not confident that your home can comfortably house and accommodate a dedicated wine cellar space, you can opt for a temperature-controlled unit, instead. For instance, the LG Signature Wine Cellar, which retails for $6,298.99, utilizes advanced technology to mimic the conditions of traditional wine caves, which can help you maintain the perfect temperature, humidity, and light exposure while reducing those pesky vibrations. Not only does this model include an automated open-door feature, an instantly illuminated view, a glass-touch display, and voice-control operation, which is powered by the LG ThinQ app, but it comfortably stores 65 bottles of wine on 5 shelves.


Useful Wine Apps

As you build out your wine collection, you’ll likely begin to dig deeper into the world of grapes. If you find yourself interested in learning more about wine in general, Andrew Dirks, director of hospitality for the high-end winery, Abbott Claim, located in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, recommends utilizing educational wine apps. “CellarTracker is the easiest way to keep your home wine collection organized,” Dirks says. “When you’re looking at acquiring wine, knowing what you have and what you don’t have is the best way to create a well-rounded collection.” Also, it’s beneficial to be able to sort your wine by style, region, grape, and whatever else is essential when it comes to pulling a cork for whatever dish you might be enjoying at home, according to Dirks.

If you’re thirsty for more, Hunt recommends a few final apps to keep you engaged:

Vivino Wine Scanner, which allows you to snap a photo of a wine label and view reviews, pairings, notes, prices, and ordering options instantly.

Hello Vino, which is great for determining wine and food pairings.

My Wine Society, which connects wineries with wine lovers, and can assist with planning your next wine tasting trip and discovering wine events near and far. 

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Wine Cellar 101: How to Build & Maintain Your Collection

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