Home and (not too) dry

Home and (not too) dry People & Places Articles
  • Thursday 1 August 2002

Not everyone is lucky enough to have their own wine cellar, but there are alternatives. JAMIE GOODE finds the best ways to store your wine at home

Not everyone is lucky enough to have their own wine cellar, but there are alternatives. JAMIE GOODE finds the best ways to store your wine at home

One of my wine fantasies – along with owning a vineyard and writing a book that outsells The World Atlas of Wine – is to have a proper underground cellar. After all, what's the point of collecting large quantities of expensive wine if you can't caress the bottles and gawp at the labels when the mood takes you. But while most modern homes lack cellars, there are several other options should you choose to keep your wine close at hand.

The British climate means that short-term home storage – in an insulated cupboard, or north-facing room with the radiators turned off, for example – is a possibility. But this isn't to be recommended for expensive wines, or those you intend to keep for more than a few years.

To keep your first growths in pristine condition, it's going to cost. The cheapest option is to buy a standalone wine cabinet. These are modified fridges, designed to run at higher temperatures and altered to maintain an ideal relative humidity of around 70%. The compressor unit is also tweaked to minimise vibration. The market leader is Eurocave, which makes a range of dedicated wine cabinets. According to Martin Alpren, director of Eurocave UK, 'the average sale is a cabinet configured for 210 Bordeaux bottles at a delivered price of £1,400.' Last year he sold some 900 units, mainly to private customers.

The entry-level Eurocave fits around 40 bottles and costs £780. The cabinets come with a variety of custom options, and can be configured to fit different-sized bottles. The cabinets can cope with an ambient operating temperature in the range –5?C to +35?C – ideal for garages as well as inside the home. Eurocave's main competitor in the UK is Transtherm. Both outfits are owned by the same company, Groupe EuroCave. Transtherm units are of a similar quality and offer equivalent features to those of Eurocave, but differ in appearance and are distributed through separate channels.

Roy Wilson of Vin Garde, one of the two UK distributors, sells 600–700 of these a year. Again most are to private customers. 'In the UK, restaurants aren't interested in spending money looking after their wine,' Wilson says. A medium unit taking 144 bottles costs £1,266, while a large cabinet (184-bottle capacity) retails at £1,499. The advantage of these cabinets is that they are designed with wine storage in mind, so they're deep enough for bottles to overlap neatly at the neck. Other units derived from standard-sized fridges are more affordable, but storage is less efficient and bottle retrieval can be tricky.

Vin Garde also distributes the Vintec cabinets, based on the standard-size kitchen unit, with a 60x60cm base. The 90-bottle size is £799, with six height-adjustable storage shelves. 'They don't have a heating element so can't really be kept in a garage, but they're good for the home,' explains Wilson. Other companies producing wine storage cabinets include Miele, Liebherr and Norcool.

For those with more flexible budgets, US company Sub-Zero makes a stunning range of high-spec, built-in refrigerators, including a very attractive selection of dedicated wine storage units. Distributed by the American Appliance Centre in the UK, the only drawback is the price, which can add as much as £6,000 to the cost of a fitted kitchen.

The key thing to consider when buying a standalone wine cabinet is capacity. If you are a fairly motivated wine geek it won't take you long to fill up a 200-bottle unit. Wise counsel seems to be to think how many bottles you are intending to store, and then double that number.

If you have the space, then an appealing option is to create your own walk-in cellar using specialised air conditioning units. Eurocave has two temperature control units designed for rooms up to 10 m3 and 20 m3 (priced at £1,500 and £1,800 respectively). Martin Alpren says that many buyers choose to partition off part of the garage, making an alcove. An area 2.5m by 2m will take 1,600 bottles – a huge amount in a domestic context. For the less thirsty, 650 bottles will fit into a space 2m by 1.5m. These units were only introduced last year, and so far 30 have been sold. Other similar specialised air conditioners on the market are the Norcool Coolmaster (£880–1,300) and Fondis Winemaster (£950–1,650), both of which are available from Spiral Cellars Ltd. Standard air conditioners are not designed to run at such low temperatures, and are unsuitable.

Some things to bear in mind if this choice appeals. First, the cellar space should be thoroughly insulated. Second, creating different temperature compartments can cause condensation, so the cellar will need a suitable vapour barrier. 'You've really got to know what you are doing,' says Wilson, 'or you can cause damps.' Richard Gold's How and Why to Build a Wine Cellar (Wine Appreciation Guild) is the classic reference book on this subject. Perfect for wine-loving DIY nuts.

The final option is possibly the most ingenious – the spiral cellar. This is a solid concrete cylinder, sunk into the ground with access through a trapdoor. Since 1978 10,000 have been installed in French homes. Two metres wide, the cellar comes in depths of 2, 2.25, 2.5 and 3m, and is capable of storing up to 1,600 bottles. Deryn Hemment, managing director of Spiral Cellars in the UK, says they often fit the units in garages and conservatories. The most popular is 2m deep and takes 1,000 bottles – this costs £7,049 plus VAT, fully installed. Of course, you can't take this with you when you move, so best to choose this option only if you're settled where you are.

Jamie Goode is editor of www.wineanorak.com

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