Four essential elements for creating a cellar

Once upon a time, before anyone had even dreamed up ‘My House Rules’, a pool was the ultimate luxury home feature; an outdoor spa ran a close second and a water bed perhaps completed the set. Home theatres hit the big time a decade ago. Outdoor kitchens are so last year. In 2014, the hot architectural feature that has everyone planning a dinner party is the scullery, a second hidden kitchen where all the real work happens. The recent trend I’m really interested in is the home cellar and ironically, just like the scullery, it isn’t a new idea at all (I’m sure there must be home cellars in the Bible, not sure about a scullery…). Yes, it’s back to the future for the fabulous cellar but why this sudden burst of interest? I can only comment on my own reasons for having a cellar but there are many: convenience, pleasure and a sense of personal and shared history in your own home, to name a few. Taking care of investment wines is also a motive for many but for me the reward comes from being able to visit with aged wines; from remembering the stories attached to certain bottles; from being able to carefully select a bottle of my own wine to suit each occasion; from savouring vintages that are now scarce in the wider world. I love the romance of a proper underground cellar, it’s such an atmospheric place to entertain and escape.

If you weren’t already planning to create a cellar, perhaps I’ve convinced you? Once people have begun ‘Learning to love aged wines’ they often want to take this next step, so I’m frequently asked about the elements needed to craft a rewarding cellar. Basically, there are reasons why cellars are usually underground: they are cool and dark with good humidity. You can make your cellar as basic or elaborate as you want, but you need to get these four things right to ensure your wines age well and you enjoy the fruits of your cellar:

1. Temperature

This is the most important element of all because temperature affects how quickly your wine will age. You are literately (very) slow cooking your wine – the hotter the cellar, the quicker the aging process and if the temperature’s too low your wine won’t age at all! So, to an extent the temperature you choose depends on your personal preference and when you want to drink the wine. We keep our cellars between 15 and 20 degrees and though others may keep their cellars as low as 10 degrees, it’s generally agreed that anything over 20 degrees is not ideal. Underground cellars benefit from natural insulation but above ground cellars need to have adequate insulation and inbuilt temperature control such as reverse cycle air conditioning to maintain an optimum temperature.

2. Humidity

The humidity of a cellar is important if you’re aging any wines with corks.  Too much humidity will result in musty, wet corks, or if the cellar’s too dry, the corks will be too. The recommended range is between 55 and 75 percent humidity but it’s a bit trickier to control than temperature. Again, an underground cellar will usually achieve this level naturally. For above ground cellars humidifier or dehumidifiers are available but usually air conditioning will assist with maintaining good humidity levels. You can monitor the humidity and temperature every time you enter by sticking an inexpensive hygrometer and thermometer from the hardware store on the wall.

3. Direct Sunlight


4. Horizontal bottles

If you’re aging bottles with corks you must store them on their side. This keeps the wine in contact with the cork, which stops the cork from drying out. Purpose built wine racks look fantastic but you can store wine with corks any way you want as long as its horizontal. Screw capped bottles can even be stored standing up.

I hope this gives you some clues to begin planning your first cellar. Look out for my next blog post, which will extend this theme to the wine itself and how to approach building your collection.

Blog Special

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This month I’m offering something a bit different – a straight 6pk of one new wine I’m particularly excited about: Domaine Naturaliste Rebus Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Margaret River.

$150 will get you 6 bottles of this wonderful wine.

Domaine Naturaliste is the new Margaret River venture of award winning winemaker Bruce Dukes.
After twenty years of applying his expertise to the countless vintages of local producers, Bruce has launched his own range of wines. They are named after the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge, which is the dominant land-form of viticultural significance in Margaret River: our viticultural Domaine.

The Rebus Cabernet Sauvignon is rich and plush on the palate… it’s a classic Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon. Enjoy!

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