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What is a Wine Cellar?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated Feb 29, 2024
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A wine cellar is a room, or in some cases cabinet, meant to store and protect wine. It can vary in size, cost, and effectiveness. In recent years a number of affordable options have appeared on the market, allowing even casual consumers of wine the ability to store their wine.

Intended to protect the wine, a wine cellar can guard against the three traditional enemies of wine in bottle: heat, dryness, and light. A good wine cellar keeps the wine at a fairly low temperature, with a decent amount of humidity, and in relative darkness. In addition, a good wine cellar protects against any drastic fluctuations in temperature or humidity, which can damage the wine very quickly.

The term wine cellar is often used to describe anywhere meant to protect wine for a prolonged period of time, but should strictly refer to an actual below-ground cellar. A wine cellar that is above ground is more properly called a wine room, and the smaller wine fridges many people use in their homes are wine closets.

Within the scope of an actual wine cellar, there are two main types: passive cellars and active cellars. A passive wine cellar would be found somewhere that is naturally cool and humid, and which also doesn't change wildly depending on the season. Deep natural caves are often used as passive wine cellars, but man-made earthen cellars can also function well in the right environment.

Active wine cellars make use of insulation, monitoring and cooling systems, artificial humidifiers, and seals. These cellars can be very costly, depending on their size, but allow for more dynamic construction. They may also be a more ideal form of protection for valuable wines.

A wine room or home wine cellar can be constructed either by a specialized company, or in a do-it-yourself fashion. Many people find that they can convert a spare closet into a functional wine cellar without spending too much money or time. The most important thing is simply to keep the wine cool, and at a steady temperature. Ideally, wine will be kept at somewhere around 50° F (10° C), with no more than a few degrees variation year-round.

Many companies now also offer small electric wine cellars, which are really wine closets or wine refrigerators. These come in many different sizes, and at a number of different price points. The smallest hold only a few bottles, while larger stand-alones may hold more than 100 bottles. The cheaper standup wine cellars regulate only the temperature of the wines, with some having two different "zones," one for red and one for white. More expensive standup wine cellars keep the wines at a constant humidity as well, which may or may not help protect natural corks from drying out and damaging the wine.

Some companies will also come to your house and convert a closet or spare room into your very own wine cellar. They install added insulation, temperature monitors, and some type of humidifier. Many consumers find that these conversions can be surprisingly affordable.

One other alternative to a traditional wine cellar exists for those who want to protect their wines, but don't want to invest in digging out their own cellar or finding a natural cave. Many self-storage facilities offer temperature- and humidity-controlled environments for a monthly price. This can be a surprisingly effective way to keep a large number of wines protected for years on end, although it is a good idea to make sure the temperature range is truly stable, and ideally to find a unit that offers some sort of insurance for the goods that you store there.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By MrPolitic99 — On Oct 04, 2010

@GraniteChief, I understand your frustration but really, anything in life that has the ability to differ in quality will have a following of aficionados.

Many people think cigars are disgusting but for those that enjoy them there are people that buy swisher sweets for a very low price and others will spend hundreds of dollars on a single Cuban cigar.

Some of those folks will still spend a pretty penny for a single cigar but might only be able to do it once or twice a year. Please don't bring a rich/poor debate into this conversation.

I have a wine cellar that I built by hand. No contractors were hired for exuberant amounts of money and I myself am not a wealthy man. I do however appreciate fine wine and for that reason could justify my very own wine cellar.

By GraniteChief — On Oct 04, 2010

@spreadsheet, I understand that what you say is very true but it is sick as well. There are babies starving in Africa right now and people are spending hundreds of dollars on a single glass of wine. These are the same people that are digging out their own wine cellars to horde their expensive elixir.

I just hope the buzz is worth it.

By spreadsheet — On Oct 04, 2010

@jeancastle00 is right. My partner and I have made a killing off of fine wines in the past decade or so. Did you know that some bottles of wine can be priced at $10,000 and even higher.

These are the fine wines that one can venture to a hidden vineyard in the south hills of France and select by hand and only by hand. Otherwise if you look for these types of wine then you will have to broker through and agent in the trade.

This can be pricey as everyone knows that when a middle man is involved, they get a cut, and not just a glass of wine.

It's hard to imagine but people spend more on a glass of wine then some will get in their next pay check. Either way, I would look into wine if you are a fan of the liquid or are looking to invest into a niche market.

By jeancastle00 — On Oct 04, 2010

With the fine wines that my wife and I like to enjoy, keeping the product in an ideal aging condition is critical. Not only will the flavor and texture of this juice of gods be destroyed but thousands to tens of thousands of dollars can be lost. This of course depends on your size of investment in wine.

Many people just think of the fermented grape juice as an intoxicant for the snobs but I could not begin to iterate my frustration with such a stand. Wine collecting is in fact a way to invest in the long term.

Given that you know the basics of how to purchase, store and enjoy fine wine then one simply has to be educated in the market as to what is desirable and what will be desired in the next five to twenty years.

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