cellar custom 600You may have long yearned for a wine cellar, but thought you couldn’t build one because you didn’t have a large wine collection or budget.

Not to worry: although cellars are traditionally associated with snobbery and expense, in today’s egalitarian world wine lovers are building them on relatively modest budgets.

In fact, there are a range of reasons why wine lovers choose to build a cellar: Do you yearn for the smooth, layered taste of mature wines?

Do you like to buy wines upon release, when they’re least expensive, rather than paying top dollar later? Or do you just have too many bottles piling up in your bedroom closet or kitchen cupboard?

Those are all good reasons for wanting your own personal den of Dionysus—along with the convenience of having a cache of wines at hand, whether for quiet family dinners or for when company comes.

Just as drinkers vary in their wine tastes, so they do differ in their reasons for wanting a cellar. Before venturing into creating the wine cellar of your dreams, though, consider these helpful hints that will leave you calm, cool and collected.

Cellar Do’s

Do calculate how much wine and space you’ll need.

A well-planned cellar creates a flow of great wine over a lifetime. Calculate your needs depending on how much you drink per week and on how long you want to age your wines.

For example, if you drink three bottles of wine every week, that’s approximately 150 a year; and if your preference is for wines that have been aged an average of five years, then you’ll need to have at least 750 bottles.

Some people don’t want to age their wines at all, but rather have a cellar for convenience. This is especially true for moderately priced wines under $20: they generally won’t age well past five years, but having a cellar means you won’t be damaging them with too much heat or light before you drink them.

The physical size of your cellar will also depend on whether you use the room just for storage or for entertaining as well.

Part of the romantic idea of owning a wine cellar is tasting wine with friends, by the glow of candlelight amid dusty bottles—but that increases your size, insulation needs, and cost.

Do create the best aging conditions.

The ideal storage temperature of 10oC to 15oC allows wine to age slowly to its full complexity. Excess heat cooks off its finer characteristics, while too much chill retards its maturation.

Humidity should also be stable, at about 70 percent, so the corks don’t dry out. Dry corks shrink ever so slightly, allowing air to seep into the bottles and oxidize your wine.

That’s why bottles are best stored on their sides: the wine keeps the cork wet, and the oxygen out. Darkness is preferable, too, because wine is sensitive to light—although most wine is bottled in coloured glass to protect it against damage.

You may already have these conditions naturally in your basement or root cellar and therefore you might not need to make any adjustments. This is called a “passive cellar.” Leave a simple temperature and humidity gauge in the area and monitor it to see if this is so.

Do research all the storage options.

Once upon a time, a wine cellar was a large, vaulted underground cave. But today, there are many choices, ranging from cool basement corners fitted with racks, to specially built closets with cooling units and wine fridges.

Finding the right choice for you depends on your budget and needs. Some basements or rooms have naturally ideal conditions to cellar wine; others can be adapted with insulation and cooling units.

Wine fridges come in a range of sizes, from small to large. Price vary from $5,000 to $50,000 or more.

Do consider hiring a consultant.

For larger and more complex projects, especially ones that involve retrofitting a basement or building a cellar from scratch, bringing in an expert can save you time and expense.

A consultant can analyze your existing conditions to identify humidity levels and hot and cold spots; will tell you how much insulation you’ll need and where; and what heating, cooling or humidifying equipment would be best.

Even a skilled and reputable contractor or home builder can be experienced at building wine cellars. To find a consultant, ask a knowledgeable staff person at your local liquor store for recommendations.

Here are costly wine cellar mistakes to avoid.