At some point in your wine collecting "career," you will probably begin to dream of owning a true wine cellar, a walk-in area of your home where your entire collection rests on matching racks, waiting for you to step inside and choose a bottle.  Inspired by the gorgeous photographs of celebrity wine cellars, you might wonder if you should talk with a wine cellar expert about designing a cellar in your own home.

Upgrading from a wine cooler to a wine cellar represents a substantial investment.  You will need to protect your collection with a vapor barrier, insulation, proper lighting and, of course, humidity and temperature controls, and all of this costs money.  Equally important, you will have to allocate – or add – space inside your home, space you will not be able to use for anything except wine storage. 

Let's take a look at factors to consider when making the decision to create a wine cellar.

Wine Cellar Considerations

Catherine Fallis, Master Sommelier and Founder/President of Planet Grape® LLC, (also known as the grape goddess®) suggests working with a wine cellar planner to find a solution that works for you.  "It's really good to have someone guide [you] in the process who's not selling anything," she says.  A wine cellar designer will sit down with you and help you decide whether creating a cellar is the best choice for you.  According to Fallis, you will need to consider many factors, including:

  • Whether you have space available in your home or will need to build an addition to hold the wine cellar;
  • How much your wine collection is worth;
  • How much wine you typically drink in a given time period;
  • What the function of the wine cellar will be – simply storage, or display as well;
  • Whether you plan to sell your home in the future or will stay there indefinitely;
  • Which types of wine you plan to store in the wine cellar; and
  • How much you want to spend on the project.

Fallis says that some clients are surprised by the costs involved in setting up a wine cellar.  A high-end wine cellar cooling system can cost several thousand dollars – before installation.  Add in wine racks, lighting and construction costs, and you will begin to think of the wine cellar as an investment.  That's how it should be, says Fallis.  "If you have a nice home that's an investment," she says, "you consider it [the wine cellar] an additional investment."  Fallis adds that Realtors have told her that wine cellars can be worth more in resale value than kitchen upgrades.

Alternatives to Wine Cellars

If you don't have enough space for a wine cellar, consider buying a wine cooler or two to hold your collection.  Wine coolers are also good alternatives if you have space for wine storage but your budget won't stretch to create a wine cellar, and they will protect your wine investment well.

Another alternative to building a wine cellar is storing your wine at an off-site wine storage facility.  These temperature- and humidity-controlled units come in all shapes, sizes and costs.  You can rent a small unit for your most valuable bottles or contract for a larger locker that holds several dozen cases.  Charges normally include a monthly or annual rental fee, setup and inventory fees, pickup and delivery fees and a fee for pulling a specific case from your wine locker.  Services and policies vary, so you should carefully read your wine storage contract before signing it.

The Bottom Line

Building or renovating a space to hold your wine collection is an investment worth careful consideration.  Reflecting on your long-term wine collecting plans is an important part of this process.   You may wish to speak with a wine cellar designer about your plans; a consultation with an expert will help you determine whether upgrading to a dedicated wine cellar is your best option.