Did you know Moldova is home to the world’s most extensive wine cellar? Built around an old limestone mine, the Mileștii Mici extends around 240 km underground, keeping an astounding 1.5 million bottles of fine wine in temperatures of the mid-10oC. It’s a testament to the country’s rich history of making wines, with one in two bottles consumed in the then-Soviet Union (of which Moldova was a part) originating here.
But finding an abandoned mine or subterranean space near home to store your wine collection is far from ideal. As to the right amount of space necessary for setting up one, the answer depends on several factors. Before you commit to building your wine cellar, you need to decide how big your cellar should be.
How Many Wine Bottles?
A cellar doesn’t have to be as big as a mine, let alone underground. An unused room in the house will make for decent storage of fine drinks, provided adequate climate control. However, the size of the cellar should be proportionate to the number of bottles you own or plan to own.
Cellars as small as two square metres can hold up to 500 wine bottles, but the general base starts at four square metres that can store 1,000 bottles. As a rule of thumb, experts advise adding two square metres for every 500 bottles you want to keep. In this case, a standard room of 10 square metres can provide space for 2,500 bottles.
Even at the most conservative estimate, 500 is a lot of wine to consume. It brings several other things to the table, such as the number of bottles to buy and drink every year. Experts say the ideal consumption rate is about 100 bottles yearly (close to the 2019 nationwide average of 108).
It’s also crucial to remember that most wines retain their flavours for a few years. Unopened white wines are good for up to two years, while red wines for up to three years. However, when the bottle has its cork popped, the decay rate becomes a matter of days instead of years.
Will It Serve Another Purpose?
Some wine cellars serve purposes other than keeping the collection cool and fresh. Placing tables and chairs can turn the cellar into a makeshift tasting room or fine dining area. This setup brings the wines closer to diners, making wine selection and storage easier.
That said, adding furniture to the cellar calls for more elbow room, not only for the furniture but the expected foot traffic. Can you imagine being unable to open the wine cabinet or pull the chair due to the cramped space? Such additions can also influence the type of storage. For instance, a wine wall may be a space-saving feature, but it can only hold so many bottles.
You may ask this question more often when considering holding a wine tasting party or similar event. The cellar has to stock up on wines and wine ware and offer adequate space for guests to move around.
Is The Collection Top-Heavy?
Here’s a bit of nifty science: the specific gravity of wine before adding the yeast ranges between 1.08 and 1.09, making it nearly 10% more dense than water. Once the yeast begins fermentation, it’ll consume the sugar content making the wine heavy. The final product should have a density that’s 0.4% less than water.
Simply put, 750 ml of wine is roughly 0.75 kg in weight. But of course, they come all bottled up, with the bottle alone adding another 0.3 kg to 0.9 kg, depending on the material. So, your run-of-the-mill 750 ml wine bottle weighs between 1.05 kg and 1.65 kg.
Take 100 bottles, and you have a collection bearing 165 kg, with 500 bottles, close to a ton. All that weight can exert stress on the flooring if the cellar’s sitting on the ground level. That’s why higher-capacity cellars are in the basement, where the surrounding earth can withstand the weight. It’s also possible to have a secondary smaller wine cellar above ground.
In the end, equal weight distribution is essential. As a rule of thumb, designers suggest allowing up to 100 bottles for every square metre of cellar space. For wine walls, the minimum figure for a collection is a dozen or so per square metre (or two bottles per 0.1 square metre).
Is It A Conversion Or New Construction?
Some households elect to turn an existing room into a wine cellar, while others want a new one built from scratch. Both options have pros and cons, so it’s a decision not to be taken lightly.
Cost is the first consideration. According to statistics from online tradespeople marketplaces, a conversion project can cost between GBP£1,000 and GBP£1,800 for every square metre, while new builds play between GBP£1,920 and GBP£2,640 per square metre. Both price ranges are in 2022 values and include Value Added Tax (VAT).
It’s easy to see why converting an existing space is more affordable. For starters, it eliminates the need to dig a new area, and the necessary infrastructure already exists. But experts warn that spending on a conversion that negates any gain in the property’s value is unwise. More importantly, new construction is inevitable if the existing space won’t fit your wants and needs.
A wine cellar can hold hundreds of wine bottles with the right design. It’s a good thing, given that the price of fine wine has increased by 127% over the past ten years. Experts say holding on to these wines for as long as possible can lead to more favourable tax returns, though don’t let this stop you from enjoying a glass or two.
Designing a wine cellar involves many factors, whether for conversion or new construction. Every cabernet or porter to add to one’s collection also adds weight and consumes space. Furthermore, it doesn’t come cheap but can increase a property’s overall value. It pays to treat a wine cellar and its collection like any home improvement project and a long-term investment.