Help! Advice on wine storage without a cellar, please?

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Help! Advice on wine storage without a cellar, please?

Postby Tim York » Fri Nov 08, 2013 10:21 am

We are about to move into a house in Normandy (great cider, Calvados and cheese :D but no local wine :( ), which has no cellar, and I would appreciate advice.

My present thinking is that I should convert part of a single story outbuilding for the purpose of storing my roughly 1000 bottles of wine. It is about 10 metres long and 3 metres wide divided into two rooms with an open gap between them. There are a couple of windows, parts of the roof need repair and there is ventilation from a gap between the roof and the wall right round the building.

My plan would be to partition one of the rooms, stop up most of the ventilation gap there except for a small aperture to the north, cover the window, create a ceiling with insulating material and insulate thickly the walls (including the partition) on all four sides, but not forgetting to place an insulated door in the partition.

The Norman climate is similar to that in SE England and Belgium, i.e. damp and mild most of the time, liable to marked temperature fluctuations, with very hot spells of 32°C+ (90°F) max in some summers, e.g. 2003 and this year, and occasional days below -10°C (+14°F) in the winter.

Does anyone here have a view whether such a conversion would be likely to be effective for wine keeping purpose without the addition of expensive air conditioning?

The alternative would be the buy 3 or 4 large capacity wine fridges but we then run into the problem of finding space for them in a not very big house (some 180m2 = roughly 1800 square feet), which, to boot, is constantly warmed by central heating most of the year. The outbuilding could be used for them, of course, but subject to temperature extremes without my insulation plan.

An aggravating circumstance to any solution involving electricity is its proneness in France to weather induced cuts due to most of the local grid’s being above ground, unlike in the UK and Belgium.
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Re: Help! Advice on wine storage without a cellar, please?

Postby David M. Bueker » Fri Nov 08, 2013 10:35 am

I hate to say that the outbuilding does not sound promising without supplemental cooling. I bet you would be ok with hte low tems, as they don't last so long, but a couple of weeks of hot weather (or God forbid a summer of 2003 repeat), and your wine would likely be cooked.
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Re: Help! Advice on wine storage without a cellar, please?

Postby Rahsaan » Fri Nov 08, 2013 11:36 am

No idea, but congrats on the move. Should be interesting!
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Re: Help! Advice on wine storage without a cellar, please?

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Fri Nov 08, 2013 2:45 pm

I have been fortunate to hear about Tim`s move as we keep in regular touch.
Quite a challenge I think, feel sure good advice from folks here but especially in the UK.
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Re: Help! Advice on wine storage without a cellar, please?

Postby Dale Williams » Fri Nov 08, 2013 10:03 pm

From description it sounds like no electricity in outbuilding? How far from an outlet? What are current materials for walls of outbuilding?
I would definitely not depend on passive cellar above ground if 90 degree F temps are a possibility.
Some ideas:
Insulate a section of outbuilding very heavily (R60?) and install a small portable AC unit. I know AC is much less common in France, but could still get a small unit for 100-120 euros probably. As long as you kept peak temps around 70 (21 or so celsius) I'd have no fears for the vast majority of wine
Any chance of digging down in outbuilding? Are floors dirt? If you could dig down and maybe pour concrete for walls, I'm betting a significant heat sink. Most Bordeaux chai are semi-sunken structures.
How long do cold spells last? If you have weeks with average temps below freezing, one cold night with temps at -10C/14F could conceivably get wine (I think depending on ABV freeze point will be 18-24 F) to freeze, compromising cork.
I think best solution is a big WLDG party in Normandy. :)
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Re: Help! Advice on wine storage without a cellar, please?

Postby Tim York » Sat Nov 09, 2013 8:13 am

Dale Williams wrote:From description it sounds like no electricity in outbuilding? How far from an outlet? What are current materials for walls of outbuilding?
I would definitely not depend on passive cellar above ground if 90 degree F temps are a possibility.
Some ideas:
Insulate a section of outbuilding very heavily (R60?) and install a small portable AC unit. I know AC is much less common in France, but could still get a small unit for 100-120 euros probably. As long as you kept peak temps around 70 (21 or so celsius) I'd have no fears for the vast majority of wine
Any chance of digging down in outbuilding? Are floors dirt? If you could dig down and maybe pour concrete for walls, I'm betting a significant heat sink. Most Bordeaux chai are semi-sunken structures.
How long do cold spells last? If you have weeks with average temps below freezing, one cold night with temps at -10C/14F could conceivably get wine (I think depending on ABV freeze point will be 18-24 F) to freeze, compromising cork.
I think best solution is a big WLDG party in Normandy. :)


Thanks for that, Dale. The outbuilding does have an electrical power point, which may need reinforcement. The walls are made of brick and are supplemented in part by a material known here in Belgium by the Dutch word "snelbouw" (English translation apparently "drywall"??, French "placoplâtre"???).

From what you, David and some guys on the UK site say, A/C equipment and probably also a greenhouse heater for cold spells seem inevitable. Professional cellar A/C equipment performs both functions but is expensive. Power supply in France is often cut and sod's law dictates that this is most likely to happen in a heat wave (particularly from lightning strikes) or in the winter from snow or saturation of the grid (I've just heard a warning on French television that this could happen in the coming winter). This means that an emergency generator would be a wise precaution (my daughter's farmer neighbours have them).

Cold spells with nights below freezing could last two or three weeks with with ocassional night minima of -10°C being not unusual and even down to -15°C once or twice every few years. In the summer, most years will have the odd day or two with maxima up to 32°C but in 2003 that was exceeded by several degrees for several days.

With regard to underground storage, there is a French supplier of pre-fabricated wine cellars, the most simple of which are spiral, which only need to be lowered into the ground and equipped with covenient access, light and perhaps water. They are, however, far from cheap, particularly when the cost of excavationa and installation is added.

One or several parties in Normandy is a splendid idea :D .
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Re: Help! Advice on wine storage without a cellar, please?

Postby Fredrik L » Sat Nov 09, 2013 8:28 am

Hi Tim!
I used to spend Summers in Normandy and I would never rely on a passive cellar. The outbulding could work but will cost you to make it safe and reliable; expensive at it may seem I think your best option is to buy wine fridges. An extra generator could come in handy but ask the neighbours first how frequent the power cuts really are. I do not remember a single one from my time spent there, including 2003. Renting proper cellar space could be another option.

Greetings from Sweden / Fredrik L
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Re: Help! Advice on wine storage without a cellar, please?

Postby Thomas » Sat Nov 09, 2013 10:50 am

It's difficult to make a suggestion, especially based on that comment about unreliable electric power grid. The only thing I can tell you is that over the years making, buying and selling wine, I've discovered that about 80 degrees F for only a few hours can have a lasting negative effect on bottled wine, and that the average wine in a bottle will start to freeze when the outside temperature stays about 24 degrees F for a few hours.

With that in mind, it seems that you will need to come up with an idea either for establishing constant temperature or for insulation to accommodate what probably amounts to no more than a month's collective time with those upper and lower outside temperatures within a full year.

I'd say that Dale's final sentence is the one to act upon. When's the party???
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Re: Help! Advice on wine storage without a cellar, please?

Postby Mark S » Sat Nov 09, 2013 2:12 pm

Thomas wrote:I'd say that Dale's final sentence is the one to act upon. When's the party???



Looks like France in '14!

Tim, could I ask you why you moved?
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Re: Help! Advice on wine storage without a cellar, please?

Postby Tim York » Sat Nov 09, 2013 2:38 pm

Mark S wrote:
Thomas wrote:
Tim, could I ask you why you moved?


The Brussels area in Belgium is a good place to live but my wife who is into horses has been hankering after a place where she has enough land to keep her horses at home and at the same time have a smaller house to look after. Without paying a fortune, the first is a tall order in Belgium where there is not much space.

One of our daughters lives in Normandy and and we chose it for that reason, instead of a warmer, wine growing region.
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Re: Help! Advice on wine storage without a cellar, please?

Postby Dale Williams » Sat Nov 09, 2013 5:41 pm

I'm surprised that house doesn't have cellar- sounds like there is enough freeze/thaw cycle that basements would be useful. Is it the norm in the area?

If power grid is unreliable, a generator is a very good thing (my generator was my best friend post-Superstorm Sandy) for your house. But an AC unit does draw a lot of power- if you wanted that to be powered, you probably need to go for a bigger unit than I have (3500 watt).

One thing to remember is that while I'm totally in agreement with Thomas re temps (24 & 80 being problematic) if you have a lot of wine in a well insulated space (and don't open doors to check!!!!) the thermal mass is quite significant. So if you have a lot of insulation around a room that you cool to low 60s (sorry, F is just easier for me) and you lost power for a few days while it was 90 outside, my personal guess is that the temp increase would probably be 2-3 degrees per day. Similarly, if in winter you were keeping temps in cellar to 45, it would take quite a few days to go down to mid20s.

I think those in-ground spiral cellars are very cool, but very expensive. My thought was if the ground is not bedrock (and no high water table) it sounds like you have some room. I am being fanciful- envisioning digging out a space a meter deep, 2.75 meters wide,5 meters long. So roughly 14 cubic yards. Assuming you don't need to move dirt a long distance, probably one day for 2 laborers, more if extremely compacted. Or you could rent a mini-backhoe if space between rooms permits. Then pour concrete on sides of hole, slab on bottom. Insert metal framing studs as you pour concrete. Build insulated walls and ceiling. You'd have an insulated cellar that you step down into. Bottom half isn't deep enough to get to full temperature inertia, but it would act as a heat sink/steadier. A lot of work, but in your temps I bet it would do pretty well.
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Re: Help! Advice on wine storage without a cellar, please?

Postby Tim York » Sun Nov 10, 2013 10:59 am

Dale Williams wrote:I'm surprised that house doesn't have cellar- sounds like there is enough freeze/thaw cycle that basements would be useful. Is it the norm in the area?



Thanks for that, Dale.

Houses with cellars are rare in Normandy, except for some older town houses, built for people such as doctors, attorneys and notaries, and aristocratic châteaux and manoirs in the countryside. Out of some 20 properties we or our daughter viewed, only 3 rejected for other reasons claimed to have caves à vins. One of these was on a slope, so that one wall was entirely uncovered by earth; a second had ceiling and two walls uncovered by earth; the third was properly underground, if seeming a bit dry, but the house itself was unappealing. The owners of the first two claimed year round temperatures of 12-14°C but I beg leave to be sceptical.

Even in the Bordeaux region where we searched a few years ago, underground cellars are very unusual. Most wine growing châteaux have their chais and wine storage at or near ground level.

I have a lot now to think about. A simple, if not the cheapest, solution could be, say, 3 Liebherr (capacity 312 bottles) wine fridges placed in the outbuilding (or perhaps 1 of them in the house) with the power turned off for about 8 months in the year and a generator as back-up; initial cost c.€6000 but with ongoing power costs. I hanker after a power free solution but those spiral cellars are indeed expensive, starting at €11,000 installed for only about 700 bottles. At the bottom of the range, access is by a vertical ladder, which at age 75 now I may be only able to use for a few more years :( .
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