ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

Why should I add a cooling unit to my wine room? The temperature is 55 degrees from November through April, 60 degrees from May through October, and the rest is 66 to 68 degrees. I make wine from Lodi fruit and typically drink it by the fourth year. The wine tastes great, but can it be better with a cooling unit? Based on what I told you, is it OK to not spend the $1,000 plus?

—Bob, Columbus, Ohio

Dear Bob,

Hold on there, fella. I never told you (or anyone) that they needed to buy a cooling unit. Sure, the ideal cellar conditions are a constant 55 degrees F and about 70 percent humidity, away from light, heat, vibration and temperature fluctuation. All I suggest is that you do what you can, within your budget, to get as close to that as possible. For some, it’ll be a dark corner of a closet. For others, it’ll be a much more elaborate system.

What you have is what’s called a passive cellar; that is, one that’s not climate-controlled. That’s fine—many of the best wineries in the world have caves and cellars dug into the earth because it provides a good wine environment. Will your wines taste better with a cooling unit? It’s possible that they would stay fresher longer and age more gracefully. If you hold on to rare or collectible wines (especially if you might choose to resell them), or if you like your wines with more bottle age, a cooling unit becomes a little more important than if you’re a “drink ’em now” kind of guy.

I can’t tell you whether upgrading to an active cellar is a good idea for you. But let me ask you this: How much did you spend last year on your wine habit? If a $1,000 cooling unit represents less than 25 percent—or, especially, less than 10 percent—of your annual wine-buying budget, you might want to think about it more carefully. Anyone who cellars wine already has an investment in wine. Might as well start thinking about protecting it.

—Dr. Vinny


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