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The Art of Aging Wine: Wine Cellar Cooling Systems


Innovative cellar cooling systems are not a recent development, because aging wine has long been more art than science. It has been known for many centuries that wine develops well under the kind of conditions that the Romans used when storing it in their catacombs: a constant low temperature, along with a dark, humid, and vibration-free environment. But why, exactly? For several reasons, the science of wine aging is poorly understood.

For one thing, the complex chemical reactions that cause a wine's flavor, complexity, aroma, and flavor to change over time vary from one vineyard to the next, one vintage to the next, and one bottle to the next. Small differences in the wine's aging environment can greatly affect its final taste. Perhaps most significantly, aging wine is a time-intensive and expensive process; performing statistical analyses of the effects of different aging conditions would require decades, not to mention dollars. And with the library of wines available growing every year, such a study would have no end.

The aging of wine is such a sensitive, delicate and mysterious process that its effects cannot be known until the bottle has been uncorked, the experiment over. We must revert to the ways of our wine-loving ancestors, combining dark, cool and humid conditions with a dash of artistry and intuition.

Modern Systems Designed Especially for Wine

CellarPro 1800QT wine cellar cooling system

The intuition is up to you. But modern technology can now offer wine connoisseurs spectacularly advanced climate control machines that have the temperature and humidity problem under control, down to the last degree.

Modern wine cellar cooling systems are not air conditioners. They are specifically designed to create the conditions under which wine ages best. To age your wine properly, you'll most likely need to use artificial climate control. Whether you store your wine in a small cabinet, a larger wine room or a custom-built wine cellar, your system will include one of the many wine cellar cooling systems available on the modern market.

On the market today are 3 different types of cooling units: "through the wall" systems, split systems and self-contained ducted units. Each type of cooling unit will require a different specification to ensure successful operation. The best way to decide what kind of cooling system will best suit you is to discuss your room layout, the construction specifications of the wine cellar and the surrounding conditions with a wine cellar specialist trained in the application of each type of cooling unit. All systems require a dedicated circuit built into the wine cellar or system housing room and regular maintenance, and annual inspections are recommended to prevent cooling system breakdowns.

Through The Wall Systems

through the wall cooling units

"Through the wall" cooling units can be reliable, yet inexpensive options for your wine cellar. Remember that old window air conditioner? Through the wall systems operate on the same principle: cold air blows into the cellar and hot air is expelled out the other side of the unit. This means that a well ventilated and seldom used ventilation room is needed adjacent to the wine cellar. This room must be able to ventilate so that the cooling system is not required to maintain a temperature-difference between the areas greater than the system was designed for. (Most systems are designed for a 30 degree range, meaning that the ventilation room cannot get over 95 degrees or the wine cellar will rise above 65.) Whisperkool recently released an "Extreme Series" that can function under an ambient temperature of up to 110° (great for extremely hot summer conditions).

It is important to remember that these cooling units have very specific installation requirements regarding wall placement and supporting the system's weight. It is important to read the instructions that come with your cooling unit, position and build your wine room properly and size your wine cellar cooling unit accordingly. Breezaire and Whisperkool make two of the most popular through the wall units on the market.

Split Systems

through the wall cooling split units

Split systems are the second (and increasingly popular) type of wine cellar cooling unit available because they offer a wider range of placements to reduce the impact of heat, noise, and ventilation requirements on your wine cellar placement. Much like your home A/C unit, the three main components of a split system are a condensing unit, line sets and an evaporator coil.Once again, Breezaire and Whisperkool manufacture 2 common "over the counter" split systems. However, there are a variety of proprietary commercial grade split systems available. If you choose a split system wine cellar cooling unit, you will need a licensed HVAC contractor to install it.

Self-Contained Systems

self contained ducted system

The third type of system is a self contained ducted system. A self-contained system reduces noise and the impact of ventilation requirements on your cellar's placement because the ducts can be run some distance, removing the machinery from the cellar's immediate proximity. Most are designed for larger wine cellars (from 500 to 5,000 square feet) and can be mounted in an attic (depending on conditions), a mechanical room or in a space adjacent to the wine cellar. Venting ducts are used to send cold air into the cellar and return ducts to circulate the air back through the system. A self-contained system can also be equipped with high ambient kits, or an attached humidifier. Wine Guardian is a very popular model for self contained systems (fresh water supply and drain required) and low ambient kits if the unit is in a location that could fall below 40 degrees. These must be installed by a licensed HVAC contractor.

A variety of factors will influence a wine enthusiast's choice about the type of system needed. When considering a cooling unit, a buyer must consider cubic footage, heat load, hot air exhaust, temperature differential, local weather conditions, insulation and even bottle count. The cooling system is the integral part of the wine aging process. Modern technology has created cooling systems that exactly control the climate conditions of your wine storage area, and give you the power to change them with the touch of a button. The art of wine aging has never been so accessible.

Written by

Gene Walder

Former President and co-owner of Vintage Cellars and Vintage Wine Cellars, Gene started Vintage Cellars in 1990 and stepped down in 2020. Under new ownership, Vintage Cellars continues thriving 31 years later with over 2,500 gorgeous custom wine cellars designed and built. Gene is an expert in all aspects of building and designing custom wine cellars and wine storage.