organizing a wine cellar

Monday, January 09, 2012

Yesterday’s Wine Adviser column in the Seattle Times was designed to help readers organize a new wine cellar. Space (always the final frontier when writing for a print publication) was limited, so I couldn’t dive all the way into the topic.

A reader wrote: “Thank you for writing this column. I thought it was a concise, practical summary and a good jumping-off place for a discussion my husband and I needed to have, regarding our tendency to haphazardly buy bottles of wines we've tasted and liked and thought would be even better in a few years, then stash them in the wine fridge, forget about them, and run out for bottles of $12 Chianti. Would you please consider doing a column on ways to organize wine collections/cellars?”

I will do that column at a future date, but here are some quick thoughts to get you started.

First of all, let’s be realistic. Not everyone wants to have an organized wine cellar. I have several friends who happily just pile boxes of stuff in their basements, which, being in cool and damp Seattle, mimic the caves of France for both temperature and humidity. The wines are protected, and the boxes accumulate, sometimes for decades. So every trip to the cellar is an exercise in treasure hunting. They never know what will turn up. But this level of disorganization is not for me.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the anal retentive types who catalog every bottle and dutifully record when bought, what paid, etc. in a database. That’s not for me either. I want to drink the stuff, not turn it into a library card file.

So here’s a middle ground for organizing a wine cellar. Start as soon as possible, because if you follow the guidelines laid out in the Times article, you will be purchasing wines in an organized fashion. Once you have a basic plan in place in terms of the overall size of the wine collection you wish to amass, the next step is to divide it up into smaller slices.

Once again, consider your drinking habits over the course of a year. How many bottles of wine do you expect to open in that year? This would include wines you serve at parties and give as gifts as well as the ones you simply drink with dinner. It’s an estimate, but let’s say you come up with a figure of 300 bottles in a year.

OK, divide the 300 bottles into sub-categories of white, rosé, red, dessert and sparkling. Allocate space accordingly. This would be one way to organize your collection. Keep the wines grouped by style. Within each style, you can further organize them by either region or varietal.

There is no one perfect solution to any of this, but in general it’s helpful to be able to walk into your cellar and look around and get a grasp of what is there. Believe me, unless you have a photographic memory, there will always be surprises. But when I walk into my own cellar, I can quickly find the Italian reds, quickly find the California cabs, quickly spot a bottle of Champagne, and so on. That’s good enough for me.


Anonymous said...

Even if you don't like to be so detail oriented, I think CellarTracker at least warrants a mention in any discussion on this topic. Regardless of how meticulous you like to be about inventory, the beauty of CellarTracker really is in the community. I find it invaluable to be able to look at others' tasting notes on the wines I have in my cellar (or are considering adding). I do personally believe that it's worth spending a bit of time to keep your inventory accurate when you're storing more than a couple hundred bottles, but those who disagree can still get a lot of value from CellarTracker. (I have no vested interest -- I'm just a happy user.)

Doug Sayed said...

CellarTracker is a great way to organize your cellar. I just labeled my bins the same as an Excel spreadsheet (bin A1, A2, etc.) and I know where every bottle is. CellarTracker contains a large amount of community information on other users' wine assessments. An essential tool I wouldn't want to live without.

Dane M. said...

I too use Cellartracker and just finished cataloging a 700 bottle collection in a walk in, racked cellar. I have to disagree with the "slices" that Greg explains, because inevitably you have a "slice" run out of room and you end up randomly finding space anywhere it will fit, thus breaking the model. Also, most people have regular bottle racking and big bottle racking, so the size of the bottle determines where it will fit, not the style of wine.

My 700 bottles are, for the most part, randomly placed. I use Cellartracker to know exactly how many Italian reds, Napa cabs and Champagnes I have, and where to find them, before I ever step foot into the locker.

PaulG said...

OK Cellartracker afficionadoes, we get it. Stop with the advertisements. For those who love to catalog endlessly on a computer, it's a fine platform. For those (like me, who, by the way, is named Paul, not Greg) who enjoy a less fussy method of organizing, Cellartracker is not the answer. I did not post this as the one and only way to do a wine cellar. Simply one way that has worked well for me for many years. Mazeltov!

uwp said...

Catalog endlessly on a computer? It's pretty easy, and although Eric has continually promised to "beautify" it, the current interface is beautiful in it's simplicity.

While organizing by varietal/location in your cellar is decent, there is no substitute for being able to bring up your entire cellar wherever you may be.

wineisrad said...

Cellertracker is a great tool but beautiful in it's simplicity? Please. Sounds more like you are in love with your cork'd app on your iPhone.

Let's just drink!

uwp said...

No cork'd app.
I guess I just love spreadsheets.

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