I decided to build this website after becoming frustrated while searching the Internet for practical information on how to inexpensively convert a coat closet into a wine closet. It seemed like everything was either sites for companies that sell full-blown wine rooms, or blogs by people who converted their cellar / child's room into a walk-in wine museum. Given that (a) I didn't have a large budget, (b) I only had a closet to work with, and (c) I was going to build it entirely by myself, most of what's out there on the Intertubes was useless.
So, with a handful of power tools and enough knowledge to be dangerous, off I went to build my own mini wine cellar. After numerous mistakes and trips to Home Depot, here is a chronicle of what I built and how I built it.
Step 1: A Discussion About Budget and Requirements
Before I started sketching out what my wine closet was going to look like, I did some "back of the envelope" budgeting. Most entry-level wine cooling systems, such as the ChillR, start at $500 and quickly go up from there. Replacing the closet doors with properly-insulated doors would come in around $600 (more if installed). Add another $500 for everything else, and I was easily looking at $1,600. That seemed a bit much to me. After all, we're talking about a closet, not the Taj Mahal of wine here.
So, I started over again, but this time I thought about what are my actual requirements. Without getting into too much details, I buy in bulk in order to save money. That means I typically buy approximately 15 cases of wine roughly every eight to twelve months. That batch of wine will be consumed over the next one to two years. I do have a few "special" bottles, but I keep those in a mini wine refrigerator. So, that means I'd need to have storage for nearly 200 bottles.
Most wine-related sites say that wine should be kept at a constant temperature of 60 degrees. However, this requirement seems to be more appropriate for long-term storage. I wondered about what destroys wine in the short-term. After talking with some vinophiles, it seems that the factors that can really hurt a bottle of wine in a short period are:
1. Constant exposure to UV light;
2. Rapid and/or extreme temperature changes; and
3. Lack of humidity.
The UV light issue was solved by the fact that I was building inside a closet.
With respect to temperature changes, I have a few things in my favor. First, I live in Orange County, CA, where it can get quite warm in the summer, but for the most part it's fairly mild. Second, the closet is on the ground floor with all interior walls. Consequently, the temperature inside the closet is already fairly stable.
My only real concern is during the summer months where temperatures can get into the high 90's. I'm no thermodynamics engineer, but it seemed to me that if I could insulate the closet well, the inside temperature would not fluctuate as quickly or as wildly as the outside. In other words, a little temperature change would be OK, even a larger temperature change would be acceptable, so long as it took a long time to move the thermometer.
Therefore, I decided I would forgo a wine cooling system and try out passive-cooling. And, since I wasn't going to actively cool the closet, I didn't need to upgrade the doors in order to get an airtight seal. Now, my budget was much more reasonable. Plus, I figured I could always had a cooling unit and a real door later, if needed.
Anyone who's been to Southern California knows it's not a humid place. I knew I would need to humidify the air inside the closet. Thankfully, the wife had bought a room humidifier a while ago, but stopped using it because it was too noisy. I figured that would do the trick.
Finally, my wife had one last requirement: don't make anything permanent. She figured if we ever sold our house, the next owner may prefer to have a coat closet, so anything I did had to be reversible.