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August 12, 2007

The Madeira Wine Cellar

I would like to share the following text and pictures with all the people interested in Madeira wine. Since your Madeira collections keep growing, there might come a time when this page becomes interesting for you...

Even though I had a wine cellar in my old parents home, naturally cold and humid since it was situated a few feet underground, I wanted to have a special place for my Madeira wines in my own home. My house does not have a cellar, so I had to use a ground floor room. The walls weren't insulated very well, but with 15 centimeters/6 inch of extra rockwool, the room became the perfect Madeira wine cellar. There was no need for artificial cooling, since Madeira wine can do well with temperatures around 18 degrees Celcius/65 degrees Fahrenheit. But it is still important to avoid fluctuations in temperature, so a double door was added and the ceiling got some extra insulation too.

It is common to store Madeira wine bottles in an upright position to avoid too much contact of the wine with the cork. Since most vintage Madeiras are sealed anyway, I doubt that this upright position should allow more exchange of oxygen through the cork, as can be read in some publications. The shippers I asked about this told me that the wine is rather aggressive instead and prolonged contact with the wine accelerates the corks deterioration. The problem was solved by adding small wooden boxes to the wine rack that can hold ten bottles standing. The boxes also enable some sorting of the collection for certain vintage periods, producers, grape varieties, bottling varieties and so on.

I wanted to spend as little money as possible on the construction to later spend as much money as possible on the growing collection. So I did not use any pre-manufactured parts (exept for the door) to save. And for an absolute beginner like me, it was more fun too. The complete construction including the insulation, foil, paint, dry walls and ceiling, wine rack, boxes (used wooden containers for 6 bottles from the neighborhood wine shop), door and lighting was about 800,- Euros or 1100,- USD. I think that is a decent price for a capacity of about 1600 standing Madeira wine bottles in a cool environment. This number might sound a little high, and unfortunately I do not own a Madeira wine collection of that size. But I am working on it and you've got to plan ahead...

Eventually some decoration of the walls will follow as time permits. Years ago I picked up a nice wine poem written in Low German, the language of the northern parts of Germany and some parts of the Netherlands. The poem was painted on the wall in the old wine shop in the "Haus Samson" building in the town of Leer in East Frisia. It reads: "Söte Melk is för de Kinner - Sure Melk is för de Swyn - Water sopen Peer un Rinner - Aver uns gav God de Wyn!" (roughly translating to: "Sweet milk is for little children, sour milk is for the swine, water is for horse and cattle, but for us god gave the wine!"). This poem will go around the room on all four walls, just below the ceiling.

The pictures below show the work in progress. Please note that there will be a shorter but otherwise identical wine rack on the right side too, as the collection grows. The price of this rack is included in the calculation above. The complete construction took about 30 hours, but as I was new to this, I think an experienced do-it-yourself enthusiast could have done it in less time.

The room before turning it into a Madeira wine cellar.

The room before turning it into a Madeira wine cellar.

Insulating the ceiling.

Insulating the ceiling.

Insulating the walls.

Insulating the walls.

The dry walls are covered with oriented strand boards.

The dry walls are covered with oriented strand boards.

The final Madeira wine cellar.

The final Madeira wine cellar.

Detail of the wine rack.

Detail of the wine rack.

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