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Wine Cellar Management: Why It's Not Worth It

Well, not worth it to me, anyway.

But before we get into the concept of wine cellar management and its possible relative worth to you, we need to talk about the related but different topics of Wine Storage and Tasting Notes.

These are not the same things as managing your wine cellar.

Wine Storage: K.I.S.S. (Keep is Simple, Suckah!)

Most of us aren't planning on aging classified growth Bordeaux for 15 to 20 years. We've got wine that we plan on drinking in the next week, month, or year or two. This doesn't require a long, drawn-out treatise and list of rules for storing all of those new bottles of vino you'll hopefully be getting as holiday gifts.

Just follow a few simple tenants and you (and your wine) should be golden:

  • Minimize exposure to light, heat, and vibration (get the wine off the top of the fridge, STAT!), and don't store the wine in direct sunlight.
  • Try to find the place in your home that has the least year-round temperature variation (you want the temperature to increase/decrease gradually, not spike up or down).
  • Avoid areas that are too cold (under 50 degrees F) or too hot (over 70 F).
  • Go for an area that allows you to store the wine on its side to keep the cork moist.

Tasting Notes: You need to take then. Yes, even you.
  • If you want to up your Wine IQ, you have to take tasting notes. Tasting notes are essential to help you understand what you like (and, just as importantly, what you don't like) in wine.
  • You can make this as complex or as simple as you like, but I'd advise starting easy - easy as in Pen & Paper version 1.0. A small and portable notebook and a trusty pen are all you really need for this to get started.
As your budding wine collection grows, you will be tempted by all manner of progressively more sophisticated and complex offerings for both your wine storage and your tasting notes. Now we get into the strange and expensive world of Wine Cellar Management...

I don't manage my wine cellar. In fact, it could be argued that my cellar manages me sometimes. OK, most of the time. Anyway, here are the reasons why I don't actively manage my wine cellar:
  1. I'm cheap.

    Hey, the economy is in the crapper - who's got massive spare change set aside for an annexed basement room with mahogany wine racks, custom humidity controls, and designer lighting? Not me, baby. Custom wine cellars are massively expensive, and you probably don't need one anyway.

    My cellar has cheap IKEA wine racks to hold the bottles that aren't still in their shipping boxes. In fact, one of my racks is leaning precariously ever more to the right, and I've yet to fix it. Wine cellar management solutions are also getting more and more expensive, especially the software versions - this is in part because in order for these to be useful, they need to pull from large databases of wine entries.

    The point here is to ask yourself this: Do you spend any real quality time in the area where you store your wine? I don't - so I'd much rather put my money into the wine itself, not into its storage or management.

  2. Many collectors and experts don't manage their cellars, either.

    I offer by way of example RUSH front man Geddy Lee, who not only plays kick-ass bass and is still writing rocking tunes well into his 50s, but also has a massive underground cellar (he's partial to Burgundy and cru Beaujolais), housing thousands of wine bottles in his Toronto home. What method does Geddy, as an avid collector, use to track his wine?

    His brain.

If you feel compelled to track your wine purchases and tasting notes using some sort of managed system, I recommend going for one of the free solutions available on the web. This approach has the benefit of keeping a history of you wine adventures, and allows you to interact with dozens or even hundreds of other wine lovers who might be trying some of the same wines as you.
  • If you get your wine from many sources, then it's hard to beat CellarTracker.com- it's free, and has over 65 thousand users who have logged nearly 11 million bottles of wine.

  • If you source your wine primarily from one of the many great on-line wine clubs (check out the sidebar on the right for links to a few of these), then I'd recommend using their websites to track your tastings and stored wine bottles. Most of the on-line wine club websites have this option, along with social-networking features to let you share your tasting notes and comments with other club members.
I wish you many hassle-free hours of not really managing your cellar, but better managing and increasing your enjoyment of wine. And, of course, many more KISS and RUSH references!

(images: epicurious.blogs.com, kissonline.com, musicintheabstract.org)


Ken and Theresa Hoggins said...

How can you not respond to a post that references Rush and Wine. Anyway, my two cents. Most folks keep their wine in the cellar too long. Most wines are not built for long term storage. There are however certain "Circumstances" that call for aging. If you have a 1st growth Bordeaux it might last until "2112." However, like Joe said, if you just have Very Good wine meant for early consumption. Just hang out under "The Trees" and listening to the "Spirit of the Radio." So drink up soon and express your "Freewill." Cheers - Ken

Anonymous said...

I use the IKEA racking as well...and I love it. Like $80 per section and works for most wine bottles. Sure, there are some funky ones that don't sit we, but I'll be that's true of most any system.

And Ken is absolutely right...too many people hold onto wines way too long.

Joe Roberts said...

Thanks, Lenn.

Ken - I can honestly say that, at this moment, I might be in love with you! :-)

Anonymous said...

I suppose a mind that can write and remember "YYZ" has the capacity to keep track of so many wines. (makes me wonder if Billy Sheehan collects wines and what he does to keep track of his collection...)

I would still recommend come kind of notation system to keep track of wines. I don't know how many times my wife, as found a wine in the store or pulled one from our storage unit and asked: "how's this one?".
I have to keep some notes to know what I thought of a particular wine in the past.

My Law License said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
My Law License said...

Hey Dude, deleted above comment due to a wrong url.

I use manageyourcellar.com, which is also free. They recognize certain wines and will add in the RP or other rating when you add the wine to "your cellar." For me it also helps me remember how much I paid for the bottle.

I was fortunate to have the ability to build a small unit in my house, which of course caused me to buy more wine and now I need more storage space.

What becomes annoying is "removing" the wines from the cellar - I forget to do that a lot.

On cellartracker, one thing Ive noticed is that people who post tasting notes and ratings are harsh. So if they say a wine is 87 points, it's probably fantastic.

Joe Roberts said...

Thanks, Arthur - I've been using reusable tags to help navigate our wine collection. Mostly, it lets my wife know which bottles are safe for her to open when I'm not home... :)

Thanks, Brian - I agree, CellarTracker reviews can be harsh. On the plus side, the users there record reviews in 'real world' scenarios, which I personally find helpful.


Anonymous said...


I have the same system too! Except mine tells her what is for our consumption and what is for review.

Robert said...

Great piece Joe- I really enjoyed reading it.

I think I'm aligned with you on the subject- it seems like work to me at this point and if it's work why do it, right? I think there's got to be a tipping point where ones collection becomes so large that it becomes worthwhile to track the stuff. Like with RSS feeds- until recently I didn't see the point- I could just do a FireFox Live Bookmark and cruise around checking for updates to my favoite blogs. But somewhere around 10 or 20 blogs you're following you need a feed reader. Might the same be true with cellar tracking?

I've got a wine refrigerator that claims to hold 260 bottles (though it probably only holds 150 with rolling shelves). It's full and I don't feel like I need to manage my wine. Maybe if I had 2000 bottles I'd feel differently.


PS I'm a big fan of Rush too- do you have a link to the article about Geddy Lee's wine collection?

Joe Roberts said...

Hey Bob - thanks. RUSH fans are always welcome here :-).

The article on Ged's wine cellar came out a few years ago I think, I found a reprint of it here: http://www.greatrecrooms.com/tabid/97/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/95/A-Wine-Cellar-That-Rocks.aspx


Anonymous said...

Most people keep wine way too long?????

Who are these people, I want to meet them!

On the total contrary-- So few people keep wine long enough! Maybe it seems too long if it has dumbed out for a few years, or if someone is holding their Yellowtail until it "matures", but very few US wine geeks come close to holding their juice.

Cellartracker is a great tool and if you hold any wine, there is no excuse not to use it. Even if just for insurance purposes.

Hold yer juice and step into the tertiary!

(to add to the Rush- I'm typing this from downtown YYZ, up in the Great White North)

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