Organizing the Wine Cellar
Design and Placement
The Wine Cellar is much larger than needed for our wine collection;
it could hold over 6,000 bottles easily.
The size was dictated by the structural requirements of the house,
and it made little sense to subdivide it.
We use the extra space to store old files and to keep bulk items so we
can reduce our number of trips to town.
The principal design goal for the Wine Cellar was to make it totally
no mechanical temperature or humidity control should be needed.
This meant the cellar had to be placed underground on the north side of
the house to take advantage of the stable cool conditions of the earth
and to avoid heat gain from the sun.
This effect was enhanced by placing the cellar so the Entry Roof shades
the ground outside the Wine Cellar on Summer afternoons.
In order to maximize the cooling effect of the ground and minimize the
warming effect of the surrounding house,
the Wine Cellar has a sloped ceiling.
In the picture above,
wall is 11' high and over 2' underground at its highest point.
wall is 7' high.
Heat entering through the interior
(east, west or south)
walls and heat generated by the lights should rise and flow left to be
cooled by the north wall.
The interior walls have 12" of insulation,
the ceiling has 24" of insulation,
slab floor is isolated
from the slab of the interior rooms.
The exterior foundation wall at the Wine Cellar is water-proofed but not
insulated so the cool ground temperature can communicate directly to the
In the above picture,
one can see blue insulation panels to the left of the Wine Cellar
but only black waterproofing on the outside of the foundation where the
Wine Cellar is.
In front of the foundation are the tops of the two pillars that support
the Entry Roof.
When it comes to racks,
Gary's philosophy is the wine should be worth more than the racks.
The least expensive solution was to purchase wire racks that cost about
it was not possible to build them ourselves for less.
the racks we purchased turned out to not be square
(in carpenter parlance, they were "racked”).
That made it difficult to mate them side to side,
but we finally made them work by mixing and matching parts from the 5
then applying some persuasion in the mounting process.
Having a caretaker who is a finish carpenter was a real advantage:
Dan helped Gary
the north wall to make it straight enough to mount the racks.
The furring also provided space behind the racks for air to flow
unimpeded down the surface of the cool north wall.
We made a "bench" for the racks to sit on to provide space under the
racks for odd-sized bottles to be stored and to allow the air flowing
down the wall to escape to the floor.
from this quarter's report.)
Before diving into this topic,
we started with a prejudice:
We do have power and networking in the Wine Cellar,
but only because someone,
might want to use a computer there.
The problem with cellar organization software is it keeps a virtual
representation of the cellar and will not reflect the actual inventory
and location of wine unless one is suitably anal about doing the
appropriate data entry.
labels and a bar code reader would help this process,
but not all wine is coded –
Better yet would be to have
tags on the bottles and a reader built into the door of the Wine Cellar.
At this time,
it is much simpler and more reliable to devise manual methods to keep
we had no problem applying computer science
to come up with a manual solution.
With over 500 bottles of wine to organize,
one needs to ponder how to find that certain bottle one has in mind when
the occasion arises.
This is akin to designing a
Does one order for retrieval by winery,
(i.e., the type of grape),
(i.e., the year the grapes were harvested),
some combination of these,
or some other criterion?
Gary and Pauline once had the privilege of visiting a man who owned one
of the 10 best private wine collections in North America.
When asked how he organized the tens of thousands of bottles he owned
the answer was simple:
by vintage and vintage alone.
(BTW, we did not see any computers.)
So we had our answer.
we also try to keep bottles of a given vintage from the same winery and
of the same varietal close to each other;
this requires very little effort since those bottles tend to arrive at
the cellar together anyhow.
Our wine had been stored in many boxes,
so organizing it by vintage presented a problem in
How could the wine be ordered in the racks by vintage date in the most
efficient way when the bottles are unpacked in essentially random order?
as one drinks the wine and purchases new wine,
how does one maintain strict order without periodically moving large
numbers of bottles?
These are similar to a
insofar efficiency can be related to minimizing the number of times each
(wine does not like to be disturbed).
According to the
if we had much more rack space than bottles,
(in this case very closely related to "time”)
would be simple:
just place bottles in order but far enough apart that it would be
unlikely a bottle would have to subsequently be shifted left or right to
make room for another to keep them in order.
we weren't sure there was enough rack space to accommodate the wine
let alone be profligate with space.
So an efficient sorting algorithm assuming minimal space was required.
The Moment of Truth
Once we started unpacking,
we quickly arrived at a solution:
we labelled a few columns by vintage date and placed bottles in the
columns according to vintage.
Once a vintage column was full and another bottle of that vintage needed
we found an empty column,
labelled it and started filling it (hence,
the yellow tags seen in the quarterly report
This meant columns of the same vintage were often not next to each
but that is only a minor inconvenience when looking for wines.
With the strategy we employed,
it is relatively easy to maintain order into the future:
as wine is consumed,
we coalesce sparsely populated columns of the same vintage to free up
columns that can be re-labelled for later vintages.
This solution proves one of Gary's favorite computer maxims:
There are few problems that cannot be solved by adding a layer of indirection.
(Although a variation of this quote is widely attributed to
Gary claims to predate
by several years.)
To facilitate searches,
we hang tags on the bottle necks that identify the winery and varietal
so we don't have to start disturbing bottles to find what we want.
When the information is available,
we also make a notation on the label to indicate what years are likely
to be best for consuming the wine.
the varietal is often a good indicator of how the wine will age.
One final touch:
there is some rack space remaining at the left end.
These could be used to expand our collection,
but we tend to use it to cache bottles we plan to drink in the near
In that way,
we rarely have to look through the collection for a specific bottle,
as long as we periodically review the collection to see what we want to
move to the cache area.
This brings us to another computer maxim:
Almost all programming can be viewed as an exercise in caching