How to Protect Your Wine Collection


How to Protect Your Wine Collection



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Jon Krause

As people buy more wine, they’re investing in elaborate home storage systems to protect their collections.

Americans last year bought $62.2 billion worth of wine, up 2% from 2016, according to the Wine Institute, a San Francisco-based trade association for the California wine industry. Collectors can help protect the value of their investment with proper storage techniques.

Some homeowners are building museum-like wine “cellars” in living rooms, dining rooms and other on-display spaces. Other people start smaller. The right approach depends on how many bottles you own, where you want to store them, your design preferences and your budget.

“A wine cellar has to look beautiful and be a showstopper, but it also has to be temperature-controlled,” says Marshall Tilden III, vice president of sales for Wine Enthusiast’s wine-storage and accessory business based in Valhalla, N.Y. “So if you’re building a wine cellar in the basement, the walls need to be constructed properly, with the right insulation and vapor barriers, and then you have to select the right cooling units.”

At the simpler end of the market, even free-standing wine refrigerators are getting more sophisticated. The EuroCave Royale, for example, is a $14,000 wine cellar that maintains what the marketer says is the perfect temperature (53.6 degrees F.) and humidity (70%), controls air quality, limits vibrations and protects wine from UV rays and oxidation. It can hold up to 122 traditional Bordeaux bottles plus two magnums or 86 Bordeaux bottles and 20 magnums.

A midlevel option is to retrofit an existing closet or build custom glass wall enclosures to display the wine. But as you add more bottles, you may run out of room, so some ambitious collectors opt to create a large custom space. “It becomes a passion project for some people, where they build up from a free-standing wine cellar to a big custom cellar in their house,” Mr. Tilden says.

Expect to pay a minimum of $10,000 to $15,000 for a cooling unit, racking and construction and installation costs, he says. For larger collections—1,000 to 1,500 bottles—a typical wine cellar will run $25,000 to $50,000. And, for the most elaborate cellars—finished with lacquers, custom artwork, mosaic tiles, high-end lighting and tongue-and-groove redwood, for example—the sky’s the limit.

Even with the best planning and equipment, things can go wrong. Heat is the primary enemy of wine, so if a cooling system fails the collection can be ruined. Humidity, light, vibrations and even poor air quality—wine breathes through the cork—can all damage wine. That’s why many collectors obtain special insurance.

“A valuables policy provides broad comprehensive coverage,” says Laura Doyle, vice president and collections manager at Chubb Personal Risk Services. “Most homeowners policies will have a deductible and limited coverage for perishables like wine. A valuables policy has no deductible and provides world-wide, all-risk coverage.” That means wine is covered whether it’s stored in your home cellar, at an off-site facility or is in transit.

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The price of a valuables policy varies, based on location, whether there is a backup generator and central-station alarm, the size of the collection and other criteria. Ms. Doyle says coverage on a wine collection valued at $100,000 would likely cost about $400 to $600 a year.

Kirk Wallace is glad he insured his collection. The retired attorney, who now lives in Portland, Ore., sustained a loss last year when an HVAC malfunction in a closet wine cellar in his previous home in New York City caused his collection to become unsalable. Thanks to his policy, he received a check for over $200,000.

“Some of the bottles were prize bottles that I’d had a long time,” Mr. Wallace says. “There’s some emotion when it comes to collecting and you have your collection damaged. But it certainly softened the blow.”

Here are some things to consider if you plan to store your wine collection at home.

Plan for the future. Mr. Tilden suggests buying a free-standing unit or building a cellar with 25% to 50% more capacity than you currently need. “Customers often don’t anticipate future needs,” he says. “Make sure you are able to expand your collection. It will undoubtedly grow.”

Protect your collection. Keep appraisals current; it’s good to update them every five years, Ms. Doyle says. Collectors who live in earthquake or hurricane zones should not only have backup generators but emergency plans in place—including a relationship with a wine-storage facility and transportation firm in case you need to evacuate the wine.

Keep an inventory. Some collectors, like Mr. Wallace, use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track inventory. But there are dedicated systems as well. EuroCave has a free smartphone app that serves as a virtual wine cellar and allows users to manage their collections. A system called eSommelier, which retails for $4,000, is a cellar-management system consisting of a wireless bar code scanner, 17-inch touch screen and bar code label printer that allows users to catalog their wine inventory and prints bottle bar codes so collectors can track usage.

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