If you posed that question to a restaurant sommelier, or anyone passionate about collecting and maturing wines, they would say NO! They might even ask, Why would you want to try to keep anything but wine in your wine cellar? And imply that to do so would be to risk your entire collection. And they would have some good arguments.
Technology makes anything possible, and an imaginative wine cellar design team can use the refrigerated space to concoct special shelving for anything your heart desires. But is it the right thing to do? Is maximizing the space the best thing for your wine? The idea of partitioning your chilly wine cellar to accommodate other passions is a topic of heated debate, and one that is occurring more and more frequently as modern cellar builders create diverse spaces that wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago. Times are changing. In Toronto, a specialized wine cellar construction team has recently built an entire house that has wine cellars throughout the living space. By using compartmentalized storage spaces which have two-way glass, the homeowner’s dimly lit cellar can be viewable to the public in daylight and yet still remain cold and dark on the inside. There are wine cellars where partitions make it possible to set two or three or ten different temperatures and moisture levels. But be warned, while it’s technically possible to store anything anywhere, and smart devices can help make it all manageable, there are conditions when co-mingling commodities in your cellar space that could lead to catastrophe.
Here are the arguments that wine storage purists make against storing anything but wine in your wine cellar. They’ll warn against:
- Increased foot traffic that will disturb the cellar’s sedate chill and darkness more regularly to the detriment of the fine wines being stored in the space. When people use the wine cellar like a kitchen pantry, or a walk-in refrigerator they diminish the sanctity of the room. They leave doors open and lights on and worse – they put hands on your wine. Your wine collection should not be disturbed with such run-of-the-mill traffic.
- Unattractive new odours of meat and cheese or worse may find its way into your wine through wooden corks over time.
- Incorrect shelving as your cellar is racked for wine bottles and not sealer jars, books or cigar boxes which come in all shapes and sizes. This can lead to cluttered rooms, excess debris and breakage.
- Incorrect temperatures as the cargo you’re warehousing may require a slightly warmer or colder climate.
- Incorrect humidity as moisture may be more or less of a factor when storing strange articles.
But some exceptions can be made. Let’s go through the list and look at each different commodity on a case by case basis.
CAN I KEEP FRUIT & VEGETABLE PRESERVES IN MY WINE CELLAR?
Preserves are on the list of items that could be stored in your wine cellar if you don’t mind the clutter of shelving the odd-sized jars. As far as temperature is concerned, glass jars filled with fruit and vegetables and glass bottles filled with wine can coexist together. Your wine cellar is likely set at between 55 – 65 degrees Fahrenheit. All home-canned foods can safely be stored at just about any temperature between 50-70° F.
The thing about preserves however, is that unlike wine they don’t have a very long lifespan, and they certainly don’t improve with age. You can’t crack open a ten year old jar of pears and delight in its special bouquet and delicious flavour. Preserves are best six or eight months after canning. After one year in a jar most organic matter will begin to deteriorate. Jams and jellies last longer. A typical full-sugar fruit spread could last ten years on the shelf, and even after fifteen years it may still be safe to eat if the jar’s seal remains intact and the product shows no visible signs of spoilage from molds or yeasts. But unlike wine this stuff doesn’t get better with age.
CAN I KEEP RIND CHEESE IN MY WINE CELLAR?
Yes and no. Yes! Storing cheese, especially rind cheese, for any length of time requires the exact same conditions as wine. Cheese caves need airflow, a regulated temperature, darkness and a certain level of humidity. So it isn’t uncommon for expensive cheese to be stored in wine cellars, right alongside expensive wine collections. But Purists would argue against it.
No self respecting sommelier would allow cheese to be stored in their wine cellar. Discriminating cellar managers would point out how its possible for the smell of the cheese, especially the more pungent cheeses, to penetrate the wooden corks in your wine bottles and contaminate your collection. They would say that importing all that bacteria into your wine cellar is just asking for trouble, and they would point out how the smell of the cheese will attract vermin. And those are all weighty arguments.
The affineur (one who ages cheese) would tell you that you need to think about humidity. Cheese ages best at about 55° to 65° F, with about 70% humidity. Maintaining the humidity is tricky, and for this reason cheese needs more inspection and maintenance than wine. Occasionally cheese rinds need to be rubbed with olive oil or coconut oil if they appear to be getting too dry. And if storing more than one variety of cheese, they need to be kept some distance apart to avoid cross contamination. When storing cheese in your wine cellar, more attention has to be paid to food safety and cleanliness and cellar managers will need to make an effort to mitigate dust. Cellar owners should wipe shelves with white vinegar occasionally to keep the storage space sterile, and none of that is necessary for wine.
CAN I KEEP ANTIQUE BOOKS IN MY WINE CELLAR?
Although storing books in a wine cellar might seem odd, the temperature and humidity in that cool dark place are just what the librarian ordered for the long term preservation of fibrous plant material. Antique books, maps and ephemera are made of paper and just like fine wine, old paper requires cool dark rooms to prevent deterioration and mold. If you’ve ever visited the US Library of Congress in Washington, or the Toronto Reference Library in downtown Toronto you will find books contained in special glass rooms that have climate and humidity controls. The lights in these rooms are turned-off automatically when nobody is present. Does this sound familiar? You could say that these libraries are filled with wine cellars! The glass case that surrounds the Gutenberg Bible in Bonn Germany is a mini wine cellar with a ventilator and cooling unit built into the podium. The book Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, seen in the photo above, is the original 1876 edition and is no longer on display because it was recently sold at auction and fetched a price just over $100,000 USD. With a price tag like that you can be certain the book will be kept in a dark, chilly and probably very secure glass box cellar space.
CAN I KEEP CIGARS IN MY WINE CELLAR?
Storing tobacco products in your wine cellar will not harm your wine, but it might ruin your cigars. Cigar Aficionado magazine states that the ideal conditions for cigar storage is approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit at 70 percent humidity, which roughly matches the growing conditions of tobacco. Seventy degrees Fahrenheit is room temperature. The photo shows a Southern USA tobacco distributor’s back room where there is very little ventilation or temperature control. Wine cellars run ten or twenty points cooler and they’re generally not that moist. So for long term storage situations, your cigars are likely to dry out and be ruined if left for too long in your wine cellar. You’re better off keeping your cigars under your bed.
CAN I KEEP CURED MEATS IN MY WINE CELLAR?
Wine cellars provide ideal conditions for storing cured meats but not necessarily for curing meats. Hunters know that part of their hobby includes butchering, drying and preserving the meat of game animals, but wine cellars are the wrong temperature to be very helpful for any of those activities. Meat lockers are more similar to refrigerators in that they are twenty degrees colder than wine cellars. Where the cellar space can be employed is in storing cured meats.
Hunters know that five to seven days is the ideal length of time when hanging a deer. The week-long hang allows the meat to cool and the collagen to begin to break down. This results in the meat being more tender and flavorful. But the hang should happen at 35 degrees Fahrenheit which is significantly cooler than your wine cellar. Game birds like ducks, geese, and pheasant can also become more tender and delicious if hung in the cellar, at slightly colder temperatures. So it’s easy to see why Purists would argue that you cannot store meat in your wine cellar without always being tempted to lower the temperature a bit which would have a negative impact on your wine collection.
Wine cellar – pixabay creative commons
All other photos courtesy of Rob Campbell
Guest Author Bio
Rob Campbell is a freelance nature writer and author living in Toronto, Canada. Son of a beekeeper, Rob is keenly interested in using technology to improve conservation and the preservation of our natural world; he funds projects that use gadgets to study and improve the lives of insects (honeybees) and animals around us, especially those unfortunate creatures that are, like so many of us humans, stuck living in the city.
Rob is actively involved in Toronto’s business world and the city’s cultural art scenes.
Website: Dumpdiggers Blog
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