How to Build Your Own Wine Cellar

Wine storage requires a bit of finesse, and if you’re a fan of good vino, you probably want dedicated space to maintain your wine collection until you’re ready to sip it. Fortunately, if you have a reliable basement that is free of natural light or a properly sealed interior room, you can create a basement wine cellar there with a bit of preparation and elbow grease. Keep reading for a quick rundown of considerations when storing wine bottles, a basic plan for building a wine cellar and inspiration for your own build.

Things to Consider When Storing Wine Bottles

Proper wine storage requires several key things to ensure the wine bottles stay in tip-top shape. Your wine collection needs to live in a space that has no light, water or air leaks, and it also needs proper insulation to ensure stable temperatures and humidity. As a rule of thumb, your wine cellar should include:

  • Uniform temperatures between 45° and 65° F
  • Constant humidity levels between 50% and 70%
  • A completely dark space with no vibration
  • Sturdy wine racks designed for proper wine storage

If you really want to get serious about your wine storage spaces, you can add wine cooling units to your wooden wine racks to ensure warm air doesn’t damage your wine collection.

How to Build a Wine Cellar in Your Basement

The first thing you need to do when you’re ready to build a wine cellar in your basement is seal the concrete floor and walls to prevent air leaks that can interfere with your cooling system. Pure Tung Oil fills the bill in this regard, absorbing into concrete, block, brick, or other porous material to provide dependable protection. Likewise, seal any wood in the space with finishing oils like our Pure Tung Oil. Next, add a vapor barrier to prevent mold growth, then fur the walls with rigid foam board insulation to further reduce moisture leaks.

Proper storage requires proper wine cellar doors as well as proper insulation, and glass doors are often a good choice to keep conditions inside stable, especially when finished with weather stripping. Next, seal the concrete walls or hang water-resistant drywall and finish the walls with Real Milk Paint, then add a wine cellar cooling unit designed for the amount of square footage in your space. Once you test your wine cellar for leaks, add finishing touches like customized wine racking, tables and storage for supplies and you’re all set to bring in your wine collection to your new home wine cellar.

Inspiration for Building a Wine Cellar

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to build a root or wine cellar of your own, here’s some inspiration for your DIY wine cellar project. One of our Real Milk Paint fans had the idea to create their own underground food and wine storage cellar. They wanted to create a food-safe cellar with a wine cooling unit that would be easy to maintain and keep everything safe and dry. Leveraging wine cellar design inspiration from The Hobbit, they set to work designing, building and creating a one-of-a-kind wine and food cellar using Real Milk Paint products. Here’s their story.

A Lesson in Wine Cellar Construction

know the wine storage space you want for building a wine cellarLate in 2011 as I was thinking about the next project that we should do, I thought about having a root cellar, like I had when I was a kid growing up in the Midwest. We have level ground on our property, so digging into a hillside wasn’t an option. With that in mind, I started sketching a wine cellar design that I thought would work the location. For the wine cellar construction, I needed to dig a square hole, use our native rocks for wine cellar walls, build a ramp to the surface, then add an exterior-grade door at the top. Being a fan of Tolkien’s, I ended up drawing what looked like a hobbit home. Though I’d gone into the project looking to expand root cellar space, my wife bought into the project when I used the term “wine cellar” instead of “root cellar,” and off I went.

In January of 2012, my neighbor, who had a backhoe, and I picked out and set up the wine cellar location, and he traced out the outline using flour he took from his pantry. As we finished up the rough outline and looked back, we saw the outline being erased by my dog. who was busy eating up the trail of flour. At that point, I knew this was going to be one of those projects.

Roofing the Wine Cellar Build

Fast-forward past the adventures in digging and installation of the rock walls in the main chamber, the next step was to decide on the wine cellar roof. I considered a metal roof and had a welder look at the project, but going back to the hobbit hole, I couldn’t see how that fit. Plus, it was still going to be expensive going that route. So instead, I had the welder put a frame around the roof that was 1/4-inch thick with a 2-inch long metal lip, then concrete it into the holes left in the wall. I considered this extra insurance that the A-frame could maintain the weight of the 1-1/8-inch floor-grade plywood roof over time.

After covering the top with a rain and ice membrane and coating the surface with roofing tar on the seams, I treated the bottom of the roof and 4 x 6 beams that made up the solid Douglas fir A-frame with Real Milk Paint Pure Tung Oil. I didn’t want to take any chances with the load factor on the roof, so I positioned the trusses 12 inches on center, then glued and screwed the components together for added stability and support.

Adding the Wine Cellar Door

Once the rock wine cellar walls from the ramp that led up the stairs were nearly done, it was time to turn to the front facade. I’d thought about a round wine cellar door, but the hinging and weight didn’t seem worth it. Early on, I’d decided that I’d create a round wine cellar front with a straight bottom and add a normal-size door just cut out of the circle.

Doing the math, I knew I needed to create a 10-foot diameter circle to have a decent door with the meat around the frame. Of course, when I drew that out there was all the space around it that seemed wasted. In a flash of stupidity when I first drew it up, I came up with the idea of a wine train that would sit next to the door, which would require adding a second small trap door and ramp. The idea was you could load a case of wine on a wine train and lower it down a ramp, walk down the stairs and put the wine onto the wine racks. Of course, this meant building an extra ramp and extra wall. At the time, I didn’t appreciate how much back-breaking work I could create for myself with just a few pencil lines on a drawing.

Since the front facade would face the elements and be the first thing people see, I decided to use all redwood in its construction. I planned all the 10-foot redwood boards by hand and glued them together in sets of four or five boards. I then screwed cleats onto the board sections and assembled them into an 8.5 x 10-foot rectangle. Next, I cut the circle out, then sanded and treated the wine cellar construction with lots of Real Milk Paint’s Tung Oil on both sides. Finally, I installed and bolted the facade onto the rocks, then cut out the wine cellar doors and hung them in place.

To complete work on the facade, I finished the last of the roof and sealed it, then built and installed a custom door frame for the bottom. I also built a second redwood door for the main chamber, again coating the surface with Pure Tung Oil for a beautiful shine that never sees sunlight.

Then, it was all covered in dirt.

Customizing the Inside of the Cellar

wine room with proper wine rackingTo customize the inside of the wine cellar, we added shelves for canned items and the fruits and vegetables we planned on storing inside the wine cellar. We optimized our wine cellar space by screwing simple Douglas fir boards into the interior walls and protecting the wood with Pure Tung Oil. For the wine racks, we decided on redwood and built an expansive seven-case space to store wine. The redwood really sucked up a lot of Pure Tung Oil, and we were surprised that the more we applied, the darker the wood looked.

Next, I needed a table at the end of the wine ramp that was at the right height and a wine cart with a hinged back to simplify unloading cases of wine. Here, I used scraps of Pure Tung Oil-treated redwood from the project to build the wine cart. By this point, I’d placed several orders with Real Milk Paint and was getting used to seeing the packages arrive from UPS, always prompt and well sealed. Even though it came from across the country, I never had any problems and it was just something I always knew would be there ready on time.

Other things, however, caused delays.

Finalizing the Details

By early 2014, the last detail of the DIY wine cellar project seemed complete. I’d experienced a few failures along the way, including the realization that the wooden wine cart wheels weren’t working, and no amount of Pure Tung Oil could fix this. I solved this problem by adding skateboard wheel bearings and the project was almost finished — or so I thought.

The California Wildfires of 2015

The Valley Fire came on September 12th, 2015, and it was the third major fire in our area that year — and the one that was the most destructive. The fire burned 1,300+ homes and pinned me and several neighbors down by closing off both exits to our neighborhood with its size and speed. We were seconds away from using the wine cellar as a refuge with myself and my next-door neighbor lined up at the door until we saw the road clear and we left.  When we returned, our house and most structures on the property were burned to the ground, but the well-house survived. The wine cellar had a manzanita next to it, and the tree was gone except for the stump, and there was significant damage to the top facade. The rest of the wine cellar, however, was untouched. A lot of other work, including rebuilding our house, had to be done before the wine cellar, so it sat until 2018.

The Wine Cellar Build — Part 2

While rebuilding the front facade of the wine cellar, I changed a few things. First, the original drawing had the boards horizontal, but this wasn’t a great design for the human door as it was made of several pieces that wanted to collapse under their own weight. So, I built the new facade with the boards running vertically.

Next, I added an awning to allow more dirt on top and help protect the facade a bit from some of the elements. The price of redwood had gone up significantly, so I decided to go with Douglas fir to save money. This also shifted my preferred finish from Pure Tung Oil to Dark Tung Oil. Also, I wanted to slightly darken the plywood sheets that comprised the awning, but I didn’t want it to be too dark. With that in mind, I’d put the first coat on as Dark Tung Oil and once the look meshed with the previous build, I’d move back to using Pure Tung Oil.

The nice thing is you can go back and forth with tung oil products from the Real Milk Paint Co. Keep in mind, though, that the first coat soaks in more and defines the color more. I decided to leave the original facade in place and just cut out the burnt wood where it needed removing and screw the new facade to it. With the new awning, I had a chance to add an LED lighting strip to the wine cellar entrance for a nice accent at night.

Time to Enjoy!

The door is done and saws and hammers are put away. Now I hope to enjoy it for a long time. I do plan to take a rag and rub down the surface with tung oil every now and then to protect the wine cellar and give it that nice shine.

If you have a project using Real Milk Paint Products, we’d love for you to share it with us! Visit our Submit Your Own Project section on our website to share your wonderful work with us and for a chance to be featured in one of our blog posts.

Food and Wine Cellar Q&A

What type of wood(s) did you use in this project?

The woods used in the project are redwood and Douglas fir. The awning is 1/4-inch plywood that’s comprised of sandalwood laid into multiple layers.

What kind of goods do you store in your cellar?

This is a wine/root cellar where I can store wine, canned goods, garlic and sweet potatoes. Because it’s underground, I wanted a product I felt good about around food. I didn’t want to use a product with petroleum solvents or worry about re-coating it later with something with VOCs (volatile organic compounds) or that just stinks or soaks into food.

Which Real Milk Paint products did you use, how did you apply them and what was your process?

protect your cellar with Real Milk Paint Citrus solventI think I’ve used every product that Real Milk Paint Co. has in this category, so I’ve used many techniques. I started with the Pure Tung Oil and citrus solvent and used 50/50 mixes while I was learning. Later, I switched to 40/60 (tung oil/solvent) in hopes the solvent would help penetrate the wood deeper, then I used 50/50 and 60/40 mixtures for later coats. I might have also done some at 75/25.

I used foam brushes and rags to apply the tung oil, and most surfaces have three or more coats. The softer woods can soak this up, and I want protection. The number of coats depended on the wood and how it was cut/sanded. I reapplied oil to the original front facade/door once before the fire, but the wood underground has only had light applications where needed.

How did you use Citrus Solvent?

I used the Citrus Solvent as a mixer since I first bought the 100% Pure Tung Oil and wanted deep penetration into the wood. I’ve since used Half and Half and do like the convenience of not having to mix all the time.

Does the wood and oil/solvent have an effect on the wine? If so, how?

The Citrus Solvent only had an effect on my wife as she wanted to know if it would always have that citrusy smell. I assured her that it was temporary but still put a fan in there for a few days to help clear it out. There’s a lot of wood inside the main room — in the ceiling, A-frame, storage shelves and wine rack, plus in the wine train table, train cart, train door and human door. The exterior and interior walls, though, are all rock. The wine and the food stored there never picked up anything from the Pure Tung Oil or solvent.

Did you like using Real Milk Paint products?

I love the products as evidenced by the fact that even when rebuilding, I didn’t hesitate to order more to redo the facade.

What would be one piece of advice you would give to someone who has never used Pure Tung Oil before?

For someone that hasn’t used it before, I would give this advice: Don’t apply tung oil under full sun or if it will freeze before it cures. Always wipe the excess off 30 minutes to an hour after you’re done. These are in the instructions or hints and tips, so for the best results, follow them!

What would be one piece of advice you’d give to someone who’s never built wine cellars before?

Real Milk Paint citrus solventThe keys to success with underground wine cellars are this: Add lots of dirt on top to provide wine cellar insulation that regulates temperature and humidity levels, especially if you don’t want to add wine cellar cooling units. Likewise, it’s necessary to create air vents to allow for air exchange. Finally, a sturdy structure for the roof and sealing the wood from the top help wine cellars maintain their integrity. Likewise, be sure to use safe products like Pure Tung Oil and Citrus Solvent that you can trust on the inside.

A Challenging But Rewarding Project

The creation of wine cellars is a challenging task but one that can be both exciting and rewarding. We hope this story has provided you with some inspiration for your own DIY wine cellar. If you’re planning on building a wine cellar and need help with finishes by the Real Milk Paint Co., contact us online or reach out to us by phone at (800) 339-9478.