How to Store Wine in a Storage Unit

Written by: Editorial Team - Published: May 18, 2024


Storing wine as an investment or simply keeping it to drink later is easier than it seems at first. Those luxury cellars in faraway lands may have larger and more expensive collections than the average consumer, but their owners follow little more than a handful of basic principles to keep wine at its best.

Key Point Module

  • 1 Bottled wine can be stored for 20 years or more in ideal conditions, although most wine varieties are consumed within a decade.
  • 2 The storage area should be close to 55 degrees F and 65% humidity, with little variation throughout the year.
  • 3 Wine bottles should be stored on their sides. However, it’s fine to leave bottles upright for convenience if they’ll be consumed within 6 months.
  • 4 Packing materials for wine are readily available, such as cardboard bottle dividers and padding made specifically for protection while in transit.

Preparation & Packing for Wine Storage

Start by writing a list or spreadsheet of the bottles to be put in storage, including the name and any additional notes that may help organize them. For example, write down the vintage and/or year it’s expected to be ready to sell or drink and the bottle’s intended position on a numbered rack.

As the stocktaking process goes on, make sure the bottles are clean. Dust is easily removed with a dry, soft cloth and a little care, but mold or grime will need extra work and a gentle touch to remove. Start with a weak concentration of one part white vinegar and four parts warm water, and use this cleaning solution on a slightly damp cloth to remove dirt and debris. Avoid water damage to the label as much as possible; vinegar is a disinfectant, but mold can’t be fully removed from paper. The bottles must now be left to dry completely.

Consider which packing, moving and storage materials may need to be purchased before the day arrives. Self-storage facilities often sell materials specific to wine storage, such as dividers and other padding to place in cardboard boxes, and many can provide racks for free or low cost to renters. Packing materials and wine racks can also be purchased online and at some high-end liquor stores.

Transportation & Racking of Wine

Bottled wine is relatively heavy when compared to most other items of a similar size, and it’s also more fragile. It’s important to take care of this precious cargo while in transit to the facility and even more so if it’s going in a moving truck with everything else. Pack the bottles tightly and securely inside cardboard boxes using the materials outlined above, or an improvised solution, and then make the trip to the storage facility.

Make sure the storage unit is clean and in working order — lights, ventilation, security and climate conditions — and then, it’s time to get racking. However, keep in mind how heavy and fragile the bottles are and ensure the wine racks are sturdy enough to hold the goods without collapsing or falling over. Racks can be fixed to a wall fairly easily, but this extra precaution isn’t necessary in most situations. If the area is so unstable that it can’t support a good quality wine rack on its own base or the area experiences a lot of vibration from nearby machinery or vehicles, it’s probably best not to tempt fate.

Important Factors in Long-term Wine Storage

Temperature is the most important factor when storing wine, whether for a month or decades. The storage unit should be kept at a consistent 55 degrees F, with a margin of error of 10 degrees above or below. If the temperature is too high, wine will spoil and have undesirable flavors and characteristics. If the temperature is too low, ice will form inside the bottle, and it may freeze, which often breaks the seal of the cork or causes the glass to crack.

Humidity is almost as important as temperature when creating the ideal storage conditions. Most experts recommend storing wine at 65% humidity. Humidity levels below 50% may cause corks to become dry and useless, and levels above 70% may damage labels and encourage the growth of mold.

Fluctuations in temperature and humidity can also cause problems, such as the typical difference in temperature from day to night and among seasons. Climate-controlled storage is needed in many parts of the United States to prevent these temperature shocks.

Corked wine bottles should never be stored upright for longer than a few months. While standing upright on its own natural base, the liquid inside the bottle doesn’t make contact with the cork, which causes it to become dry and brittle, and the wine will become oxidized much faster than normal now that the seal is broken. Most wine racks are designed for bottles to be laid flat on their sides or angled with the cork facing down slightly. Both of these styles help stop the cork from drying out. The main exceptions to this rule are sparkling wine, which should be stored upright, and any type of wine in a screw cap bottle because there’s no cork to worry about.

Frequently Asked Questions

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    Should wine be stored differently at high altitude?

    No. If the other storage factors have been accounted for, such as temperature and humidity, the altitude itself has no significant effect on bottled wine.

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    Are bottles with a screw cap suitable for long-term storage?

    Yes. Screw caps are more reliable than traditional cork for sealing wine bottles, which results in a much lower rate of oxidation. This type of seal is becoming popular in white wines and younger, lighter reds.

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    Can insects and rodents cause damage to bottled wine?

    Yes. Mice and rats are the most common cause of damage and loss in wine cellars. Cockroaches and various flying insects also enjoy the typical cellar climate. Rodents and insects can damage labels and corks and ultimately spread disease, so it’s important for storage facilities and renters to prevent infestation.

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    What can be done with damaged bottles of wine?

    Depending on the cause and severity of damage, the bottle may just need a gentle cleaning or it may need to go down the sink. Read the preparation section of this guide for tips on cleaning dust, mold and grime, and consider the following in cases of more serious damage. If the bottle is only chipped but it seems to be structurally sound, it may be fine to drink but not worth storing for resale. However, if there are cracks in the glass or obvious damage to the cork, the wine is almost certainly oxidized and/or spoiled beyond any usefulness and could even be a health risk if contaminated by pests and bacteria.