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Experience with wine cooling units?

I am blaming it on habitual visits to the LCBO tasting counter (has the opposite effect of eating before grocery shopping), but I now find myself with about 15 cases of wine in the basement.

Don't think I want a cabinet for storage as I am looking to about a 300 bottle capacity, and like to think I am handy enough to frame and insulate a 'closet sized' space in the basement for storage (~125 sq ft).

Main contenders for small cooling units appear to be :

WhisperKool XLT (a bit expensive and noisy)
KoolR (cheap and unreliable)
CellarPro (mid priced, no other real info)
Breezeaire (mid price, unreliable)

Can anyone recommend ('from experience' is preferred) a small wine cooling unit that is fairly quiet but functions well and leaves some money for vino?

Cheers

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  1. I don't know if this will help you or not, but I had a breezeaire unit in my newly built wine room and it quit working one very hot summer day- while I was at work. It gave me no warning, it just stopped. Luckily, I had most of my bottles stored elsewhere (in a professional storage unit). I also had many bottles in the original wood boxes and I had a 60 bottle cooler in the room. These things helped. Not huge damage, but I did sustain some damage (I had to drink them instead of sell them).I learned a good lesson though. 1) Insulation is really important! 2) Have a backup plan for expensive bottles.
    I still maintain my home wine room, improved the insulation and passive temperature control and installed a good old fashioned air conditioner vented to the outside for the few months in the summer when I have to worry about it, but I live in a wet climate. The less you rely on mechanical cooling systems the better.

    3 Replies
    1. re: sedimental

      sedimental:

      Am I understanding your post correctly, that you did not replace the failed chiller, but instead installed a room air conditioner? The reason I ask is that, having learned the hard way with my big WhisperKool 8000, I ALSO installed a room AC as a backup. People who do ONLY this need to be aware that room ACs typically cannot be set below 60F, and unless you get a high-quality/$$$ one, the cheapo thermostats can be as much as 4F off. If the AC is just marginal for your space and climate anyway, you'll be lucky to maintain 66-68F in the room on a hot day. 68F is obviously better than 80F, but it's not a good long-term solution.

      "I had a 60 bottle cooler in the room."

      An electric cooler? If so, it sounds like you were making it even harder on your breezeaire, maybe to the point of failure. What do you figure the temp spread was between ambient (outside the room) and your cellar setting when failure occurred? Even most $$$ dedicated wine chiller units can't cool more than 30F below ambient, and the closer you get to a 30F spread, the harder and more constantly the unit has to work. That's why you see so many failures in basement installations next to enclosed furnace/HWH/electronic/laundry sources of heat.

      1. re: kaleokahu

        Sedimental/Kaleokahu,

        Be careful with the household air conditioner, it removes ALL the moisture from your cellar. Within a year, your corks will dry out and the possibility of seepage will be significantly increased. Moisture contact only from the liquid inside the bottle is insufficient for longterm storage; humidity is necessary on both ends of the cork. It is far better to have a humid environment at a constant 16degC than one chilled to10deg with no moisture content whatsoever. The only effect of a warmer cellar is increased molecular movement and therefore, more rapidly maturing wine. Incidentally, the ideal conditions are 11degC with between 65-80% relative humidity.

        Cheers!

        1. re: Northof9

          Northof9: Thanks for the info, but you over-estimate my back-up system. My home AC backup drains into a sulfited bucket within my cellar (actually a small winery building) in order to MAINTAIN humidity, which I monitor with a hygrometer.

    2. Re: WhisperKool, see my post at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/719302.

      Don't have experience with the others.

      1. We have a smaller version of Koolspace and are generally ok with it ... we keep most of our good wine stored off site and have room for about 250 bottles in a glass-front closet (thermal quality door) in our kitchen. One thing to think about in the hot summers is, if it's on an outside wall, even with the best insulation, the temp can go up to 65 - 68F (better than 80+ though), when the sun is beating on that outside wall. So would recommend creating a cabinet without any exterior walls.

        You may have come across this already, but if you're looking to create your own cabinet, there are excellent instructions to be found on Rosehill Wine Cellar's web site http://www.rosehillwinecellars.com/3r...

        1. If you decide to go the inexpensive route, consider the consequences if and when the cooling unit fails on you. With all six surfaces insulated (walls, ceiling and perhaps the floor though not necessary in the basement) your wine should be okay and it does sound like you do plan to put the effort into this project. Rapid temperature fluctuations are a wine's worst enemy and with an OAT of -25 degrees and the temperature in your basement (outside the cellar) set around 20 deg, we are considering an almost 50 degree differential. If you are out of town for a week in January and the unit quits - Ugh!

          The most basic systems are self-contained and vent into an adjoining room. Other options are stand-alone units varying in size depending on the volume of the cellar. For larger cellars, split-refrigeration units vent warmer air from the cellar to the outdoors while providing cool air via a fan and condensing system. Additionally, this system allows for a wall mounted thermostat and temperature monitoring system. Beyond split-refrigeration, larger, more complex systems similar to central air conditioners are available which remove air to a remote cooling unit and then return it at a lower temperature to the cellar. Again, requirements will vary depending on the size, location and ambient conditions of your cellar. Reliability is the underlying question with lower-end units and several consumer product reviews detailing mechanical failure after only two or three years of operation are available online. Expect to pay at least $1000 and well beyond that for a product you can rely on. This subject does require research and attention to detail prior to purchasing and depending on your needs, some units are better suited than others. In terms of installation, a basic system is easily set up and wired while larger units may require professional assistance. Cool air will tend to settle on the floor and therefore, whenever possible, locate a basic self-contained cooling system close to the ceiling. If the unit is mounted too low, the thermostat generally located within the cooler itself, may trip the unit off prematurely.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Northof9

            Northof9: You sound like you are knowledgable. What do you think of the in-bottle probe thermostats?

            Re: "...close to the ceiling." Is there anything wrong with mounting a climate control box near the ceiling and plugging the chiller into that?

            1. re: kaleokahu

              Bottle probes: The idea seems reasonable but in reality, unless you are cellaring for investment purposes and temperature tracking is essential for bottle providence, how accurate does this really need to be? Wine cellars have existed for centuries and temperature variation is inevitable, the chalk caverns in Champagne and Spain's endless underground wine caves are perfect examples. While temperature is indeed a critical component, if you are cellaring for the long term, it is no more important that humidity and for that matter light and vibration. Keep all these factors in check and your wine will age gracefully but consider the big picture. My wife and I are drinking 15 year old bottles from our passive (natural) cellar and they are absolutely perfect! Our cellar has an earth floor and 160 year old stone walls, it's cool, dark, damp, and to most people dingy but for the wine, its flawless! As for the probe question: to have one or two strategically placed might provide a point of interest, but beyond that, I think it's just a gadget. Last time i checked, the in-bottle probe thermostat system was not wireless technology and is therefore rather unsightly in terms of presentation (in my opinion).

              Control Box vs. Chiller unit: This depends entirely on the type of system that you buy: If the two components are separate then yes, your method will work but most of the inexpensive systems are self-contained ie. the controls are on the cooling component itself. In this case, the unit should be installed relatively close to the ceiling.

              Hope this helps,
              Cheers

              1. re: Northof9

                Thanks, Northof9. Not sure I really understood your answer about the probes. WhisperKool's literature (which I've come to mistrust) suggests that these probes will result in less runtime, wear and tear. And, it makes common sense to me that--within reach of the cord--you can place "the" bottle (as opposed to the unit) anywhere from floor to ceiling.

                As to the separate TCU, I'm talking about a NON-OEM control box to actually control the temp (again anywhere from floor to ceiling), with the internal thermostat either bypassed or set lower than the external box. I've posted before about how the geniuses at WhisperKool designed their bolt-on controller box to short out with condensate. They want >$125 just so you can replace it and short it out again! So I just used the bypass plug and am running a greenhouse TCU as the thermo.

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  Thanks Kaleokahu: yes, I understand clearly, you are placing the bottle with probe-in-place wherever you wish in the cellar and this will seemingly increase the efficiency of your cooling unit. Your W8000 is an expensive wall-mount unit, I can't imagine why this add-on would increase the lifespan of the machine if it is positioned correctly in the cellar. Just out of curiosity, at what temperature and %humidity do you maintain your cellar?

                  1. re: Northof9

                    Northof9: According to WK, use of the bottle probe supposedly reduces the number of times the unit cycles on and off. That makes a partial sense to me, but if my 1500 cu/ft cellar's bottles warm enough to cycle the chiller on, that's a huge thermal mass to be bringing back up. Even a couple of degrees will take a long time.

                    I keep the cellar at 55F and about 70% humidity. I also cellar full-size barriques, so I like to keep the humidity up a bit.

                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      Kaleokahu: I agree with the thermal dynamics here: the liquid mass will retain a given temperature for longer than the air within the cellar and so the unit may indeed cycle on/off less often if you regulate the temp via the PDT thermostat. The bottom line is that we are attempting to stabilize/preserve the temperature of the wine not the air and you are simply looking for the most efficient means of doing so. At 55deg/70%, your cellar is ideal but if the ambient conditions in your area are unfavourable then yes, i think the PDT might not be a bad decision - again, think worst case scenario: if the whole show quits on you, what will the temperature stabilize at? In my case, the answer is 11C/52F so i don't need the technology but in many cases (and perhaps yours), cellar conditions would spike and that will cause fluid expansion and the possibility of seepage.

                      Btw. the barriques are a nice addition to your cellar, i'm sure.

                      Cheers!