Going underground

Before the arrival of temperature-controlled wine cabinets wine was always stored in cellars (and before that caves) to ensure the valuable contents were not exposed to extremes of temperature and humidity. A cellar provides an ideal environment in which wines can mature gracefully, away from light; however, occasionally, the very thing that makes cellars so perfect for storing wine can also pose a threat to your precious collection.

Being underground, if your property floods, a pipe bursts or you have a fire and the fire brigade pump gallons of water into your property, water will find its way into the cellar and, once there, it can wreak all sorts of havoc.

I remember visiting a property which had suffered a flood and seeing the damage to a wine cellar: treasured vintages rendered anonymous by lost labels; corks contaminated by dirty floodwater and other bottles damaged or broken. Most of the wine collection was spoiled and it was an eventuality the homeowner had never thought about.

I’m a great believer in protecting the things you are passionate about so, if you have taken the time to create a wine cellar and build your collection I’ve put together some top tips to help you look after (and enjoy) your investment.

1. Keep an inventory

Make sure you know which wines you have, how much each bottle is worth and where in the cellar you’ve laid it down. There are now a number of apps that can help you keep track of your collection or you can stick with a good old-fashioned cellar book. Whichever system you use, make sure you keep it up to date so you have an accurate record of your collection. You should also keep original purchase receipts

2. Tag it

Place plastic identification tags over the bottle ends to identify the contents. Not only will this avoid the need for constantly pulling out the wine, it will also enable you to identify the contents of the bottles with labels that have been washed off by flood or water damage.

3. Devise a salvage plan

Flood is the biggest risk for underground cellars and poses a real threat to wine collections. In the same way that art collectors have a salvage plan for their paintings, make sure you have a plan for removing some or all of your wine collection if the local water table starts to rise or you live in an area at risk of flooding. This is where your inventory and cellar storage plan will come in very useful as you can quickly identify the most valuable bottles and remove them to a place of safety  if it looks likely that floodwater will affect your property. Some insurance policies will provide for your wine to be stored in a secure warehouse whilst your property is dried-out and the wine can be returned.

4. Ensure you insure

Make sure you insure your wine cellar for its full replacement cost. In the event a claim has to be made, you do not want to lose all of the extra value that has built up over the years. Check to see if your collection can be insured under your existing home insurance policy and whether your insurer will arrange for your wine to be moved and stored if you have to move out of your house as a result of a flood, fire or other major event.

If you've gone underground with your wine, we hope that nothing happens to damage your precious collection. But if it does, our top tips could help you to avoid falling in to a grape depression.