The Wine Cellar Chronicles, Part I: “Assessing the situation.”

Sonja and I shopped around Omaha for the better part of two years, looking for the perfect house. On multiple occasions, we thought we’d found it, from a ranch with an in-ground pool on a two-acre lot on North 50th street, to a stately yet foreclosed-upon manor on North 30th, yet on multiple occasions, we got outbid on that “perfect” home, even when we bid well over asking. We were eager to get into a new home, with Sonja then newly pregnant, our hope being to have enough space in our house when our child was born to not have to move again anytime soon.  Then one frigid February day, we found what would eventually become our home. We met there after work, struggling to picture the neighborhood with green grass and full trees in the awful Nebraska winter, before stepping inside to find that it was, in fact, what we were looking for.

It had ample size and needed nothing done immediately, but it felt warm and inviting, and we could picture our friends gathered around the living areas. It had character, and beautiful woodwork in the craftsmen style.  Built in 1905, the large front porch was suitable for entertaining and, though far from large, it had enough of a yard that we could envision our then-future children playing in it. Best of all, there was enough room for us to comfortably begin our family.  And one more thing: it had an odd little door in the basement that led through a tiny foyer and into an unfinished, 300 square foot cold-storage cellar directly under the front porch. An oddity to most people, it was a selling point to me.

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Two years later, we love our house. We’d like a larger yard, but the character, the wonderful neighborhood, and terrific neighbors with whom we spend a lot of time have more than made up for what we lack in lawn. And now, finally, more than two years after moving in, I’ve gotten started on my wine cellar.

The process began right after we moved in, but was quickly put on hold. The chilly spring weather had me believing that the room was controlled by the 3/4 earth that surrounded it, and that the tiny windows and lack of insulation were non-issues. I put boxes and boxes of wine inside, and added a thermometer to monitor the temperature. Less than a month later, I was frantically removing my wine, some of which was covered in mildew, as the numerous issues with the cellar came rapidly to light. As it turned out, the cellar got too cold in winter, too hot in summer, and was inclined to be as humid inside as it was outside. There was an issue with water getting in on one corner, and it was desperately unsuited to store anything of value. Feeling defeated, I built some racks for my wine in the laundry room and began to bide my time.

Then this spring, the process began again when Sonja found a small air conditioning unit/heater on a clearance sale and bought it for me. I called an electrician and had an outlet installed (there were none). Then my mom and dad came down for a visit, and helped build a platform for the unit. Lastly, we dug out the drain on the corner of the house where the cellar would take on moisture and directed it away from the house and down the berm using some leftover pavers I had. The process of controlling the temperature of the cellar was underway.

For the following months, through the hot and humid sumer, I monitored the temperature daily using an app on my phone and a sensor we pirated from another room in the house. Though outside it regularly broke 100 degrees with high humidity in late June and July, causing our two HVAC systems to be overworked and our third floor often far too warm, the cellar maintained a steady temperature ranging only slightly from 62 to 66 degrees. As I sit here writing this, its high-noon and 83 outside, but it’s a pleasant and wine-friendly 64 in the cellar.

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Of course, having controlled the temperature is just a start. The system is overworked, and I will soon begin adding things like insulation and some racks to the room. It is still a raw and unfinished place, a promising work in progress that will no doubt take years to finish. That said, we’re moving in the right direction, and I am grateful for that. I’ll chronicle the progress, and any setbacks, here, both for the value of the story and also to help anyone who might be considering a similar undertaking in some dark and moldy corner of their own basement. Thanks for reading, and I hope to have you over for dinner in my cellar one day.

Cheers,

Mark

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