A wine collector who lived close to the New York City subway system was terrified for the safety of her wines; whenever the trains would roll by, she could see her bottles rattling in their holders. Everything else about her cellar was perfect, down to the temperature and humidity, but she wasn’t sure how well her bottles would hold up under these shaky conditions over the next 10 or 20 years. An online commenter was blunt with the collector, “You plan to live with these conditions for decades? Maybe ask first how much damage your brain would show up in the long term.” The comment was a bit insensitive, but the author has a point. Vibration isn’t good for any living thing, and in wines, scientists have found that vibration kills flavors and aromas, even after short-term exposure. If you hope to age your bottles over decades, you need to do all that you can to prevent wine vibration in your own cellar.
What Are Wine Vibration Effects?
Wine researcher Maria Lorraine Binchet says that vibration impacts wine by adding excess energy back into the chemical aging process, altering the flavors. Wines are said to “throw sediment” as they age naturally, which means that the solid chunks of tannic acid separate from the rest of the liquid and rest at the bottom of the bottle. Researchers found that when bottles vibrate or are shaken, sediment isn’t allowed to separate from the liquid, lowering the levels of tartaric acid and succinic acid in the wine. The tartaric acid is responsible for nearly all of the classic wine flavors that you’ve come to love, as it’s the primary acid found in grapes. Succinic acid reacts with other molecules in wine, forming brand new esters. Scientists find that wines that have few of these esters tend to be flavorless. When you have little of these two acids, you get a dull wine.
In addition to causing wine to lose its flavor, new undesirable qualities are added to a wine when it’s shaken. Wines may become overly sweet due to the decreased acidity. More propanol is produced in the wine, which makes some bottles smell like boiled potatoes. Some other wines show an increase in isoamyl alcohol, which makes the wine smell like fuel, whiskey, or even banana popsicles. If you smell these aromas in a wine, chances are good that it’s starting to degrade.
Prevent Vibration in Your Cellar
What can you do to stop this process? To start, you have to get to the source of the problem, identifying the causes of vibration. Wines that sit on top of a food fridge are in a constant state of low-key vibration, so you should never keep your bottles stored on or near these kinds of appliances (like washing machines, dishwashers, or dryers). Investing in a wine fridge might help absorb shakes, but you need to buy a fridge that is equipped with a compressor. Some coolers vibrate slightly as they maintain the internal temperature, and a compressor is specifically designed to eliminate vibration.
Floors are also constantly being walked on, and they’re the most susceptible to the usual rumbles and shakes that come with living in a house. Bottles that are stored at the basement level are more likely to go undisturbed for long periods of time than bottles that are stored in a high-traffic area. However, not everyone has a basement available for wine storage.
Walls are a good alternative to basements because they absorb some of the shock that comes with usual home traffic. When you mount your bottles against walls, you open up space in your cellar and you also avoid exposing the wines to excess vibration. Choose a wall that’s located in a central part of your home between two rooms that are gently used. For instance, a wall that’s located between your quiet home office and a rarely-used, cool, dark pantry is the perfect spot for your wines because the wall will rarely, if ever, get banged into throughout the day.
Some vibration problems are easy to fix simply by moving your bottles to a new location, but when this isn’t possible (maybe that subway-adjacent apartment is rent-controlled), you need a short-term solution until you can get your bottles to a secure warehouse. Rather than exposing your bottles to regular vibration while you decide what to do, start by wrapping them in Styrofoam or bubble wrap to absorb some of the shock. Individually wrap each bottle and also install shock-protection on your wall mounts and containers until you can find a better solution.
The Safest Alternative
Preventing vibration takes work, which is why many serious collectors turn to third party storage instead. Unlike when you store bottles at home, you never have to compromise your wine’s safety with your living standards when you store with a full-service third party. This way, experts can dedicate an entire space to your wines, keeping them cool, humid, and vibration-free. You save money on fridge compressors, wall mounts, and shock-absorbing equipment, all while guaranteeing the safety of your wines. The best storage warehouses include shipping options that also take vibration into consideration, like white glove shipping services. After your bottles arrive safely at your home, you can enjoy your wines knowing that they were stored under the best conditions possible.
By: Derek Cienfuegos
With over a decade of experience in the wine industry, Derek Cienfuegos serves as Director of Collector Services at Vinfolio. During his tenure at Vinfolio, he has had the good fortune to work with some of the most distinguished wine collections in the country. Trained in wine production, Derek spent many years making wines commercially for some of Sonoma’s top producers. In addition, he has designed, opened, and managed two wine bars in San Francisco.