Wine Cellar Management, Take Charge of the Wines in Your Charge

The first time I was asked to take responsibility for the wine service, I didn’t think much of it. I figured they would tell me which wine they wanted, I would go into the cellar to get it and would serve it. However, I quickly came to realize that although the people I worked for were extremely controlling and directive in their business life, when they came home they just wanted to unwind and enjoy. They wanted to just receive greatness. Thus, the food and wine aspect of their home became completely under my control. What that meant is, rather than wait to be told, I learned ways to stock, suggest, pair and rotate in a way that every time the principals or their guests enjoyed wine, they would do so with the perfect wine for the occasion, experienced in exactly the right glass, during the optimum drinking window at precisely the right temperature.

When chosen well, wine and food possess the unique ability to completely change the direction of an evening. Working on yachts and in estates around the world for over ten years, you see how quickly food and wine can make up for poor weather, family squabbles, broken equipment and massive delays.

Keep it Current

Cellar Management & Inventory System

If you walked into your current position with a wine cellar tracking system in place then you are in luck, many computerized systems track wine inventory with relative ease. Most systems track information such as:

  • Date received
  • Vintage
  • Bottle size
  • Name
  • Varietal
  • Region/Sub-Region
  • Drinking Window
  • Current Maturity
  • Inventory location

However, if you do not possess the technological tools at the outset, you will find creating such a system fairly easy. At the minimum, you can create an old school paper “cellar book” to keep track of the above information. Consider investing in bottle tags that you can log with reference numbers. If resources permit, computerized system are also easy to attain and often free.

You can readily find free programs such as Cellar Tracker that allow you to search wines and reviews, as well as keep track of your own wines. Or if your budget permits, look into purchasing a more advanced system such as a touchscreen system with a bar-code scanner tool. With the prominence of smartphones and IPads, many extremely useful apps also exist that are free, such as VinoCell or Corkz to review, categorize and organize the wine under your care. The program you choose will vary depending on the country you are working in. Check out the App store after designating your country to easily access reviews.

Inventory Rotation Each wine in your cellar is alive. During various points of a wine’s life different elements come forth. When young, Cabernet often shows off its robust tannins, Pinot might flash around its bold fruit, or mouthwatering acidity and Chardonnay may strike you with strong aromas of vanilla and toast. Each wine enjoys a life-cycle during which one will experience that wine differently. Although most producers release their wine when it is ready to drink, often wines with a solid structure, i.e. big tannins and high levels of acidity, may be approachable out of the gate, but would “benefit” from age. Thus, ensure wine is consumed during the optimum drinking windows in order to heighten your guests’ experiences, as well as protect their investment.

Optimum Wine Drinking Windows

Grape Varietal
Drinking Window
California Chardonnay
2-10+ years
French White Burgundy
3-8+ years
German Riesling
3-30+ years
French Sauterne
3-30+ years
California/Oregon Pinot Noir
2-5+ years
Red French burgundy
3-8+ years
California Merlot
2-10+ years
Chianti Classico Riservas
3-10+ years
Argentine Malbec
3-15+ years
Brunello di Montalcino
3-15+ years
California Cabernet Saugivnon
3-15+ years
California Zinfandel
3-15+ years
Spanish Riojas
5-20+ years
Barolo and Barbaresco
5-25+ years
Hermitage and Syrah
5-25+ years
Bordeaux Chateaux
5-30+ years
Vintage Ports
10-40+ years

Cellar Tips: Top 4 Cellar Considerations

It won’t matter how organized you are with your cellar management system, if you don’t properly maintain the cellar itself. Focus on these 4 tips!

  1. Ensure consistent temperature. Gradual fluctuations in temperature are manageable, ie. If your cellar is at room temperature and fluctuates with the seasons. However, ideally you want the wine to stay between 55°-58° F (13°-15°C). This will allow the wine to age and gain complexities at the appropriate pace. The most important part remains consistency. Drastic changes in temperature will cause the wine to age more rapidly due to the continual expansion and contraction of the wine.
  2. Keep it dark. Wines mature slower if not subject to light. Thus, try to keep the lighting down to a minimum.
  3. Humidity is important. Most wines still use natural corks and thus they expand and contract with moisture. If the cellar lacks humidity the corks can dry out. If the cellar remains too humid, the corks can mold. Try to keep relative humidity to approximately 70%
  4. Let it rest. Once you have received a wine shipment, tuck it away in your organized cellar, allowing it to rest from its long journey. Just as you need time to adjust after a long trip, so does wine. Give it one to two weeks to settle before optimally serving in order for the wine to show at its best.

Serve Me Right

Once your cellar is under control, the next step is to serve your guests with confidence. Each bottle you serve is alive and possesses a unique way to express itself. Just as we as individuals may show off our best features by choosing clothes that flatter our body types, each varietal shows off its unique bouquet, body and structure best out of the right glass.

Although one could purchase a glass for every single varietal, I focus on a handful

  1. Champagne Flute
  2. All Purpose White
  3. Pinot Noir (Often referred to as a Burgundy glass)
  4. Cabernet (Often referred to as a Bordeaux glass)
  5. Dessert

Now armed with the basics of cellar management, you owe it to yourself to experiment with the whole point of cellaring, the joy of opening a wine at various stages of its development. You can do this is in one go, by buying a vertical of an age-worthy wine. Or, buy a case/half case in a good vintage and enjoy that wine every 6 months, or yearly to experience the ebb and flow of a wine’s life cycle, tis a journey well worth taking.

Contact Catherine Harbour with any questions, or if you wish to acquire limited production wines for your cellar. She can be reached at or +1 (707) 525-8466 ext 329 in reference to Estate & Manor Magazine

About Catherine Harbour

After a lifetime of international travel and luxury client service as a Yacht and Estate Chef worldwide, Catherine Harbour transitioned into a career as a Wine Advisor for the Wine Spectrum in Northern California...There she works as a concierge-style wine consultant for high net-worth individuals; shipping limited production and highly allocated wines to all 50 States and internationally. Situated in the heart of California Wine Country, Catherine enjoys exclusive access to not only the most highly sought after cult wines, but also their secondary labels, alternate projects and under-discovered treasures, Working diligently to increase her clients' quality of life, one glass at a time, Catherine focuses on their preferences for price and style, suggests food and wine pairings, assists in cellar management and wine education, as well as offers individualized gifting services to satisfy all of her clients' needs. When not visiting with winemakers, distributors and importers to taste her nearly 700 bottle inventory, you will find Catherine somewhere amongst the Redwood trees, grape vines and rolling hills of her Russian River Valley home.

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  1. I came across a system called eSommelier last year while conducting some research for a client . It looks like an elegant solution to wine cellar management. I’m curious if any person has experience with it. I would love to know their thoughts on it.

    • Thank you for your question Scott, yes, we have worked with several clients that are very happy using eSommelier. You pay an initial set up fee, which includes a year’s worth of tech support, an IPad web app, hardware replacement, data back up and software updates. After the first year, you generally pay a yearly fee to continue those services. This is a high-end program for those clients with the means. Those we know that use it really rave about the program. It is something I could likely help you or your client with, if you have interest. Contact me at for more information.

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