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Lighting choices for wine cellar

What are the Best Lighting Choices for Your Wine Cellar?

Let's talk about wine cellar lighting.

Lighting is one of the most important elements for any room, but when it comes to wine cellars, your lighting choice plays an even more essential role. If you choose the wrong cellar lighting, you could actually destroy your wine collection. A $10 mistake could cost you thousands of dollars if you're not careful.

While lighting may not be the most exciting topic, it is a necessary one.

Let's discuss how to choose the right lighting for your wine cellar.

Why is Lighting So Important for Your Wine Cellar?

Wine bottles in a wine cellar with lighting

The best lighting for your wine cellar is actually no light at all. Wine thrives in a dark, cool and humid environment. However, having a pitch-black wine cellar is not ideal for our human eyes. Unless you're committed to taking a burning torch (or a modern alternative such as a flashlight) into your cellar every time you want to retrieve a bottle of wine, it's best to install lighting in your cellar that can be switched on when you need it and off when you don't.

You need lighting to help you see what you're doing in the wine cellar.

The proper lighting will help you see what's in your wine cellar quickly. This matters because you don't want to spend an extended time in your cellar. The goal is to keep your cellar at a steady, cool temperature. But by being in the cellar, you're raising the room's ambient temperature. This is especially true if you keep the cellar door open while you're looking.

However, if you have the right lighting, you'll be able to quickly locate and grab the bottle you're after.

The lighting you choose is even more important when it comes to entertaining cellars. If you plan to host tasting parties in your cellar, you must select lighting that's both utilitarian and mood-setting. The goal is to light your cellar in a way that creates the vibe you're after while also giving you enough illumination to actually read the labels in your collection.

But when it comes to wine cellar lighting, not all options are equal. Some lighting can speed up the aging process and permanently alter your wine.

Now, let's discuss what you need to know about properly lighting your cellar.

The Most Dangerous Form of Light

In an ironic turn, the very sunlight that's responsible for growing grapes is the same sunlight you need to protect your wine from.

Why does sunlight have a negative impact on wine?

From a chemistry standpoint, direct sunlight affects the compounds within the wine. If direct light penetrates a bottle, it can produce a photochemical reaction within the wine that can cause it to smell pungent.

This process is called “light strike.”

To prevent light strike, some manufacturers now use darker, amber-colored glass that provides increased ultraviolet (UV) protection. And while brown bottles are UV resistant, not all manufacturers use brown bottles. Some use green bottles, which provide only a modest level of UV protection. When a green bottle is exposed to direct sunlight for only 18 hours, its contents will become light struck and be rendered undrinkable. Those energized molecules cause the wine to release a horrible smell.

Clear bottles fare the worst. After only three hours of sun exposure, wine in clear bottles will be permanently damaged.

How do you prevent this from happening to you?

The first step is to ensure that absolutely no sunlight enters your wine cellar. This is why having a below-ground basement cellar is ideal. It's also important to resist the trend to place your cellar in a particularly bright area of your home, such as a south-facing wall in your sun-drenched living room. If you do, avoid making it all glass, unless that glass is amber-colored.

It’s okay to have your cellar anywhere in your home as long as you control how much outside light can make it into your cellar.

If you want to be completely sure that the wine in your cellar won’t be vulnerable to light strike, avoid having any windows in the space (including on the cellar door).

It's also important to note that light affects different types of wine in a unique way. Lighter wines are more likely to be damaged by UV exposure than darker reds. Reds have more tannins that can absorb the radiation more easily. However, tannin concentration reduces as the wine ages, and so will your red wine's natural protection.

Sunlight also generates heat. Your wine cellar should remain a consistent 55 °F (or 12.78 °C). If it goes above this level, the wine will prematurely age. Avoiding sunlight will ensure that your cooling system doesn’t need to work overtime.

Another Horrible Lighting Choice: Fluorescent Light

Fluorescent light isn't good for selfies, and it's definitely not good for wine cellars. Fluorescent bulbs can emit UV light waves, which can damage wine in the same way that natural sunlight can. Fluorescent lighting also produces an unattractive light case that makes the entire cellar space look sterile and yellow.

Just Say “No” to Halogen

Rounding up the top worst types of lights for your cellar are halogen and incandescent bulbs. While these bulbs definitely produce a better glow than fluorescent bulbs, both halogen and incandescent lights produce heat. They literally feel warm when you touch them. That warmth can raise the ambient temperature in your space, especially in small, enclosed spaces, such as wine cellars.

What's The Best Lighting Option?

So, if you can't use sunlight, fluorescent light, incandescent bulbs, or halogen, what's left?

Before you start counting your candles, there is one more option to consider: 

LED, or Light Emitting Diodes, are the best wine cellar lighting choice for several reasons.

1. LED lights are energy efficient

These bulbs won't consume a lot of energy. In fact, you will save up to 90% on your utility bill compared to how much you'd spend with a different type of bulb.

2. LED lights have a long lifespan

These lights have been known to last decades under the right conditions. They're also maintenance-free. Once you've installed them (which is easy to do), you won't have to worry about them until it's time to replace them.

3. LED lights are cool to the touch

Not only do they not emit much heat, LED lights also reduce the risk of fire.

4. LED lights are dimmable

This allows you to achieve the perfect lighting for your cellar ambiance.

5. LED lights come in different color settings

If you prefer the look of warm white, cool white, or even daylight, you have those options available to you when you choose LED lighting.

These are just some of the benefits of going with LED lighting in your wine cellar.

Layer Your Lighting

Bar with wine bottles and glasses on the shelf with lighting

When illuminating your wine cellar, consider adding different "layers" of light to your space. This gives you the option to marry aesthetics with practicality.

Here are few lighting ideas that you should consider adding to your space:

White recessed can light on a ceiling

1. Recessed Can Lights

This type of overhead lighting can be used to illuminate your cellar and highlight specific zones. Just be careful that you're using air-tight can lights that prevent air from leaving (or entering) your cellar. Your cellar should be a sealed cooler, with no way for air or moisture to escape in or out.

Two white track lights mounted on the ceiling

Track Lighting

Like can lights, track lights can be in LED form and used to spotlight different areas in your cellar. These lights are even more flexible than can lights because you can change the direction of the lighting whenever you feel like it (can lights are set and can't be changed without a complete renovation). Track lights are also great because they are installed on the ceiling (usually) and you won't need to worry about creating an air-tight lock around them.

Chandelier made of wine bottles with green yellow and orange lighting

2. Chandeliers

When it comes to wine cellar décor lighting, you can’t get much grander than with a chandelier.

Chandeliers impart a classic and romantic vibe to your space. Even small chandeliers can make a big statement and elevate the entire look of your cellar. When choosing a chandelier, go with one that won't bump your head when you walk underneath it. Or arrange it over a table to ensure that it's not a potential hazard.

Living room with a couch, wall wood decor and wall sconce in low light

3. Wall Sconces

One way to add moodiness to your cellar is through wall sconces. Sconces are wine cellar light fixtures that give you a chance to express your unique design style. For example, you can have sconces that mimic the look and feel of flickering candlelight.

Sconces are also ideal because they don't take up much space in your cellar. They affix to a wall.

NavePoint 1U Steel Panel Light for standard 19 Inch Server Cabinet Rack  Lighting Panel Black -


4. Rack lighting

One cool way to light your cellar is by lighting individual roles of your wine storage. You can achieve accent lighting through light strips, rope lights, or remote-controlled puck (cabinet) lighting, all of which can be purchased in LED form.

Add a Timer

No matter what type of lighting you use in your wine cellar, remember to install a timer on your lights. This way, your lights will automatically turn off when (not if) you or someone else accidentally forgets to turn it off.

Final Thoughts

When choosing lighting for your wine cellar, remember that LED is best. Also use multiple types of lights to strike the right ambiance in your cellar.

Talk to our wine cellar design experts today at Wine Cellar, who will help with choosing the right unit, installation, and information on the aging of wine. And for more detailed information on building a wine cellar, read our how to guide now: How to Build a Wine Cellar (DIY Guide)

Randy Green

Randy is a true wine storage aficionado and expert in wine cellar design. He gained construction experience as a partner in a general contracting business before niching into and passionately focusing on creating wine storage solutions for clients in 2016. He takes great pride in bringing these designs to life, and is dedicated to ensuring that every wine cellar he creates is not only functional but also a beautiful addition to any home or business. The Wine Cellar HQ team also includes refrigeration sizing experts and licensed HVAC technicians to ensure optimal climate control for your wine cellar, so that your wines can age to perfection.
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