This article came about by trial and error, and through the experiences of local and international sailors who enjoy the occasional glass of wine or two at the end of the day.
First, it is important to note that wine is very much an organic product, which can change with time, temperature, light and movement.
Finding “ideal storage conditions” on your boat is challenging, and unless you have these, it is not wise to store your bottles, as you will soon find out.
For the purposes of this article, the wines that I will be referring to are “ready-to-drink”, short-term storage wines with cork closures.
The key here is to maintain a constant temperature, with little or no fluctuation. The generally agreed-upon temperature for short-term storage ranges from 45-64ºF (7-18ºC) as long as variations are gradual. Temperatures above 65 ºF (19 ºC) will cause wine to age prematurely and lose its flavour and balance.
Temperature stability is the “holy grail” to storing your wine on your boat
Ensure the area is dark. Ultraviolet light can affect the composition of wine, which is one of the reasons why wine is traditionally bottled in coloured glass.
Extra care should be given to Champagne and other sparkling wines; they are more sensitive to light.
Never store your wine in direct sunlight or in a well-lit cabin
Air can easily seep into a wine bottle through the cork enclosure. Highly volatile chemical compounds, and other odors such as: gas, diesel fumes, solvents, cleaning solutions, or aromatic food products such as onions, garlic or strong cheeses can and will significantly affect the characteristics of the wine.
When storing your bottles make sure there are no chemical compounds, or strong odors in the area
Ensure there is humidity and proper air circulation. Humidity is necessary in order to prevent corks from drying out.
Mold or rot will develop in areas with longstanding moisture, or high humidity conditions. Low humidity can cause the cork to dry out and crack, allowing more air into the bottle.
The ideal humidity level for wine storage is between 50% – 70%
Wine bottles should never be shaken, bumped, or vibrated. This will greatly increase the rate of chemical breakdown. Avoid storing your bottles where there are frequent vibrations, such as close to dishwashers, air conditioners, and boat engines.
Purists insist that vibrations affect flavour and bouquet
Wine should always be stored on its side to keep the cork moist and wet. Storing wine on its side keeps the wine in constant contact with the cork ensuring no air gets into the bottle.
Air is one of the greatest enemies to a good wine
If you do not have the luxury of having a built-in wine cellar on your boat, my suggestion is that you find a location that captures all the above conditions. I have found that most of these can be met by storing your bottles in the bilge. Further to preserve the wine I also suggest to wrap the wines individually in newspaper. This is not attractive but it works!
Members of The World Executives Sailing Club further assisted me with my research. I received an overwhelming response to my question: “Do you have an unique way of storing wine on your boat?” The answers range from comical remarks to technical overviews – Here are some of my favorites:
“my belly 🙂 – Howard Colt”
“I was the skipper of a 106 ft staysail schooner, then called S/Y Mariepierre now Aschanti of Saba. The trick of storing wine on a boat, any boat, is even temperature as close to cellar temp as one can get. Mariepierre had a wonderful wine cellar in the mid-ship bilge area with normal wine racks, no particular trick to that. That wine was meant for the aft’guard, we up forward of the foremast, we had a 50 lit. red wine cask from an Alicante ship chandler. We stored that cask as close to the waterline we could under the fo’c’s’le ladder. We gained access to the wine by siphon it out. This wine was sensitive to everything including air so we made air as scares as possible. Well after a good month at sea only our engineer managed to drink the vinegar. Here in Sweden on more modestly sized sail boats we have a problem with a short season with very low temperatures on both ends, and midnight sun and quite warm during the six weeks surrounding July. When the water temp is quite right we store wine as dry as possible in the bilges, bottles and “wine in the box” with the carton box part removed prior castoff. On late or early season voyages cold weather and cold water we store the wine we consume for the next two – three days wrapped in a sleeping bag or similar. NB one need two good days of even temp for the wine to taste as good as it can. Best of Luck http://www.superyachttimes.com/images/4/2214/pic1.jpg- Göran Svalling”
“I like your priorities Liz!
We lived aboard for four years and travel overland often, here are a few ideas:
The PlatyPreserve, transfer the wine from the bottle to this container for durable, compact, short to medium term storage. http://www.cascadedesigns.com/Platypus/Wine-Preservation/PlatyPreserve/product
Padded pack for two bottles – http://www.bottlewise.com/
And then there is my favorite! A 10L French military issue jerrycan marked “VIN” on the side. These are the cans that the French military used to use to dole out the soldiers daily ration of wine. If you live near your favorite winery this would be perfect! http://www.expeditionportal.com/forum/showthread.php?t=21917 – Brian McVickers”
On a boat, it is likely to get hot in the salon and cabins. The coolest place is under the salon flooring (bilge) where it is cooler and near water temp. Place the bottles so they don’t block any water flow thru the bilge and separate them with material that does not break down when wet. If the yacht has other storage areas, be certain that bottles are seriously secured since normally the yacht may rock & roll in various weather conditions -Tim Monsul”
“Excellent question! Before opening, we stored red wine in the icebox of each of our different sailboats over the years. After opening, the wine bottle storage was never a problem because the wine was always finished, and the empty bottle secured appropriately. Many sailors on the great lakes would store their wine or beer in the bilge of the boat. especially during long distance races. Jeremy, where does one store red wine on the corporate aircraft that you sell? – Thomas Harvey”
“Well…. wine in my country is a national sport (Spain), and I would say that wine (good wine that is) does not like being shaken about nor does it like warm temperatures. I would not take GOOD wine to a sail. However, if desperate for wine while sailing, carton box wine (…personally, wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole…) could do the trick. In a transatlantic crossing in 1990, we took 200 bottles or cheap white and rose, newspaper wrapped and stored in carton boxes all over. We drank about two a day and the skipper sold the rest when we arrived (at quite a profit I must say….) – Victor Guasch”
“I had an interesting observation a number of years back regarding wine and passage making on sailing yachts. There might even be some money to be made here if we are clever… I was thinking all wines turned to vinegar because we had those expensive charter wines still on board during our post season passage from the Caribbean to the Med and once we would arrive it, the little that was left (ha!) was no good any more.
Not being able to resist the amazing price on those reds out of Provence at the end of the season I decided to stock up anyway for the return to the Caribbean. Lo and behold, by the time we got back the wine was aged perfectly. The moral: Don’t keep the good vintage wines around too long. But if you want to stock up, buy some of the fresh young ones and roll ’em around for about a month or so. Don’t let your friends see the bottle, just tell them it is something really special you brought back. They will be really impressed! 😉 – Ann E McHorney”
Lastly, make note of these six basic rules next time you stock your boat with wine, and enjoy what you drink because life is too short to drink bad wine!