This article came about by trial and error, research, and the experiences of local and international sailors who enjoy a glass or two of wine after a day at sea.
Firstly, it is important to note that wine is very much an organic product which may change with time, temperature, light and movement. Finding ideal storage conditions on your boat is challenging, and unless you have “ideal storing conditions”, it is not wise to purchase and store fine wines. Otherwise, you’ll probably end up with the most expensive vinegar around.
For these purposes I will be discussing short-term storage for “ready-to-drink” wines with cork closures.
The key here is to maintain a constant temperature, with no fluctuations. 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. If wine stored at temperatures below 45ºF, the wine will lose its flavor and aromas.
• Temperature stability is the “holy grail” of wine storage.
Ensure the area is dark. Ultraviolet light can affect the composition of wine, which is one of the reasons 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 will seep into your wine bottles through the cork. Highly volatile chemical compounds are particularly harmful. Some odors to look out for include gas or diesel fumes, various solvents (i.e. paint, cleaning solutions), or various aromatic food products such as onions, garlic and strong cheeses.
• Check to make sure there are no strong smells or odors coming from substances stored near wine.
Ensure there is humidity and air circulation. Humidity is necessary in order to prevent corks from drying out. Do not store bottles in area with longstanding moisture or high humidity conditions or mold will develop. The ideal humidity level for wine storage is between 50% – 70%. Low humidity can cause the cork to dry out and crack, allowing more air into the bottle. High humidity can create mildew or rot on the cork.
• Humidity is necessary in order to prevent corks from drying out.
Wine should never be shaken, bumped, or vibrated. This will greatly increase the rate of chemical breakdown. Therefore, avoid putting your wine in locations where there are frequent vibrations such as close to the engine, near dishwashers and air conditioners.
• Purists insist that vibrations affect flavour and bouquet.
Wine should always be kept on its side – this will keep 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, and it can turn it into vinegar.
If you do not have the luxury of having wine cellar on your boat, my suggestion is that you find a location that captures all the ideal conditions. I have found that most of these conditions can be met by storing wine in the bilge. Further to preserve the wine and keep the constant temperature, my suggestion is to wrap the wines individually in either polystyrene or newspaper.
To further assist me, I sent out the question: “Do you have an unique way of storing wine on your boat?” to The World Executives Sailing Club (Social Network Site). I received over 30 answers from fellow sailors ranging from quite comical to technical – 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 – 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 points (Temperature, Light, Ventilation, Humidity, Movement, and Storage Angle) when storing wine on your boat, enjoy the summer and what you drink because life is too short to drink bad wine!
Wine and Travel Writer