Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Magnificent Obsession

It’s been hot here in Southern California. Way too hot.

When is it going to cool down??? I came home yesterday and it was 87 degrees inside the house. As you might expect, I quickly checked the temperature inside of the Emerson Suites (my two identical eight-bottle wine storage units, in case you didn’t know).

It’s a bit alarming – the max temperature in one unit hit 61.3 degrees and the other was 60.8. As our too-hot summer wears on, does that mean global warming is affecting my wine storage units? The hot ambient temperatures keep chipping away, slowly wearing down the resistance of my little thermoelectric gizmos?

Does every wino fret about temperatures and storage conditions? I think so. I know I do. Since most of us don’t have natural cellars, and living in Southern California would make trying to have a passive wine cellar pointless anyway, the solution for many is to use a wine refrigerator or cooling unit.

Once we purchase one (or two or three as the case may be), how many of us endlessly obsess over the interior temperatures?

There’s an informative post over on the Chowhound Wine Board concerning people’s experience with the Magic Chef 45-bottle wine storage unit currently on sale (or that was on sale) at Home Depot. The most recent posts centered on the variance between the top and bottom shelves. One poster said the temperature at the top was nearly 70, while at the bottom it was 50, and each shelf’s temperature changed in 5-degree increments.

That seems a rather severe gradient within one box.

Another poster said theirs did not vary as much – 60 at the top, 50 at the bottom. Various other posts to this thread lead me to believe that there are quite a few inconsistencies with the performance of this Magic Chef cooler from unit to unit. I think if I had one I’d probably ruin the thing because I’d be constantly opening the door to move the temperature probe from one spot to another to see if the entire enclosed space was cooling properly.

As you might have guessed, I’ve read what I can on the WWW regarding other people’s experiences with their wine cooling units. There’s quite a range.

Some have complained that their units got so cold it froze the wine. Others, that they could never get their units to be cold enough. Still others complained because their units just plain broke down and the manufacturer was of little help. And many, many people are very, very happy with what they have. But a common thread linking them all seems to be an obsession with ensuring their units are keeping their precious wine collections in a healthy state.

On the Vinotemp site, some of the condenser-based units have this little note posted on their individual web pages:

It is a normal function of the unit for the temperature to fluctuate. The unit is designed to cycle and this fluctuation of 5 degrees prevents the unit from excessive cycling.

From what I’ve read, the “experts” tell you that maintaining a steady, unvarying temperature (or at least one that changes very slowly over time) is more important than the actual temperature itself – assuming that temperature remains low enough not to damage the wine. So if the temperature inside your unit can roller coaster up and down 5 degrees throughout the day, is that good for your wine?

Several posts ago I wrote about purchasing a digital thermometer at Wal Mart and comparing its reading to the built-in readout on my Emerson cooling unit. The Emerson said 57 and the Wal Mart said 59. Last weekend I bought a 2nd digital thermometer, again $5.00 at the register even though the shelf tag said $11.88. If they want to give me a rollback on prices, who am I to complain?

I set the two thermometers up side by side, as you can see in the above picture. The Emerson Suite on the left seems to be a little bit warmer than the one on the right. I start to worry. Then I realize, by “warmer” I am talking in terms of fractions of a degree – I have to tell myself to chill out!

I also compared the ambient temperature readings on both – the current, minimum and maximums, and it turns out they are within a couple of tenths of a degree to each other so I am assuming either they are giving me the correct temperature, or they are both similarly mis-calibrated.

87 degrees on the outside, 59 to 60 degrees on the inside (or 57 degrees, if I want to believe what the coolers themselves tell me).. that isn’t bad at all. I need to just count my blessings instead of obsessing about the temperatures! After reading what others have said about their wine units, I need to just listen to my own: they’re telling me, just do your job and let us do ours!

1 comment:

Jack Everitt said...

You do need to chill. 60 is no problem. When it gets of 72 degrees in there, I'd be unhappy and move it.

Btw, about 8 or so years ago, I had my wine at a storage facility in American Canyon - and I decided it was just too warm in there. (It was!) So I moved my wine to an even more inconvenient location, but when we bought a house, the first thing we did was build a wine cellar and moved all the wine into it. Whew!!!