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The Purchase, Care and Feeding of a Home Wine Storage Unit -

Part 2

March 23, 2002 -

Hey, What's That Noise?

Things had been going very good. My inventory was now up to 465 bottles, still nowhere near the 560 rated capacity of the unit. This evening I opened the doors and grabbed a couple of bottles for dinner. While I was standing there for a moment admiring the symmetry of the colored foil capsules, I started to hear a creak, then a crack, and then a groan. Something was happening, and it sure didn't seem like good thing.

I watched in horror as the 2nd row from the bottom shifted to the left, and the weight of the upper rows started to collapse the three bottom rows into an accordion shape. I stood like a deer in the headlights for a moment - wondering if bottles on the bottom would start getting crushed. Then, full anxiety hit. How was I going to get the impending sea of wine out of my garage, I thought.

Then, no more noises - nothing else moved. I reacted quickly. I grabbed a small step stool and started to pull bottles off the upper shelf. Then, I pulled out all of the bottles from each of the rows, placing them at strategic positions on the floor (don't forget, with an inventory-based on location, I had to put them back into just the right slots - that is, assuming I'd still have slots to put them into when this is all over). Meanwhile, I was surveying the damage as I went, trying to mentally concoct a fix - temporary or otherwise - since I wasn't going to get a replacement rack anytime soon.

One-hour and 465 bottles later, I was able to assess the damage. Diagnosis: despite the evenly distributed weight, the stress on the aluminum uprights caused them to bend and finally buckle, with the 2nd and 3rd rows shifting to the left, and the 4th row listing to the right. This misalignment caused several of the wood runners in the lower few rows to split at the grooved points where the horizontal and vertical aluminum struts intersect, allowing even further movement.

The Design

(This racking design places the unit in the center of the cabinet from left-to-right, and attaches it to the back wall with 4 screws. At the front of the cabinet, 3 of the horizontal aluminum crosspieces are elongated, and fit into slotted pieces on the side walls, keeping the rack equally positioned between the side walls. The rack itself has 12 bottle slots horizontally, but uses its outside runners in conjunction with rails mounted to the inside of the cabinet walls to support an additional row of bottles on each side, for a total of 14 bottles wide. While this certainly maximizes the bottle capacity, iit also makes a maintaining a balanced load very important.

Notice that except for the 3 struts, the outer row on either side does not have horizontal pieces of aluminum steadying or supporting it. Therefore, in order to balance the load, it's important to equalize the weight across the rack. The downward pressure from the weight of the bottles is therefore absorbed by the vertical struts, while the 3 horizontal struts maintain the vertical angle, and the unit's integrity. Finally, there is a matrix of aluminum struts framing the entire back of the rack. Although this maintains rigidity in the back of the rack, it does nothing for the front of the rack. Therefore, any collapse will normally take place at the front of the unit, effectively tipping everything forward.)

A Temporary Fix

With all of the bottles out of the rack, I tried to bend the bottom rows back into shape. But, to no avail. There just wasn't enough room to get the leverage needed to push or pull the rows back into shape. So, I pulled out the 4 screws that held the rack to the back of the cabinet, and snaked the rack out so I could give it some first aid. Turning it on its side, I succeeded in pushing the bent section back a little more into its proper shape. It occured to me at this point that it might be possible to turn the rack upside-down when putting it back into the cabinet. I thought maybe having the un-damaged section on the bottom would give the unit greater strength. Unfortunately, this wouldn't work, since the aluminum struts wouldn't match-up with the grooved side rails on the cabinet walls.


After bending the rows back into shape as much as I could, I put the rack back into the cabinet and tried to come up with some quick fix to keep the thing from collapsing again or bending even more. My solution was less than illustrious, but it did seem to work.

I used some scrap wood to make a couple of shims - one shim to keep the left side from buckling further in that direction, and another shim to counter the pressure that would be created on the right side. There really wasn't much I could do about the splintered wood runners, so some of my storage was lost. But, I viewed this whole thing as a temporary fix, anyway. Ultimately, I needed to make a call to Vinotemp to sort this thing out.

What Now?

So, how's a thing like this happen? Well, I suspect that the original "S-shaped" stress bend that I noticed in the rack awhile back (see), had probably caused some metal fatigue in the aluminum toward the bottom of the rack, thus ultimately turning the "S" bend into a "Z" bend. Looking into the warranty issue on the unit, the Vinotemp limited warranty is 5-yrs on the compressor, and 12-mos on the cabinetry. Anticipating that they probably wouldn't cover this problem, I was prepared to argue the point. However, I'm pleased to say that the company stood behind their product, calling this as an unfortunate anomaly. When I questioned the integrity of the rack design, they replied that although they couldn't say they'd never seen this happen, there is nothing wrong with the design itself.

They offered me a new replacement rack of the same design; I would only have to pay for shipping. I explained to them I was still worried about the design - especially the integrity of the aluminum uprights, and told them I wasn't sure I wanted to take a chance on this happening again. They said they obviously couldn't guarantee that it wouldn't happen again, but said the rack design was sound, and it was very unlikely. I still wasn't convinced, and expressed a desire to upgrade to the all-redwood design that I'd wanted initially. They agreed to do so for a nominal charge. They said they needed to build the rack, and I should expect a call in about 7-10 days.

On the up side, I was getting a nice new all-wood rack. On the down side, this new racking will cut my storage capacity about 25% (the redwood's thicker, and the rack doesn't utilize the inside-wall rails to hold the bottles - which means that I'd also need to remove all of the side rails before sliding in the new rack). On the other hand, I thought the redwood would be more aesthetically pleasing; plus, the bottle slots are slightly larger, so all of the bigger Pinot and Syrah bottles will now fit into the slots. So, the only real question became, what would I do with the 3-4 cases of wine that won't fit in the cellar? Yes, I know - that does sound like a good excuse for a party.

April 13, 2002 -

New Rack Installation

Vinotemp had called earlier in the week to say the new rack was ready for pickup. First step was to get all of the bottles out of the rack, and remove the old rack from the cabinet (yep - deja vu, all over again). My wife and I managed to get all the bottles out and lined up on the garage floor. Then we yanked out the old rack. After that, the bottle supports on each side wall had to be removed. This proved easier than I'd thought, because the supports had been stapled to the sides through the thin mahogany and into the foam core. Only one support on each side (at the mid-line) gave me any problems, and that was because the staples probably went through some adhesive between the wall and the foam inside the wall.

My fellow wine-road traveller, Michael, had volunteered himself and his van, so we headed up the 35 miles or so to Rancho Dominguez to pick up the new rack. On returning, we got the new rack into the cabinet without a hitch, then proceeded to load all of the bottles - well, almost all the bottles. The old racking system had 14x20 bottles slots, for a total of 560 bottles. The new rack has 10x17 slots, for a 340 bottle total. To that, you can add another 40-50 bottles on top (probably more, if you're brave), making a total of 390 bottles. As you can see, the upper reaches of the cabinet are under-utilized - unless you really stack those bottles up there. So, one of my future projects is to build some additional smaller racks to go on each side of the cooler. They do sell small racks for this purpose, but they're $80 each.

Michael and I had decided to re-inventory all the bottles while loading the rack. Inventorying is kind of an amusing process in itself. Amazingly, we found bottles that I'd written off as lost, when I couldn't them find in previous attempts. And, there were also a few corrections in order - for instance, I had the vintage recorded as one thing, but it turned out to be another (that Michael, trust him to find the mistakes).

I was delighted to see that nearly every size of bottle fit easily into the slots of the new rack - with room to spare! Gone was the previous problem of worrying about the bottle thickness - this full-redwood rack has nice large openings. But, still present was the hassle created by various bottle heights. As mentioned, many of the newer Cal Cabs are elongated (thus taller) in shape, making them look very elegant, but also making them very difficult to place end-to-end in a conventional rack (the rack is 2-bottles deep). Also, Cal-Itals like Barbera and Sangiovese have very long necks, and often exceed the unit's depth if placed end-to-end into the same bottle slot.

Much better! The whole thing looks very nice. And, as a little bonus, I can now get to the 1st column of bottles without having to take down the bicycles to get the door open wider. Yes, it has a lot less storage. But, given the sturdiness and the look of solid wood, I'm real happy the old rack took a dive. Speaking of which, the Vinotemp factory didn't want the old unit back. So, right now it's temporarily in the back yard until I see if some parts are salvagable to use for additional racking - or until the wife tells me that either the rack goes, or....

Beginnings - Back to Part 1

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Last Update 4.14.03