Building a subterranean wine cellar/root cellar

After much debate I have decided that my wine storage project will be passive rather than active. I have the space for it on a slope, access to an excavator and the basic skills. Just need fool proof plans.

Thinking about cinder block walls, concrete floor, steel ceiling with possibly concrete poured above. Sealed from the outside before it’s buried. Just never gotten this deep and want to make sure everything works as planned. 12’x12’ with 8’ ceiling. Anyone taken on a project like this. What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome? Drainage, airflow, water tightness? A storm door and stairs down or or entrance level out to grade? So many questions.



No experience with that, although we did a lot of basements. But very cool project! I would love to do something like that. Knew a guy in New Jersey who did it many years ago. He had an impressive Burgundy collection. Eventually his wife got it in a divorce settlement.


Brian, some things to think about:

Essentially these are retaining walls below grade. Foundation / footing and reinforcement will be important. I think the risk here is saturated soils which will increase the load on the walls and ceiling. (You’ll also want to have a depth that gets you to the stable temp you’re looking for). That means you’ll need to think about both a membrane to wrap the outside of the cellar and some type of French drain or similar style drain at the base of your footing to move any excess water.

Your ceiling may need to be sloped if you don’t have a roof above to move water off the ceiling (even if buried). You may consider some type of structure on top (perhaps a tasting room?) A small AC wall or mobile unit could cool the tasting room during summer. Having a structure on top with spray insulation below (ceiling of cellar) could be really effective. You could even do block all the way up or to 2’ above grade as a stem wall. Roof could be a simple shed or gable.

I’d recommend talking to a structural engineer before you do anything though. Last thing you want to do is have this collapse during a storm when the soil is saturated.

Also, maybe go bigger than 12x12… the cost to go bigger is likely really minimal in the grand scheme. 16x12 or 18x12 perhaps?

Taylor excellent feedback overall. Agree that if it’s possible to go bigger it makes sense to do so. Even if you really don’t think you’ll ever use it… if you did ever need more space once the project is done you really don’t have easy options to expand.

I have wanted to construct something like this as well but haven’t had time to investigate so would appreciate knowing how you proceed. The idea I had was to find a local precast concrete fabricator — if your site can accommodate a crane. This seems to be the most economical. (I would definitely used reinforced concrete rather than cinder block which is too porous and weak.) When you search online you’ll see companies that build precast or kit bunkers and that might be a way to go. Good luck!

I’ve looked into this as well. Builders I trust always tell me the correct way is all concrete (at least on floors and walls). Pour or pre-cast. Cinderblocks, RR ties, shipping containers buried all will leak and fail over time. Proper ventilation is also needed but easy when planned for. So we’re just waiting until we decide the cost to do it correctly is worth it to us.

Thanks Taylor, my idea incorporates most of your thoughts short of the above ground structure which is an interesting idea and also a way to hide/weatherproof the cellar entrance. Spacing for going larger might be an issue as I have my property line on one side and irrigation and drainage pipes on the other. Going longer means I need to dig that much deeper into the slope in order to bury the entire cellar.
My active cellar was going to be 8x8 so I felt 12x12 was sufficient for this. That will hold a lot more racking than I’ll ever need.

My site cannot accommodate a crane. Cinder block reinforced with rebar, tied into the slab and filled with concrete would be weak? A waterproof membrane will solve any porosity issues. The location kinda precludes anything prefabbed. It’s about the worst place access-wise for construction but the closest to the house I can do.

Thanks to everyone chiming in! It’s all great feedback.

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Hi Brian,

I hate to be a naysayer here but what you are hoping to do here may be beyond a DIYS project. As a minimum I would consult professionals who can offer experienced advise on structural integrity and water/vapor barrier details.

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Hi Brian, my cellar has some similarity to your planned design. It is below grade on 3 sides into the slope at the back of garage. Back wall is cinder block. My biggest issue has been long term water proofing and insulation.

Yes this is absolutely spot on. You must have a coarse grained drainage material (we use scoria here in Auckland for this) filled in behind the back wall (up slope) to allow water drain downwards. As Taylor has said you then need proper drainage on each side of the structure to allow water to flow down slope without any impediment.

Two things: The waterproof membrane probably has a design life that is shorter than your expected cellar life. You should allow for the membrane failing at some point, e.g puncture (root, burrowing insect animals etc) or the material degrading over time. To address this I STRONGLY recommend using a good quality water sealing grout for the back cinder block wall. If this is too expensive then absolutely do it on the bottom row where the cinder blocks are grouted onto the floor surface.

Ventilation system will needed to avoid mildrew growth.

I would also recommend using good quality high R value polystyrene insulation sheets on the interior and then lining is with plywood, this reduces your square footage and needs to factored in when you consider working space inside the cellar

Good luck, building an cellar is exciting and fun (and expensive)


This is a lot like work. Right now my main need is space for the soil i’m removing. Looks like I need a Bobcat or Skid steer of some sort to move this mound.



FMIII and I are coming back up to play with the dogs and grill!

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You 't know Brian. He’s not a guy who spends his day moving paper. He can build things.


Holy Crap!! You’re not screwing around!

2 full days in the excavator and the rough dig is complete. 16’W x 16’L x 10’D. Next weekend I hire some laborers to square it up. Have decided to go with concrete walls to avoid the moisture issues with cinder block. Corrugated steel ceiling topped with 10” of closed cell foam insulation and a tasting room!


Nice Brian! Looks like lots of hard work so far, but impressive how much you got done. For your sake, please have a structural engineer take a look at the specs for your concrete wall. (And specs for drainage too). Long term I’m sure you’ll be glad that you did…!

Did you decide on stairs down?

That’s still up for debate. I don’t want to compromise the ceiling insulation so I’m not sure yet.

Apparently this kid’s cave only gets to 68F :frowning:

I’d be more concerned about the “occasional floods” [snort.gif]