The Saga of The Ghetto Cooler (with self assembly instructions)
Two years ago (and again recently) I promised to publish my experiences with an experimental wine storage device I affectionately call “The Ghetto Cooler.”Most of you who have read my columns over the years know that I consider proper wine storage second only to decanting in order to improve your wine enjoyment. While decanting can make a $10 bottle of wine taste like a $15 bottle, improper storage can make almost any wine taste heinous.
There is a fair amount of disagreement among experts on the optimal temperature to store wines. However, most experienced wine drinkers who store wine for a living, like collectors, high-end wine shops and the wineries themselves, agree on one thing: temperature stability is more important than the actual temperature of the environment the wine is being stored in. This excludes extremes, of course. Nothing outside of 50 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit helps the wine. We also know that swings of up to 5 degrees on either side of the set temperature won’t cause problems.
The reason stability is important is that wine expands and contracts more than the air trapped under the cork (the ullage). So when temperatures rise, some air is pushed out and later, when the wine cools, oxygen is sucked back in. This oxygenation is very damaging to your wine.
I do a fair amount of entertaining at home and so when I moved to a new house three years ago I priced several wine fridges capable of storing more than 60 bottles. I was shocked to see that I was looking at $2,000 or more for a good model. A built-in wine cellar was even more expensive. To make matters worse, their vertical designs ensured that all the cool air would spill out every time I opened the door, making the units inefficient and, given the temperature swings, probably ineffective.
The solution to these two problems? The Ghetto Cooler ™ ! It’s simple and effective and I recommend it to all of you who care more for the quality of the wine than the appearance of the appliance. The Ghetto Cooler is simply a chest freezer controlled by what is called a line thermostat. The thermostat is wired between the freezer plug and the wall and its sensor is placed deep in the freezer. I bought my two13 cubic foot freezers for $400 a piece and the thermostats for $60 each. It took less than 10 minutes to wire the thermostats. I keep the two at slightly different temperatures, with the wines I want to age a little longer set at 55 degrees Fahrenheit and the everyday stuff at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. I placed the boxes in my garage and often use them as work surfaces when I’m fixing something in the house.
Anytime the temperature rises more than 3 degrees the thermostat turns on the freezer which runs for just a few minutes. In Camarillo, where I live, the temperature is moderate and the appliance runs maybe ten minutes a day, provided it is fairly full of wine. Your mileage may vary. Disclaimer: If you live in a place that gets very cold, and you keep the Ghetto Cooler in an unheated garage, the wine might get too cold as the unit has no way of heating the contents. In this case you might have to place it inside. As long as the ambient temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit you should have no problems.
For ease of access, I store the wine bottles in plastic milk crates and use a wax pencil to note what is where on the inside of the lid. If I open the cooler and am undecided on what to serve my guests that night, I might hold that special bottle in my hands for a minute or so and remember with some longing where I got it, knowing that the cool air is not leaking out of the box. Then I’ll put that ’97 trophy back, get a bottle or two of ’05 Super T and get back to my guests.
I’ve posted two options below to get your own Ghetto Cooler started at home. You can follow the instructions and specifications for the parts listed below or you can contact the winery and buy the whole package that my entrepreneur son, Victor, has produced for you. As always, I thank you for your support and I look forward to seeing you at the winery.
Ghetto Cooler parts and instructions
The supplier for the thermostat is: Grainger.com
The Item Number is: 4MY93
Disclaimer: Electricity is dangerous! Assemble this unit at your own risk, or ask a licensed electrician to do it for you. We are showing you how we did this for our own use and do not warrant nor will be held responsible for problems caused by your assembling your own unit or failure of any of the parts. We strongly recommend you plug the unit into a CGFI protected outlet.
The basic assembly instructions are:
Purchase an appliance extension chord ($8.00) plus five wire connector nuts ($3) plus the Thermostat ($72)
Cut the extension chord 6″ from the female end, and strip back both sides exposing 3/4″ of each of the wires. The extension chord has three wires: One black, one white and one green. Unscrew and remove the thermostat cover, and punch out one of the access ports on the bottom of the unit. Notice that the thermostat has four wires: Red, Blue, Black and Green. Strip back the last three if necessary. The red won’t be used.
Insert both ends of the cut extension chord through the access port. Connect the female black wire to the blue wire using a wire connector nut. Connect the male black to the thermostat black wire. Connect both extension white wires together (they are not connected to the thermostat–they were cut for convenience when stripping and connecting the rest of the wires). Connect all three green wires together. Use the remaining wire nut to cap off the red wire. Now carefully stuff the bundle back in the thermostat and screw the hatch closed. Your Wine Ghetto Cooler thermostat is now ready for use!
Testing: Turn on a regular table lamp and make sure it works. Leave it on. Plug in the lamp to the unit and the unit to a wall outlet. Turn the thermostat down (lower the temperature). The lamp should turn on when the dial is set below the ambient temperature. Turn the dial up and the lamp should turn off.
Alternate instructions: Order your unit directly from Victor Ponte who’ll sell you one pre-assembled and tested for $120 including free shipping. E-mail the winery and they’ll take care of this for you. Expect 2 weeks for delivery, depending on pending homework and household chores.