The one time I surprised Aaron by assembling our wine room

When we lived at the firehouse and I gave people a tour of our basement, I would Vanna White my arm dramatically at the would be wine cellar that was just a huge jumble of boxes and say, “This is all wine. We either have a serious collection or a series problem.” The truth is we had both (though not necessarily in the way I was implying). We had a pile of wine in boxes that was so loosely organized thusly: cheaper whites on the right, cheaper reds in the middle, expensive stuff more to the left, “we bought this recently and I’m setting it wherever there is space” kind of on the right and in the middle.

Moving only compounded the problem. We couldn’t tell if wine was covered by the corporate move. To avoid losing our entire lot, I repacked everything into fresh, non-wine packaging boxes. The bottles survived the trip, were stacked into our third bedroom and promptly deprioritized as a project… until Aaron mentioned that he was thinking about buying a case of wine so we “knew what we had.” This was shortly before his weeks long trip back to the Midwest to fulfill fall wedding photography commitments, and it planted a seed in my mind, which was already fixated on “what the hell am I going to do for 6 weeks while he is gone?”

The answer: surreptitiously purchase wine racks, catalog our entire collection and surprise him.


Finding cheap wine racks actually proved to be relatively easy. Costway’s 120-Bottle Wood Wine Rack provided a no frills solution with a lot of space… which I needed because my initial estimate put our cellar around 400 bottles. I ordered four and hoped the “no tools needed” assembly was true.

In the meantime, I set to work unpacking and cataloging wine. I made a spreadsheet outlining the type, varietal, region, year, winery, number of bottles, and cost. The Vivino app was a huge help because it allows you to search their database by just taking a photo of the label. It worked 85% of the time, which saved a lot of googling. Simply working through all of the wine, loosely grouping it and getting all of the packing materials ready for recycling took about 6 hours. In the end, the dining room and part of the living room were overrun. I had to be careful when and where I FaceTimed with Aaron just to make sure I didn’t accidentally give him a peek (much more on that later.)

The spreadsheet allowed me to do very nerdy calculations. Here are some fun stats:

  • Total collection: 445 bottles
  • 76% red wine
  • California rang in with the most bottles from an area at 127, with about half of that specifically from Napa
  • Most bottles from a single winery went to Seufert Winery, a small Pinot Noir maker in the Willamette Valley that we fell in love with during our Pacific Northwest trip.


The third bedroom/wine room instantly became the catch all for things that didn’t have a home. So it took another 4 hours of unpacking, sorting and finding a home for things, like Aaron’s vintage camera collection, all of our decor, our art collection (most of which is too large for this house), before I had a clean slate, which you saw at the top of the post. Then I was ready to assemble the racks! True to the description, these were truly the Ikea of wine racks. They came with 4 legs, 5 shelves, 64 pretty long screws and one, tiny allen wrench.

With the shelves assembled, I *thought* I was finally ready to  load them up and call this project a success. I was wrong for two reasons.

1. 455 bottles of wine technically fit on racks made to house 480 bottles of wine, but that doesn’t leave much room for organization. I had devised a system to group varietals and regions then stack cheaper bottles left to right and bottom to top. I needed at least one more shelf, which I promptly ordered.

2. Loaded up with bottles of wine the Ikea of wine racks didn’t exactly stand up…

They needed to be attached to the wall and for that I would normally turn to Aaron, who couldn’t know about this project. Thankfully my dad was there to rescue me. A quick call helped me settle on 2″ L brackets, with long screws for the wall and shorter screws for the shelves. To be honest my brain remembered all of the measurements long enough to regurgitate them to an employee at the local hardware store who clearly recognized the “how the hell am I supposed to find these two screws in this aisle of screws” look in my eyes. He also helped me select a drill bit because there was no way I was going to find it in the pile of boxes that was Aaron’s unassembled workshop. I did, however, feel pretty smart for lying to Aaron via text and saying the neighbor needed to borrow our stud finder. He didn’t. It was me. #coolunderpressure

I digress. Back at the ranch with seemingly all of the tools in hand, I had to FaceTime my dad to find out how to replace the screw bit (?) with the drill bit (WHY DO I HAVE A RENOVATION BLOG???) and I was off and running. I successfully attached the brackets to the shelves and the shelves to the studs in the wall. There are only a few extra holes in the wall where I misread the stud finder. They’re hidden by bottles so I call that a win.

A few hours of stacking the shelves led me to this gloriousness:

It’s all here and organized and ALL I WANTED TO DO was tell Aaron. Actually that was a theme throughout this project. Somethings you should know about me is that I’m really bad at keeping gifts secret, and I’m really, really bad at lying. To counterbalance this, I told basically  everyone else in my life about this project – friends, family, coworkers. It was the ONLY way to keep my excitement from bubbling over and telling him about it all. It’s a wonder someone else didn’t spill the beans.

But the day he got home after 6 weeks away it was SO SO SOOOOOO worth it. I wish I could have figured out a non-weird way to video tape his reaction. The reveal went down like this.

Me: Casually enter the house, trying not to act too excited “Let’s put your suitcases in the bedroom” (knowing we have to walk by the wine room and expecting him to ask why the door is closed.)

Aaron: Brings a suitcase to the bedroom and walks back to the living room.

Me: A little panicky that he’ll notice some of the random things I unpacked to make space in the wine room but still trying to act casual “Oh, I have a surprise for you in the wine room.”

Aaron: (Basically knowing that it can’t be much because I am AWFUL at surprising him) Oh really?


He was completely floored and called it the best surprise I’ve ever given him. Honestly, I still don’t know if he was more surprised about the actual surprise or my ability to keep it from him. Either way it was totally worth all the time with the allen wrench.

Since then, predictably, we bought the final rack  (to be fair the Cabernet Sauvignon rack was much too crowded… hahaha) bringing the total to 6, and he has purchased more wine. #wehaveaproblem