How Does A Wine Cooler Cool?

If you’re someone who values the full-bodied richness of a Viognier as a key ingredient for a romantic dinner for two or look forward to opening that bottle of Prosecco for a weekend get-together with friends, chances are you own a wine cooler. Although, if you prefer not to use a name normally associated with another, more informal alcoholic beverage, you might refer to the appliance as a wine chiller, wine fridge, or, even, a “wine cellar” as manufacturers like JennAir, KitchenAid, and Vinotemp do. Whatever you care to call it, a wine cooler can be both a convenient and elegant addition to the kitchen; a way to showcase your good taste and free up much-needed space in your refrigerator.

Now for the unromantic part: like all appliances, a wine cooler can break down, leaving your Sauvignon Blanc at an unappealing room temperature. Why would a wine cooler stop cooling? Let’s start with how a properly-functioning cooler is supposed to work…

How a wine cooler keeps wine chilled

Wine coolers solely intended to keep wine at the optimum temperature differ from standard refrigerators in that their low-end temperature is usually around 46° Fahrenheit (8° Celsius), which is too warm to preserve many perishable food items. To accommodate certain red wines like Port, wine cooler temperatures can be maintained as high as 67° Fahrenheit (19° Celsius). However, despite these temperature variances, the cooling system found in wine fridges often operates in the same manner as those in standard refrigerators and freezers. In fact, some wine coolers feature refrigeration drawers for perishable food, and some offer both refrigeration and freezer drawers (perfect as backup storage if your regular refrigerator is running out of room). For these models, the temperature can be set well below 40° Fahrenheit (4° Celsius), closing the gap between a wine fridge and a regular refrigerator.  

Like a standard refrigerator, we may think of a wine cooler as an appliance that creates coldness, but it’s more accurate to say that the cooler’s refrigeration system removes the heat from the air traveling through the wine cooler storage racks. The more heat and humidity that is removed, the colder the storage area will be. To accomplish this, the wine cooler uses a compressor to pump refrigerant through a set of coils and will often use fan motors to circulate the air. The compressor compresses the refrigerant in gas form into the condenser coils (often located at the bottom of the appliance) where the gas is then condensed into a hot liquid. The condenser coils dissipate the heat as the liquid travels through them. When the refrigerant reaches the evaporator coils (usually located behind a panel at the rear of the appliance), it expands back into a gas which makes the coils cold. The gas continues to flow through a suction line attached to the compressor which compresses the gas back into the condenser coils (which condenses the gas back into a hot liquid) and the cooling cycle repeats. On many models, a condenser fan motor assists the condenser coils in dissipating the heat. Some models will use an evaporator fan motor to draw air over the cold evaporator coils, then circulate that air through the storage area to chill the wine, whereas other models will rely on a chill plate to keep the temperature low.

6 reasons why your wine cooler isn’t cooling

As noted above, when everything is working properly, your wine cooler should be able to maintain a temperature as low as 46° Fahrenheit (8° Celsius) (or lower if the appliances have refrigeration and freezer drawers) and no higher than 67° Fahrenheit (19° Celsius). If your appliance is having trouble keeping the wine chilled, here are the six most common reasons, presented from most likely to least likely:

  • Dirty condenser coils – Over time, the condenser coils can collect dirt, dust, and hair which hinder the coils’ ability to dissipate the heat from the refrigerant passing through the coils. This can cause the wine cooler to be inefficient at cooling. You should use a dedicated condenser coil cleaner brush to periodically clean the debris off the coils to keep the refrigeration system in good condition.
  • Malfunctioning condenser fan motor – The condenser coils may also have trouble dissipating the heat if a malfunctioning condenser fan motor is unable to draw air past the coils. The fan motor can either fail mechanically or electrically. A broken fan blade or a blade that does not rotate freely is indicative of a mechanical failure; if the motor is receiving power, but doesn’t run, then the motor has probably failed electrically.
  • Defective evaporator fan motor – If the evaporator fan motor is defective, the cold air will not be circulated properly throughout the wine cooler. If the motor is unusually noisy when the cooler is running, or the fan blade does not rotate freely, you should replace the motor with a new one. You can also use a multimeter to test the motor for continuity – a continuous electrical path present in the part. If the motor tests negative for continuity, you know that it has failed electrically.
  • Faulty start relay or capacitor – The start relay or capacitor works in conjunction with the start winding to cycle the compressor on-and-off. If the relay or capacitor are malfunctioning, the compressor may fail to cycle properly or may not work at all. You can test a start relay for electrical continuity using a multimeter to determine if it has failed. An analog-style Ohm meter can be used to test a capacitor’s ability to release its charge while a capacitor meter (or a multimeter with a capacitor testing function) can determine if the component has a strong enough capacitance rating to start the compressor.
  • Evaporator frosted over  – While this is less of an issue for wine coolers that don’t also have refrigeration and freezer drawers, excessive frost build-up can cause the appliance to stop cooling. To avoid becoming frosted-over, evaporator coils require periodic defrosting which is done automatically in wine coolers using a heater, defrost thermistor, and defrost control. You can use a multimeter to test the heater and thermistor for electrical continuity to help determine if a part is faulty, although the thermistor will need to be tested at a temperature low enough for the component’s contacts to close, or for the part to “switch on”, to get a proper reading. If both the heater and thermistor test positive for continuity, then it’s likely the defrost control is defective.
  • Malfunctioning temperature control board – While it’s not a common problem, the wine cooler’s temperature control board could be malfunctioning and unable to direct voltage to the compressor and/or the two fan motors. Since the board cannot be easily tested, you should confirm the other components are working properly before you consider replacing this part.

Repair Clinic can help keep your wine chilled with the right part

Whether you need a new condenser fan motor, evaporator fan motor, compressor relay, or thermistor to keep your wine cooler chill, Repair will help you locate the right part to fix your appliance. Just enter the full model number of your wine cooler into the Repair Clinic website search bar to see a comprehensive list of all the parts compatible with your model.

Repair Clinic wants to be your repair partner. In addition to millions of replacement parts, Repair Clinic also has thousands of “how-to” videos, schematics, and articles to guide you, step-by-step, through the part replacement procedure, so you can repair all major home appliances, outdoor power equipment, and heating and cooling products yourself, quickly and successfully.

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