My cup overfloweth | A look at wine storage in Bellevue
By Josh Hicks
Few things say “wine connoisseur” like an in-home wine cellar. But that isn’t always the best storage option for the hard-core enthusiast.
Imagine spending thousands of dollars on a vault, only to sell your home to a buyer who doesn’t know a Bordeaux from boxed wine. A return on investment isn’t likely. The other alternative is renting space. Many of the Eastside’s biggest collectors keep their bottles in storage these days, mainly at climate-controlled warehouses and high-end restaurants.
Bellevue’s Eastside Wine Storage offers nearly 10,000 square feet of collection space, not to mention weekly tastings where customers open their favorite bottles for sampling. Lockers at that facility can hold anywhere from nine to 210 cases, and the benefits are many. You get security, ideal climate conditions, and even inventory-management services.
Owner David Mullan, who used to work in the dot-com industry, is also developing a social networking system that would allow his clients to interact with each other and share knowledge about wines.
High-end restaurants are a different story. Most of their locker holders are executives or investors trying to impress clients, although some are just regulars who want to keep their favorite bottles close at hand for dinner. Few customers use the facilities for deep storage.
John Howie Steak waves corking fees for locker holders and preserves unfinished wine in special dispensers that blanket wine with inert gas to keep it from oxidizing. The restaurant also prints each renter’s inventory in a menu format.
“If you’re a locker holder, you get the VIP treatment,” Rongren said.
El Gaucho Bellevue offers storage services as well, maintaining 30 temperature-controlled lockers. Renters must buy $1,000 in wine from the restaurant, but they can also store bottles from private collections.
“We have regulars who bring in some very rare and collectible wines,” said El Gaucho assistant general manager Steve Smith.
THE SCIENCE OF STORAGE
So many variables go into making a great wine, and one false step can ruin the perfect bottle. Aging can be nearly as important as blend in this regard, but knowing when to pull the cork is only half the concern – most people can figure that out with a little research. The more critical factor is proper storage. No one wants to see that rare wine stew from warmth or spoil with oxidation.
Storage lockers provide the type of conditions that bring out the best in a wine. Most facilities store bottles somewhere between 55 and 62 degrees, with a humidity level ranging from 55 to 70 percent.
High temperatures accelerate microbe growth, disrupting the maturation process and even magnifying flaws. Excess moisture, meanwhile, creates mold on the cork, while air that is too dry might cause a cork to shrink, allowing air to enter the bottle.
Mullan says refrigeration is the best form of temperature control, since air-conditioners zap moisture. Keeping wine away from light is also important, as this too can disrupt the maturation process.
WHO NEEDS THIS?
Sean Sullivan knows firsthand how easily a wine collection can outgrow its home.
“A built rack is basically a filled rack,” he said. “You get started, and the next thing you know, it’s full.”
Sullivan once kept his stash beneath a staircase at home, but his collection outgrew that space within six years. Now he rents two lockers at Eastside Wine Storage, where he gets all the room he can afford, plus the added benefit of weekly wine tastings.
“You get to interact with a community of collectors who are like-minded,” he said.
Sullivan likes his fellow locker holders so much that he plans to share his favorite bottle with them. He’ll open a 1947 Cheval Blanc at Eastside Wine Storage on his 50th birthday.
As for the storage lockers at high-end restaurants, those are more about status than actual space – or even camaraderie.
“It’s the ultimate restaurant accessory to have your own wine locker,” said Lisa Rongren, sommelier for John Howie Steak in Bellevue.
Nothing says importance like asking a server to fetch your favorite Burgundy.
Wine Storage Options in Bellevue