City Bites, August/September 2005
Here's a nice problem to have: What to do with your age-worthy
wines - the really, really good ones - once your cellar is full?
Or if you only have room in your condo for one small wine fridge?
Well, a few Toronto companies have sprung up over the past several
years to help you deal. Kind of like the Brinks service of wine,
with a little Fort Knox thrown in.
There are many reasons to consider a professional wine-storage
facility, apart from lack of personal space. For the really good
stuff - say, some of the built-to-last wines upwards of $50 a
bottle - to mature properly, a few crucial conditions must be
maintained. A consistent climate is key: about 13 degrees at 70
percent humidity. Darkness is also a good idea, especially for
reds. And vibrations are really bad. So, your closet is out. Under
the stairs is out. The average open-concept basement might be
okay, if you keep the lights out and watch the climate and keep
away from the furnace. Here's how the pros do it.
At the very impressive Fine Wine Reserve in downtown, which opened
in 2004, the custom-built facility's security would make George
Bush blush. (The downtown facilities tend to keep their locations
hush-hush, to avoid attracting riff-raff.) After waving your card
and hearing the beep, you place your index finger on a reader
for biometric validation. A screen reads "approved" and the lock
clicks open. Then there's an "airlock" separating the warehouse
from the front door and the tasting rooms.
President Marc Russell offers both managed service - where he
pick-ups and stores your wine - and private lockers with 24/7
access. The super security means you needn't fear sticky-fingered
fellow clients. There's also a terrific tasting room. "We can
seat 24 people," said Russell. "You can bring up to 5 people anytime,
but more requires notice." The fee at the Fine Wine Reserve is
$2.75 a month per case for managed storage. Lockers start at $33
a month ($4/case). The premium covers the 24/7/365 access. "You
could bring friends over after the bars have closed," said Russell.
Not a bad idea, given the convenient King Street West location.
For no-hassle storage in Scarborough, talk to Paul Wolfe of The
Wine Vault, located within a climate-controlled fur storage warehouse.
"Ninety-five percent of my clients have their own cellars, some
quite substantial," said Wolfe, who charges $2.50 per month per
case. His clients want long-term storage in absolutely perfect
conditions. Wolfe's tip: "Buy a second growth Bordeaux on release
and age it properly. After five to seven years it's going to be
wonderful." In the west end, Iron Gate Cellerage opened in 2004,
also within a fur warehouse. Iron Gate charges around $3 a case
Another downtown facility, located around Queen and Spadina,
Urban Cellars started up in 2003, and last year launched a unique
online "virtual cellar" service so you can track your wares. Toronto
has only a few wine storage facilities thanks to our restrictive
laws. "I can't store wine for sale by wine agents," said Marc
Russell. "They must store with the LCBO. That cuts out 95 percent
of the market." And raises individual storage costs because there
are no volume savings generated by retailers' bigger stockpiles.
Will this ever change? Doubtful.
But with the Vintages wine auctions, we now have a legal resale
market (such auctions were outlawed until a couple years ago).
In New York, shrewd collectors manage to "drink for free" according
to David Wainwright of Christie's in New York. They buy four cases
and sell three for the same price a few years later. Proof of
proper storage is essential at this level. But even if you just
drink it yourself, you'll still win. The wine will be the best
it can be.
Iron Gate Cellarage,
1680 Bloor Street West. 416-234-9500
Fine Wine Reserve, King West at Spadina. 416-593-9463
Queen West at Spadina. 416-858-6770
The Wine Vault, 290 Nantucket Blvd., Scarborough 416-738-3545