When a wine collection begins to overflow a wine fridge or a collector begins to invest in high-end vintages, professional wine storage may be just the answer. These humidity and temperature controlled warehouses can store even delicate wines and offer ease of access to their clientele. These wine facilities are a phenomenon of the past decade and a half.
“Wine as a commodity has exploded in the last few years. It’s a growing market. People are becoming more educated.,” says Tony Leventhal, manager and cellar master of Vintage Wine Warehouse in Queens, New York.
“It started in United States, with the arrival of real bread in the mid 80s. Then real beer came in the late 80s. Then came real coffee in the mid90s and then a real cigar boom. And, now people are graduating to wine.”
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Leventhal senses a refining of the American palette has taken place. There is a move away from convenience and the ordinary in food and drink. “People are actually becoming more refined about food, and the natural extension of that, of course, is wine.” They also are investing in wine as collectors, but they are also enjoying the vintages they select. However, as those bottle accumulate, proper storage becomes a problem.
Vintage Wine Warehouse opened at its first location in 1985 in a city where real estate and therefore storage possibilities are a premium. “In Manhattan, of course, apartments are small. There’s no place to keep your collection,” says Leventhal. That was when Morrell and Company, a fine wine shop in New York City, decided to create a central wine storage facility since none existed in the city. “I think that first year there were 500 cases at Vintage Wine Warehouse,” Leventhal says. “Currently, it is somewhere teetering somewhere around 20,000.... It’s a huge catalogue library of wine that belongs to private collectors.” Now, New York has 14 other professional wine storage facilities located throughout the metro area.
What Professional Storage Offers
In their current location, which they moved into four years ago, Vintage Wine Warehouse has a larger storage area that is ideal for wine storage. “We run a temperature controlled, humidity controlled facility in a bunker like cellar, 14 feet below the ground in Ridgewood, Queens,” Leventhal explains. “It is in a concrete building that was built by a food company to store their perishables back in the 20s. It was built into the side of the hill. We really have a very stable natural environment even though we supplement it with 40 tons of water cooled refrigeration. I chose this particular spot because of the fact that it was the closest to cellar-like conditions I could find in an urban environment.”
The facility also provides a secured premises, with camera surveillance and an alarm system. There is also limited access by only Leventhal and his assistant manager. Every case is logged in electronically, bar coded, and documented. There is a triple redundancy, reconciliation tracking system so that a collector can locate any particular case he or she wanted. Once the wine is secured on the premises, the temperature is carefully monitored at an off-premises central monitoring station. No wine is moved without the owner’s permission.
“We’re a full service wine storage facility, which means that we’ll do all the work,” notes Leventhal. “There are other types of facilities around the country that are locker facilities like a mini-storage where you have to drive up, you have to unload the case, you have to put it in a bin. Being in New York, nobody wants to do that work. They don’t have the time. So, we do all that for them. Then, we charge everybody incrementally, based on how much work we’ve done for them.” There are some people who want to be a little more involved with their wine storage, delivering their own wine and keeping an inventory, for example. There is just storage charges for them.
But for many of Levanthal’s clients, they get personal service. “We’ll go to their house and pack their cellar. We’ll box it all up. We’ll ship it across the country, whatever needs to be done. We’ll store for them. We’ll database the whole thing and put it online. And we’ll manage their cellars for them. Obviously, each step of that incrementally has a cost associated with it.”
Some people just call up Leventhal and put in an order for wine if they are entertaining. Others use the facility to maintain their wine stock at home. “What a lot of our customers do is that they will keep a wine cooler at home that holds maybe 36 or 72 bottles, and they will supplement that,” Leventhal explains. “They will keep their main collection with us, and then we’ll pull bottles for them or pull solid cases for them and send them over in a refrigerated truck.”
This is a great convenience for collectors who have multiple mixed cases of wine. When the collections run into the hundreds of cases, that’s a lot of individual bottles to keep track of at home. Also, when each case is valued at $500 to $1000 or more, not only is storage and location complicated but the risk of loss of the investment is huge. Professional wine storage keeps a collector’s investment safe and easy to access, and it also prevents collectors from drinking wine before it’s time. Leventhal says, “Any collector gets enthused or obsessed about what they have. It keeps people from drinking stuff too early. So they have it off premise, and the conditions are perfect.”
Temperature and Humidity
Two factors that can spoil wine are temperature and humidity. Professional wine storage facilities keep the humidity high enough to keep the corks moist so they don’t shrink. This prevents oxygen from entering the wine and starting to break it down.
Temperature also is critical both in warehouse storage and in the home environment. As Americans we generally drink whites too cold and reds too warm. Both the warehouse and home wine fridges or coolers keep wine around 55 degrees. Leventhal sees that temperature ideal for both reds and whites.
“We put white wine in the fridge, and we don’t put red wine in the fridge,” he says. “The red wine is always going to be what the room temperature is, which is 71 degrees, which is too warm, and the white wine is going to be too cold.” Though white wines need to be drunk colder than reds, most ordinary refrigerators have temperatures in the 30s. “ That’s just plain old too cold,” he says. “When I drink Pinon Noir, Gamay, Grenach, any of the wines that are less tannic and have more of forward fruit, I’ll have them chill that bottle. When I say chill, I mean we’ll stick it in an ice bucket for 4 to5 minutes, something so that the heat of the room, the edge of that is just taken off. When I’m drinking it, I’m just trying to bring it to the temperature of 55 degrees.”
Leventhal lives with a wine fridge in his own apartment. “It just mellows it,” he says. “Your mouth is shaded in a different way. Even for a $10 bottle, it just becomes a better experience.”
However, the real danger to wine is rapid temperature swings. Leventhal advises homeowners not to keep wine in a basement, especially if part of it is above ground, even a foot or two. “You can either boil your wine or you can freeze it,” he says. “You can arguable store your wine at a lower temperature, 50 or 48 degrees, which always will fair better than higher temperatures, as long as it remains stable, as long as it’s not fluctuating up and down. The same thing goes in the other direction, 61 to 63 degrees is not going to kill your wine...Quick change in temperature is what’s going to really affect the longevity of your wine.”
New World Wines
Leventhal also notes that most table wines today are New World wines. These wines come from California, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, and South America. They are usually inexpensive and are meant to be indulged in immediately. “Basically, anything under $20 is made to be drunk young, especially the way the whole industry is turning to faster turn over. Things are made to be drunk younger,” he says. “In the old days, you sat on them forever....If you are going to be drinking wine under $20, you’ve got to drink it within a couple of years, give or take what it says on the label for sure. The other thing is that you may get more life out of that wine by storing it correctly, but certainly it’s going to taste better.”
Enhancing the wine drinking experience can only be a good thing.