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February 4, 2013

A high tech wine cellar opens in old Rainier Brewery's basement

  • PHENOL55 customers can monitor their collection online or with an app, and arrange for pickup and delivery.
    Journal Staff Reporter

    Photo courtesy of PHENOL55 [enlarge]
    The brewery had the underground space Chris Abbott needed and a classic design he liked. The 8,000-square-foot cellar can hold more than 11,000 cases of wine at 55 degrees with 65 percent humidity.

    A new Seattle business combines two of this state's signature products: wine and technology.

    Chris Abbott had worked as a research analyst in the finance industry in New York City before he decided to strike out on his own in 2011 and start PHENOL55, a wine storage cellar in Georgetown that lets customers monitor their collection online or with an iPad app.

    Abbott said the business is aimed at all wine collectors. It has enough space to handle hundreds of cases for serious collectors and he hopes the convenience will persuade new collectors to give it a try.

    The service costs $3.45 a month per case. Employees will pick up and eventually deliver wine to customers.

    The organic compounds that influence the flavor of wine are known as phenols, and they bond together as wine ages, which makes it taste better.

    Abbott said he got the idea about 18 months ago when he was storing a couple of cases of wine in a rented locker. He envisioned a full-service approach that would allow him to keep track of what he had in his locker, so he decided to do it himself.


    “I always wanted to start a business, and wine is so dynamic and deep,” he said. “You can learn about wine until the end of your days and still not know even a quarter of what there is to know,” he said.

    The business lets him keep learning about a passion of his, and gives fellow wine enthusiasts a way to catalog their selections.

    Abbott teamed with Riverbend Design Group of Seattle to build an app and website. The application uses professional-quality photographs with a clean and modern look to highlight the artistry of the wine bottles and labels. It also allows customers to see tasting notes and other information about the bottles.

    After he fleshed out the idea, it was time to find a space. Abbott had some tough requirements. He wanted the cellar to be underground because it is easier to maintain the 55 degree temperature that is ideal for wine storage. That eliminated most spaces from the search. Abbott eventually picked the historic Rainier Brewery because it had the underground space he needed and a classic design he liked.

    Abbott leased an 8,000-square-foot room for the cellar. It can hold more than 11,000 cases of wine.

    The windowless space is kept dark, at the optimal 55-degree temperature with 65 percent humidity. The 26-inch-thick walls are brick and cement.

    Abbott also leased a 1,400-square-foot space on the same floor for the office and a portrait studio, where employees photograph customers' bottles for the website.

    Heliotrope Architects designed the office and CD Built was the general contractor. Enviromech did the refrigeration work in the cellar. The Old Rainier Brewery is at 5840 Airport Way S. in Georgetown, and is owned by the Sabey Corp. It houses a growing number of artists and entrepreneurs.

    The business fully launched just two weeks ago, when Apple OK'd the app. He said he has a handful of customers thus far. If the business is a hit, he said there is more space available to expand in the basement of the brewery.

    As a long-time wine drinker, Abbott hopes this venture helps others enjoy the vast local offerings a little bit more.

    “I read that 90 percent of wine is consumed within in 24 hours of purchase,” he said. “We produce a lot of really nice wine that can age for a really long time and give someone a special bottle to take out every once in awhile.”

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