Deep underneath the streets of Seattle exist two rooms separated by a few steps, both dedicated to the art of wine storage.
On one side is an office of sorts, a well-lit space enclosed by aging red-brick walls that contrast with the sleek, pure-white modern furniture. iPads, computers and digital cameras live here.
Across the hallway, in the windowless pitch black darkness, is something much different. Six fans, two refrigerators and 26-inch thick walls cool the air to a perfect 55 degrees and 65-percent humidity, the optimal conditions for the boxes upon boxes of wine that live here for days, months and years.
Founder and CEO Chris Abbott thinks he’s found something special.
“Washington has become a serious worldwide player in wine and in technology,” Abbott said. “The idea to be able to marry those two and focus on part of the value chain in one, it really hasn’t been focused on.”
Embedded in the basement of the Malt House of the original Rainier Brewery in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle, Phenol55 is not your ordinary wine storage spot. While most companies rent out space to allow you to store your wine, it is often difficult to know exactly what’s left in stock.
Abbott’s company fixes this problem with an iPad app. Also accessible via the web, Phenol55 has slick back-end software that allows people to browse their wine collection, see high-resolution photos, take notes and read tasting reviews and optimal timeframe for consumption.
“Everyone likes to see their bottles, but no one wants the headache of moving them around and keeping accurate inventory,” says Abbott.
Once a customer drops off wine at the cellar, Phenol55 labels every bottle and box with a QR code and information about the owner, which helps keep the back-end information updated in real-time. The company also takes a photo of every bottle and uploads that to the system.
If someone wants to pull a bottle, he or she can log in and order the wine to be delivered by a courier service or have it be ready for pickup in Georgetown with 24-hour notice.
Then there’s the cellar. Wine often improves over time but aging in the wrong conditions can produce below-average results. Abbott, standing inside his slightly-chilly cellar, explains why his underground layer allows for the perfect storage conditions.
“It really all goes back to France,” he says. “The wine caves in France are naturally at 55 degrees. What we did to get that temperature in here is use refrigeration units and fans that blow air down this corridor for ample circulation. The whole idea is to get the air circulating and keep everything at a constant temperature of 55 degrees.”
Phenol55 offers a flat-rate fee structure by case and two membership levels that include separate services: Era for $3.45 per case per month and Epoch for $4.30. Membership also means you can have wine sent directly to the cellar and Phenol55 will store your bottles without extra charge.
Abbott quit his job as a financial analyst last December and made the leap into the startup world. His passion for wine only started seven years ago, but since then the Tuck Business School grad has done incredible amounts of wine-related research.
He’s always wanted to start his own business, so Phenol55 just made sense.
“For me, there’s nothing like starting something from scratch, building it up and putting your mark on every part of the business,” says Abbott, who lives in Bainbridge Island with his wife and 3-year-old daughter.. “That’s a really special experience and we’re going to make it work.”
There are few, if any, storage facilities doing the same thing. Napa Valley-based Vinofolio does something similar but without an iPad app. WineCare in Manhattan allows members to see a spreadsheet of their collection online, but there are no photographs, tasting notes or app. Locally, Seattle Wine Storage is the biggest player, but that’s based on a self-storage model.
Abbott hired local firm Riverbend to do the development work and he has just one employee, Lena Davidson, helping him with everything else.
The maximum storage in the cellar is 11,000 boxes. Abbott knows it will be tough to ever reach that number, but he’s pretty confident that the Emerald City, with its big tech and wine crowds, is the place to make it happen.
“If anyone’s going to get it,” he says, “Seattle, Washington is going to get it.”
Previously on GeekWire: We just bought our first bottles of wine on Amazon: Here’s how it works