A cask of Amontillado, perhaps? A cellar on Elliott Way

Although there are scores of wine connoisseurs in the Queen Anne area, few are blessed with cavernous, underground cellars to house their favorite vintages.

Acting on this scarcity, Gary Gudgel decided to open Elliott Avenue Wine Storage. The business is conveniently located for owners of older homes in Queen Anne whose configurations don't lend themselves well to wine storage, as well as to the multitude of apartment and condo dwellers in Queen Anne and Belltown who may not have the space or resources available for wine cellars. Gudgel estimates that 95 percent of his clientele live in the surrounding area which includes Interbay, Magnolia and Ballard.

Not only were the demographics of the surrounding neighborhoods ideal for Gudgel's venture, but the structure he had in mind was perfectly suited as well. Tucked underneath the space inhabited by Downtown Dog Lounge, the facility has concrete walls and ceilings, and the portion occupied by the wine storage is below ground level.

According to Gudgel, there are four fundamentals involved with properly storing wine: appropriate temperature, suitable humidity, negligible light and minimal vibration. His space is ideally suited to meet each of these criteria.

Temperature is the most critical element of wine storage. "The first thing one must understand is that wine is alive, it's not inert, which means it's susceptible to its environment," explains Gudgel. "For wine to properly mature, particularly red wine, it must be in an environment with a constant temperature range of 55 to 58 degrees."

The building's concrete frame provides insular protection, and to ensure optimal temperature and humidity, a specialized air-conditioning system closely monitors both levels. When storing wine, the optimal range for humidity is between 65 and 75 percent. Wines at higher humidity, says Gudgel, could attract mold growth on the bottle. Too low of humidity poses an even bigger problem: dryness causes corks to shrink, which allows air into the bottle, ultimately contaminating the wine.

The underground concrete storage area also provides protection against light and vibration. Exposure to light can prematurely age wine, while excessive vibration can disturb sediments. Sitting in Gudgel's office, you can easily forget that you're nestled between railroad tracks and busy thoroughfare. It would take an earthquake to vibrate anything be-hind these walls.

Elliott Avenue Wine Storage, which opened in March of 2004, operates out of a 6,700-square-foot space, and there are different configurations to choose from. The smallest lockers accommodate 10 cases, while the largest single locker has room for 85. The biggest collection to date? One oenophile has 500 cases in bulk storage.

For casual wine drinkers who toss a bottle or a two of Charles Shaw into their basket at Trader Joe's each week, wine storage is not a necessity. However, for consumers who buy in quantity, whether to collect or simply to get a better volume price, wine storage is ideal. Not only is the wine kept in an ideal environment, but the lockers pro- vide an effective way to organize inventory.

And while it's not as quick as retrieving a bottle from the kitchen, Gudgel goes out of his way to provide convenience to his customers. He says he has received many compliments about how easy it is to access wine, with three to five minutes being the average time for a visit. For those especially strapped for time, Gudgel offers delivery service. Customers who have granted him access to their wine can e-mail a request, and Gudgel will either ship the selection to them or, if they live in the immediate vicinity, hand-deliver it.

Accepting prepaid wine deliveries is another service that the business provides. "Customers can go to wineries or wine clubs and have their purchases shipped directly to us," Gudgel says. "They don't have to worry about receiving the wine or worry about when they'll have time to get down here."

Prior to opening the wine-storage operation, Gudgel had been a consumer of wine but no expert. Now he has become quite familiar with the area's wine offerings and is excited about the recognition that the state of Washington has achieved as a premier viticultural region. The growth of the industry in the past decade has been phenomenal. According to the Washington Wine Commission, there are now more than 350 vineyards, compared to only 80 in 1996. In fact, among the states Washington is now the second-largest premium wine producer (trailing only California).

Gudgel believes that the wine culture will continue to thrive here, allowing him to sustain his business and expand his offerings. Over the next few years he envisions opening a tasting room featuring dark wood paneling and overstuffed furniture where members can share different vintages in a casual environment.

"This has been a business venture and an adventure," says Gudgel. "I find the wine culture to be a lot of fun, and I want a place that's vibrant and not static."

Elliott Avenue Wine Storage is at 1405 Elliott Ave. W., Suite F. For more information visit www.elliottavenuewinestorage.com

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