A tiny store at the bottom of a narrow, curved stairway holds a taste of paradise for wine connoisseurs. Located in what used to be a basement recreation room of a home at 4227 E. Madison St., Madison Cellars holds a couple other distinctions, according to owner Fred Andrews.
"I think it's one of the oldest places in town," he said of wine shops. Indeed, Andrews said, he will have been running the business at the location for 20 years come next August. And it was a wine store for five years before he took it over, he added.
The basement business also has the distinction of being in the lowest commercial space on the western shores of Lake Washington, Andrews said. The underground location helps keep the place cool, which is important for wine storage, he said. "Customers don't mind for a short period," he said of a temperature that hovers around 60 degrees, even during the summer.
Andrews said he stocks wines from Washington, Oregon, California and Europe. "I think I have as good a selection as anybody in town," he said. "I somewhat specialize in dessert wines."
About 60 percent of his sales are imports, something he attributes to a sophisticated, knowledgeable clientele. "They ask a lot of questions," Andrews said of queries about which wine goes with which food, and vice versa. "And they always have an eye for value," he said.
Value is a relative term in wine sales, though. "Probably my average sale is $20 to $30 per bottle, if not more," Andrews said. Prices generally vary from as little as $8 to as high as $500 or $600 per bottle, while champagnes cost between $21 and $375 per bottle, he said.
Hot sellers vary over time, but his customers favor red wines over white by a 60-to-40-percent margin most of the year, Andrews said. That goes up to 70-to-30-percent red over white in the cold-weather months, he added.
"That's a big change from 10 years ago," Andrews said of the current preference for red wines. "It used to be just the opposite." He said reds have gained favor because people are eating food that is spicier and more substantial than it once was.
Still, some reds have fallen out of favor. For example, Beaujolais Nouveau is a fruity red wine that comes out each fall in France, and its arrival is celebrated as an annual event for oenophiles worldwide. But not anymore in Madison Park.
"I used to sell 10 to 15 cases. Now I sell three to four case," he said, adding that neighborhood residents don't hold traditional Beaujolais Nouveau parties as they once did 15 years ago.
Rosés are popular in Madison Park, especially during the summer, Andrews said. But that changes when cold weather starts to set in. "Rosés are pretty much gone by Thanksgiving," he said.
Holiday sales make up close to half of Andrews' yearly business, he said. Summer, by contrast, is relatively dead. "It's hot, and there's no parking down here," Andrews groused.
Selling wine is a very competitive business, and while he has regular customers, Andrews said he depends primarily on word of mouth to draw new ones. "People like what I have," the businessman explained.
Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 461-1309.