Most 'normal' wine drinkers pick up a bottle at their local shop and crack it within hours of returning home. Then there are those rare individuals who squirrel away cases waiting for the perfect moment to open each precious specimen from their cherished collection.
Drew Malcolm is one of the latter. He doesn't have a background in the wine industry. Instead, Malcolm boasts a career in sales and marketing as well as real estate investment. He recently founded and consults for e-commerce businesses in the health and wellness industry.
For Malcolm, wine was a hobby. To ensure his modest but prized collection would age gracefully, he invested in a wine fridge programmed at the ideal temperature and humidity for long-term aging. While he was out of town during the summer of 2010, his fridge died. "When I came home there was a puddle of red wine leaking out of the bottom of the fridge onto the floor," recalls Malcolm. "All the bottles were cooked and heat damaged, with many of the corks pushed out."
Rather than abandoning his passion, Malcolm looked for an offsite location to store his wine. While a couple of temperature-controlled storage facilities already existed in Vancouver, he wasn't satisfied with what he found. Significantly, none allowed free access to one's own collection. "A lightbulb popped that such a business would be a good opportunity," explains Malcolm. So, he designed a storage facility to his specification, adopting the best elements from spaces he inspected in other cities throughout North America.
He then invested in a centrally located building, which he renovated from the ground up during 2011-2012, essentially creating a refrigerated box. Referring to the ideal wine-storage temperature the space provides, Drew baptized it 13C and, for the all-important climate-control system, he engaged the help of mechanical engineers. Within the facility, each 500-square foot zone has its own digitally controlled thermostat and cooling unit. Besides a constant temperature of 13C, humidity is maintained between 65-75 per cent, and is supplied on-demand via a gentle ultrasonic mist that permeates the space. "I hope it is obvious how seriously we take climate control," Malcolm says, with emphasis, as he explains the features.
A tour of the space is convincing, and the high level of security is equally apparent. This aspect is what allows members that coveted 24-hour access, 365 days of the year. The actual location is not disclosed on 13C's website. Only members receive that information and entry to the premises is by fingerprint and a personal fob. The alarm is monitored and always active. Each locker is individually locked and alarmed, with members holding the only keys to their personal locker; meanwhile, closed-circuit television cameras record all activity inside and outside the building. The facility rents lockers ranging in size from eight cases ($35/month) to 275 cases ($685/month). Lockers are also available to hold the equivalent of 16, 24, 32, 48 and 96 cases. "We are currently at about 80 per cent capacity," Malcolm asserts.
While wine storage is the main service 13C offers, collectors who store their wine there enjoy a huge perk. Before reaching the lockers through the front entrance, there is a common room, set at regular room temperature (which is much more conducive to hanging out). It's furnished with fine glassware, plates and cutlery, dishwasher, fridge, comfy leather chairs, television, AV, an extensive library of wine books and a beautiful wooden table made from reclaimed Douglas fir. Members can use the room at no extra cost, simply booking it ahead of time. The code of conduct is to leave it in the same state as you found it, which means pristine.
"More than half of our clients use the room for formal and informal tasting events, business meetings, and even as a quiet place to read or study," Malcolm says.
The afternoon I stopped by to sign the contract for my locker, a group of friends is gathered around the table, blind-tasting random bottles from their personal collections. They immediately pour me a glass, thereby luring me into their guessing game. Jack Madrid is the leader of the pack. An avid wine collector, he has been storing his wine at 13C for almost 2 years. "I like having the peace of mind of having a stable temperature," explains Madrid. "I also love the tasting room, which has become my favourite place for blind tastings with friends."
The space is in use almost every day. Besides casual and business gatherings, formal wine classes are now being conducted there well. 13C is also the Vancouver venue for Wine Plus+ which offers the Wine and Spirit Education Trust courses. "The atmosphere is appropriate for the subject matter, as opposed to a neutral, generic classroom," says local instructor Iain Philip. "The room is intimate, so it makes it a comfortable environment that encourages students to engage." Philip is equally enthusiastic about the storage. "The technology for ensuring the proper conditions is modern and reliable and the rental rates are totally fair."
Whether it's wine students, trade, or enthusiastic collectors, Malcolm connects with all of his clients and has developed close friendships with many. "Wine can be a common language that unites people with different backgrounds. Folks who appreciate wine are mostly friendly and passionate bonvivants!"
And, surely, they are sharing more than the occasional glass of wine with him, as well.