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The Seattle Times | Pacific Northwest
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Northwest Living Leora Y. Bloom

The Secret Cellar

Behind a bookshelf, they pour on the fun

Growing up, Scott Lipsky imagined that his house had secret rooms and hidden passageways. His wife, Susan, always wanted to be like Batgirl with a secret cave. So when they bought their 1912 home with its warren of rooms, the opportunity to create a real hidden room "struck me as quickly as the thought of building a wine cellar at all," remembers Scott. Susan thought the idea was hers, but she's OK with Scott taking the credit.

Scott worked with their architect to rough out the wine cellar, and then he had to decide how to hide the entrance. For logistical reasons he chose a swinging bookcase. He spent a lot of time with his cabinetmaker, Clayton Stueckle of Superior Manufacturing, to ensure that the hinges are invisible, and that the trim matches perfectly: Nothing gives it away.

And today there is a 2,200-bottle wine cellar hidden somewhere in the Lipskys' sprawling West Seattle waterfront home. I've promised not to reveal its location, but when the Lipskys entertain, they open the door and let their parties expand into the cellar.

The Lipskys have always liked to drink wine, but before building the cellar they didn't think too much about it. Even now, they are adamant that their wine collecting is a source of entertainment, not an investment. While Scott would like to collect some wine that will age well, "at the end of the day," he says, "why buy the wine if you're not going to drink it?"

With about 300 bottles, the Lipskys don't yet need to keep a formal inventory. But Scott plans to put a computer in the cellar to track when and where each wine was purchased, and also to know when to drink it. "That's one of the biggest challenges for me. I don't have the background to know when a wine is best to drink." Scott has a half case of 2002 Domaine Drouhin from Oregon signed by the winemaker, who wrote a note on it that says, "Don't you dare until at least 2010. No. No." For the rest of his collection, Scott uses charts from wine magazines, but he's already planning for the day his computer can tell him what to drink and where to find it, and even show him a list of bottles in his cellar that will pair nicely with his dinner.

So how do you fill a wine cellar that is constantly being emptied? In 2004, Scott and seven friends invested in a couple of barrels of wine made by two of them in a garage in Edmonds. They called themselves 509 Wines (say "five zero nine"), for the Walla Walla area code from where all their grapes were, and still are, purchased. The 50 cases each of merlot and cabernet sauvignon they ended up bottling for themselves turned out to be terrific. It probably helped that one of them happens to be Mike Blom, a Napa winemaker with a résumé that includes Peju Province and Grgich Hills.

Excited by the possibilities, 509 Wines crushed again in 2005, adding syrah to the line, and in 2006 added viognier. The 2007 vintage will total 300 cases, and has surpassed their ability to consume it all. What started out as just for fun has morphed into a real business with a storefront opening in Seattle shortly, where they'll bottle, age and sell their wines, and also carry wines by a select group of other wineries.

Stocking the cellar has also given the Lipskys a good reason to add wine tasting to their travel itineraries. As a result, "every bottle has a story," says Scott. "And I hate the idea of drinking the last one of anything." Scott says he's "not someone who falls in love with wine," but he likens it to books. As wonderful as any one was, at the end you're always looking for your next great read.

When Scott and Susan were in Italy last year, they visited a number of tasting rooms with inventory from smaller wineries that don't export. At each one they would invariably drink a lot of wine. But one day they visited a small one in the ancient city of Montalcino called Enoteca La Fortezza. There they tasted only five wines, and one in particular "just blew me away," says Scott. "That was a great moment. It was a beautiful location, and it was a beautiful cellar, and this is my last bottle." He holds up a 2001 Brunello di Montalcino Verbena. "And one day," he says, "I'll drink it."

Leora Y. Bloom writes about beautiful homes in and around Seattle. Her e-mail is leorabakes@hotmail.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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