Wine World Warehouse is a David and Goliath tale. Literally. The 23,000-square-foot shop just off I-5 in the Wallingford neighborhood was the vision of longtime Seattle wine expert David LeClaire, but it almost didn’t happen.
In 2006, LeClaire, longtime sommelier, wine educator and “wine socialite,” identified the old University Hotel as his ideal space—close to downtown, with plenty of parking, freeway access and connection to a neighborhood—but the space was quickly rented to OfficeMax.
“My dream was put on hold for a while,” he says, until the space surprisingly became available in the summer of 2009, when OfficeMax closed. LeClaire’s idea was to open a wine shop with the largest selection of Northwest wines in the entire Northwest. But while his plan appeared possible once the building became available, the economy had just tanked, and many investors were wary of such a large-scale plan.
Wanting to open for the 2010 holiday season, LeClaire worked simultaneously to secure the funds needed as he negotiated a lease, taking a leap of faith that the money would come. And come it did; he got the funds together, and the grand opening happened on December 1, 2010, about eight weeks after the signing of the lease, a grueling period that included acquiring permits, doing the build-out, hiring staff, tasting and purchasing thousands of different wines—all the while planning events for the first few months.
Then he had to get the word out. Luckily, LeClaire has more wine connections than almost anybody in town, thanks to his years in the restaurant industry as a sommelier at The Library Bistro at the Alexis Hotel and as director of Seattle Uncorked, a local wine club with 9,000 members. For him, word-of-mouth promotion is the most effective and affordable business model. “We have cheerleaders in every part of our community telling people we are here and that we are local,” says LeClaire.
And there is certainly plenty to cheer about: Wine World carries more than 8,000 wines from all over the world, with thousands of bottles from about 500 Washington wineries.
But there is another main draw: event spaces drawn straight from LeClaire’s desire for a gathering place. Like Urban Enoteca in SoDo, Wine World has a variety of event spaces that can host dozens of functions each month. The shop includes two 30-foot tasting bars, which host daily wine tastings; a special “gallery” area for reserve, high-end and rare wines; an area for food-and-wine pairings; four large flat-screen televisions; a 4,000-square-foot event space with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking downtown Seattle and Mount Rainier; and more.
Wine World has hosted parties for businesses and charities, as well as book signings, grape-stomping events, beer and barbecue brunches, “Cigar Sunday” events in a tent in its parking lot, and even an evening with roller-derby skaters.
“We want to support the local wine industry,” says LeClaire, “and be fun, approachable, memorable and a business people want to support in return.”
Wine World, Wallingford, 400 NE 45th St., 206.402.6086, wineworldwarehouse.com
David LeClaire's Picks:
2008 Efeste Big Papa Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.99)
Deep and brooding, this highly extracted 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from the Kiona and Klipsun vineyards, among others, can compete with any Napa wine—at half the price. This wine is as bold as its winemaker, Brennon Leighton.
2010 Bookwalter Couplet Chardonnay/Viogner Blend, Columbia Valley ($12.99)
This delicious blend is perfect for events with a diverse guest list—the 26 percent of Viognier softens the remaining balance of Chardonnay and gives the wine nice pear and stone fruit flavors, and a soft, elegant balance. Easy to sip with or without food. Another winner from John Bookwalter!
2008 Northstar Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley ($32.99)
From a winery that was built on Merlot, this Cabernet steals the show. Balanced, elegant, refined tannins.
2008 Mark Ryan Long Haul, Columbia Valley ($44.99; not pictured)
This red is a powerful, rich, intense wine that is New World all the way. If you like jammy wine with some tannin, too, this will be one of your favorites.
2009 Cadaretta SBS, Columbia Valley ($39.99; not pictured)
This Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend is as close as Washington gets to a white Bordeaux. The softer, stone fruit notes of the Semillon balance the herbaceousness and bright acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc, and present a refined and refreshing white that’s perfect for seafood dishes or for sipping alone.