Vine Vault: Atlanta wine collectors bank on it

Get a look inside the wine storage facility for oenophiles with means
The tasting room at Vine Vault is a gathering place for members. Hanging on the walls are wine-themed paintings by local artist Thomas Arvid. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LFIGUERAS@AJC.COM

The tasting room at Vine Vault is a gathering place for members. Hanging on the walls are wine-themed paintings by local artist Thomas Arvid. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LFIGUERAS@AJC.COM

Turn off Piedmont Road onto Miami Circle in Buckhead and you'll drive past purveyors of oriental rugs, fine art, furniture, antiques and, at the end of the cul-de-sac, luxe cars. Perhaps you know Miami Circle because you spend dining dollars at Eclipse di Luna. A select few individuals frequent this stretch for a different reason: to secure their high-end wines at Vine Vault. More likely, someone else does it for them.

Vine Vault could be called simply a storage facility. That’s an understatement. When it comes to wine, it’s the Rolls-Royce of storage facilities. Besides being a highly secured space for wines appraised in five figures, the company offers every service imaginable for oenophiles with means.

Open since 2015, and with a second location in Austin, Texas, Vine Vault is the brainchild of Elton Potts. In his former life, Potts worked for Chep USA to improve the supply chain for growers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers around the world. Later, he was employed by Recall, a company based in Norcross that provides document storage services. Think: keeper of sensitive government information, mortgage files and legal documentation.

When Potts began working for Recall in 2007, the company was storing some 7 million boxes of documents. By the time he retired in 2013, it was up to 105 million boxes across 300 facilities in 23 countries, and serving about 50,000 clients.

Added to Potts’ knowledge of secured storage and logistics management is his passion for wine. Around the time he retired, he faced a personal conundrum most of us probably won’t ever experience: The avid wine collector had run out of space in his home cellar. He poked around for wine storage options, and was frustrated by what he found. “An outsourcer should do it better than you can do it at home. I couldn’t find it,” he said.

The seed for Vine Vault was planted.

Vine Vault’s growing list of 200 members enjoy state-of-the-art protection for their treasured trove of vino. Some opt for basic service, what you might call “self-storage.” They have access to a secured locker and can drop off or pick up their bottles at their leisure.

Then there are folks who splurge for concierge service. “We do everything but pay for your wine or drink it,” Potts joked. This includes storing, handling, boxing, inventory, insurance and shipping. (They’ll even relocate your cellar, whether you’re moving across the city or across the country.)

Vine Vault CEO Elton Potts stands near the trophy case lockers in the lobby of the facility located in Buckhead. The company also operates a facility in Austin, Texas. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LFIGUERAS@AJC.COM

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A Vine Vault sommelier inspects every bottle, noting any issues with the label, cork or ullage — a term that, for the uninitiated (I raise my hand), denotes the quantity of liquid in the bottle — before adding it to the client’s computerized inventory, and then securing it in the facility.

Time to visit the vault.

We walked down the hallway. Potts raised his hand to let a scanner read his vein. A match. The steel-insulated door unlocked. We stepped into what looked like a massive gym locker room, but pristine white, sans benches and sweaty sports gear. The smallest locker holds 250 bottles. The largest can store up to 10,000.

It was a chilly 55 degrees. As we walked up and down the aisles, Pott explained redundancies in the cooling and electrical systems. The temperature here will never fluctuate a single digit.

We approached a massive steel door. On the other side were the liquid goods of clients who pay a pretty penny for what Vine Vault calls “treasury storage.” The 5-inch-thick bank-grade vault can withstand a hurricane, tornado and pretty much any other natural disaster. Potts let me spin the combination lock. 2-28-45. No luck. There is a biometric screener here, too. And, if someone gets past those safeguards, there’s a second steel door behind the first, also tied to the scan system. It’s pretty much Gringotts, and not even Harry Potter is getting past Potts. By the way, smile, you’re on candid camera everywhere you look.

Farther down one corridor was a locker filled with boxes from shipments that had arrived that day. They were waiting to be processed by Liam Grove, one of sommeliers on staff. Potts pointed out a few boxes in wooden cases. One held a 12-liter Madonna del Piano, the first single-vineyard in Montalcino, the Tuscan hill town renowned for Brunello. Under that shipment sat an 18-liter Bordeaux, the equivalent of 24 750-milliliter bottles.

“There’s all sorts of fun stuff,” Potts said.

He and his team get to touch some rare juice: a 1981 Château Lafite Rothschild, an 1811 Josephine Pflaumen in Armagnac, a 1962 burgundy that sailed on the maiden voyage of the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise liner in May of 1967. Grove likened this part of his job to that of an archivist. Fun gig for a wine geek.

What’s fun for Vine Vault customers, though, are all the other wine-related services of which they can avail themselves. On the hunt for some rare vintage? Vine Vault will assist. You’re entertaining at home, and don’t know which wine from your collection to serve with the coq au vin? Vine Vault somms are a phone call away. Need that bottle dropped off at your house? Done. And, rest assured, it’ll be delivered in a refrigerated van that keeps the bottle cooled to the magic number of 55.

You feel like entertaining a client discreetly? The private Magnum Room at Vine Vault is at your disposal. As is proper Riedel stemware for whatever you’re pouring.

And, of course, if you want to meet up with those who share your passion for wine, the Vine Vault tasting room is open whenever you and your friends want to stop by — that is, unless it’s being used for something like a vertical tasting of vino by California producer Harlan Estate, or a member BYOB get-together.

When Potts put together his business plan, he spent a month researching the wine collector market. He was surprised at how little data there was about this small group.

His clients might not be who you think they are. They don’t fall into some strict demographic. They aren’t all male. They range in age from 25 to 85. What they have in common is a deep love and appreciation of wine — whether it’s a $30,000 bottle or the two-buck Chuck sort they’re saving for sentimental reasons.

“We don’t do pretentious. We don’t do stuffy,” Potts said. “Wine is a part of life. It’s great to appreciate it with other people.”

Cheers to that.

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