It's not uncommon for wine to be the impetus of a relationship, but in the case of Soni Dave and Henri Schock, it remains the bond that not only links them as romantic partners, but successful business partners as well. The two run one of the most charming wine bars in Seattle, a neighborhood hang on a tree-lined street in Madrona--a place to eat, drink, and dwell and a beautifully weathered, sustainable nook above Wilridge Winery where you can grab a bottle of wine to go, discover new offerings at the tasting bar, nibble on charcuterie and cheese, or gather with friends on the patio on a rare warm Seattle day. All this good stuff creates a personal conundrum: the need to share with the world this fantastic find and to help this young couple fulfill their dream while preserving the "hidden" part. Is that possible? God, I hope so.
Photo by Julien Perry
The two recently celebrated the first anniversary of their place just as they began the planning stages of their own celebration--their wedding. How does this couple run such a seemingly effortless business while dealing with their own life stresses? This past weekend, over a bottle of rose, the two offered to spill it for Grillaxin.
Schock: When we first opened, we opened at 11 a.m. and I'm fine with drinking at 11. I think the stigma is based on drinking without food or something. I don't know what it is, but when Soni and I were in Spain, we'd go into a bar, grab a shot of wine at like 8 a.m., and it was cool. It's all about easing into the day. I don't think I would drink a heavy cab at 10 a.m., but I'd have a light white or a nice rose.
Dave: Or a shandy. People love our shandies.
What's a shandy?
Schock: Basically, it's beer and lemon-lime soda.
Dave: We're obsessed with it. And we do ours with San Pellegrino, and we feel like that is just perfect. It's one-third soda and two-thirds beer.
The space is beautiful. Did you have a vision for how you wanted it to look?
Dave: It evolved. When we were doing the business plan, we thought about whether or not it was financially feasible, and then we went to Europe. We went to Spain and Portugal, and within that three weeks the business plan wrote itself. We were like, "Let's do this!" We knew exactly what we wanted to do and got completely inspired by the concept. Our whole idea was to not be a restaurant, but to offer quick and easy food like charcuterie, cheeses, olives, almonds. But mostly, really having a focus on what you're drinking.
Schock: The places that stuck out the most (in Europe) were the places that were kind of off the beaten path. which I think Madrona is, definitely. It's kind of a gem in the Seattle city scene.
Dave: It's a little bit undiscovered, which makes it special.
Schock: And when you bring people in, you definitely feel like it's something unique.
Dave: The biggest compliment, especially from the Europeans who come here, is "This reminds me of home."
And the inspiration for the design of the space?
Dave: We use materials that are all weathered, that go through natural weathering like glass, metals, wood, concrete. There's an old sign (hanging above the faux fireplace) that we made that says CYCLE because everything goes through cycles and naturally ages--like wine.
Tell me the story of how you two lovebirds met.
Schock: It was Mother's Day weekend, like, four years ago. We met at a wine-tasting event.
Dave: I met him and I met his mom. Those two are so freaking cute!
Schock: Soni had a boyfriend.
Dave: I did! But right away I knew Henri was special and I wanted to be friends with him, so we were just friends for about a year and a half.
Schock: I contacted her a couple of times for event help, and we both kind of crossed paths a few other times. But then . . . sparks started flying at the Ellensburg rodeo!
[Dave and seven of her girlfriends decided to attend the rodeo at the last minute. Schock was there, too. When the ladies needed a place to stay, Schock offered his parents' place. How convenient that they lived nearby.]
Schock: I'm like, "Dad. So, I really like this girl. You gotta let them stay."
Dave: Henri courted me at the rodeo. After that, I couldn't get him off my mind. We went on a few dates and have been together every since.
Schock: Yes. We were the first.
Dave: In October. I actually think that we, along with The Local Vine, started offering it right at the end of September. I think what happened is that we got it on tap first, but we didn't tell anybody. We were sort of testing it out.
Schock: This is a huge thing that I wanted even before we opened.
Dave: And it was part of our business plan, even before people understood the laws surrounding it, because in Spain they actually have sherry on tap.
What's the appeal of wine on tap?
Schock: It's basically like finished wine. So instead of taking the wine and putting into a bottle, they take the wine and put it into a five-gallon steel keg. And it's preserved using argon which is an inert, non-reactive gas. The best thing about wine on tap is that it's low overhead and we can pass the savings on to the consumer. When you pay $10, $15 for a bottle of wine, a lot of that comes from the packaging. My tap wine should always be better than what I have in the bottle because I can afford to offer it by the glass. What I'm pouring from my tap should be a $40 or $50 bottle. It's definitely something we love doing here and we're going to start offering whites and roses hopefully within the next couple of weeks. We want to have at least eight wines on tap, eventually, which will be the most expansive wine on tap program.
Soni, were you even interested in wine before you opened Bottlehouse?
Always. As a consumer. It's been amazing. Henri is definitely my guru in a sense. I've learned a lot through him.
Check back tomorrow for part two of this week's Grillaxin with Bottlehouse proprietors Soni Dave and Henri Schock.