Not only is this the last year of semi-finalist Henri Schock's 20-somethings, chances are, it will be the last year he'll be able to take a deep breath. Because this old soul has some big expansion plans ahead. Within the next year or two, Schock and his wife Soni — the couple that owns wine bar Bottlehouse in the Madrona neighborhood of Seattle — plan to open several spots around the city; specifically, places they see fit for wine education and appreciation.
Says Trey Busch, the winemaker and owner of Washington's Sleight of Hand Cellars, "I'm a fan of Henri because of his passion of the obscure, and of flying outside of the mainstream... He goes out of his way to find wines from small, passionate producers (some local, some not so local) who really give a shit about what they are putting in the bottle, not what they are putting on a label... As a winemaker, when I see young people come into my tasting room and are jazzed about drinking wine, I can thank people like Henri for sending them my way, because it takes passionate people to instill that passion into others." Adds Seattle chef Tom Douglas: "He's so creative. He starts trends instead of just following trends, and that's just kind of a fun place to be. People see it, recognize it, and jump on board."
Below, Schock talks wine trends, the success of Bottlehouse, and his plans for changing the Seattle wine scene.
What do you think has made Bottlehouse so successful?
I would say one of the biggest things — and behind every great man is hopefully an even greater woman — my wife Soni has done an amazing job with the design and aesthetic of this place, but also both of us really honing in on the experience level. It's all about approachability; we have a very casual environment here, very approachable, but also the stuff that we serve isn't necessarily that. We serve some really amazing intense cheeses and charcuterie that kind of demand explanation. We serve a lot of different wines that have a really great story, so we just bring that to the table, both literally and physically, and basically just expand peoples' minds to cheese and charcuterie and wine — I would say hands down it's the full-on package, the full-on experience that people get here. I think talking to other people in the industry, not a lot of people are doing that. I think it shows, too. It's very evident when you come here and sit down and have a night at Bottlehouse.
Are wine drinkers in this city sophisticated?
I would say in Seattle, we're right on the cusp. We're still pushing rosé in a big way here, which if you go to some other cities they might be looking at other growing regions, other styles of wines, maybe a few areas that might be a little bit esoteric. So, I think we're probably a little bit behind the cusp, but that's okay. It excites me because in the next few years, I definitely want to be in the same place that New York and San Francisco are in terms of wine, education, and what they're bringing to their consumers. But we're right there. I think people are really open. I think it goes hand in hand with the type of food that is served here in Seattle. Obviously, a lot of farm-to-table type cooking, a lot of local, organic, unique items that are served on the table and I think wine is kind of an off-shoot of that. I think people are opening up more. And also, with the evolution of craft cocktails and microbrews, I think adult beverages in general are becoming more accessible to the everyday drinker.
What's your wine background?
I went to school for nutrition and business, and at the university I went to (Central Washington University), they also had a wine professional study. Now, it's a full-on Bachelor of Science, but when I was there, it was just a professional study, so you took a semester off. Basically, for most of the people in college, it was semester of drinking during school, which for me it was totally not that; I wanted to be completely ingrained into what they were teaching. After graduating college, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in the wine industry, but it took a few years, obviously, after graduation to get this place opened up. But I knew for certain that this wasn't going to be the end-all, be-all, but it was definitely where I was going to make my mark in Seattle in terms of the wine industry.
At what point did you realize Bottlehouse 'had arrived'?
The biggest compliment is when people in the industry start showing up at your place. The first year, we saw a lot of industry people and that was when things started to catch on. We had little snippets here and there in various Seattle editorials and it just kind of built from there. This is our fourth Summer in business and we're about to celebrate our third birthday, and I'd say business has been increasing each year. It's a very sustainable growth. Being in Madrona, I think people are still stumbling upon us, which is a really cool feeling. I'm not big on hyped-up restaurants or bars, just because I always question the sustainability of that. I really like how people are still trying to figure us out, still trying to find us, and when they walk in for the first time they're really shocked. It's awesome. They can't believe they haven't heard of us or haven't been here before.
Who do you look up to in the wine industry?
Ryan Crane (of Kerloo Cellars) is probably one of the winemakers that I look up to the most. I think his focus and his intent on winemaking, especially from Washington, is amazing. He's in a group of winemakers who, I think if they had it their way, would be sourcing and making wine in Europe, but they also love Washington, so they take cues from Old World and make wine in those styles. I would say at Bottlehouse, those are the types of wine that we really focus on as well.
When we first opened, it was definitely more local (wines), but now that we're educating more and people trust us more, we don't even necessarily have to give wine menus out, especially to our regulars because they're so comfortable with what we're pouring. It's almost like a good bartender — we can read them, what they're in the mood for, how there day's been, how they're week's been. What kind of wine can we pair with your day?
Do you think WA wine gets a bad rap?
Sometimes, but I think we're working out of our growing pains. I think five, six years ago there was an overabundance of the a lot of the wrong thing. I think Washington wine was in a great spot in terms of it growing, I think Walla Walla was getting a lot of hype and national publicity, but I think people were under the impression that anyone could open a winery and that anyone with money was buying fruit and making wine, so it kind of saturated the market a little bit. There was an overabundance of syrah which was kind of a bummer because syrah grows so well in Washington state and there was a time when that varietal was bastardized and you could see it in places that you shouldn't have been seeing it — blended with cab and merlot. Now, I think we're coming out of our awkward teen stage and growing up a little bit. I think the winemakers who are making kick-ass wine are only going to get better.
What wine are you geeking out over right now?
Aside from local wines, I look to Europe to really get inspired. We just did a wine tasting with Georgian wines. Not the state, the country (in the Caucasus region of Eurasia). These wines are remarkable! Very old techniques. The way they make wine is the way they've been making wine for thousands of years. They stay true to their winemaking styles and there's a distributor down in San Francisco and he started this whole distribution company based on these Georgian wines and we've been lucky enough to have access to these wines and they're just so interesting. There's no one wine like it out there. I would call [Georgia] semi-Mediterranean climate. The Georgian black grape, as it's called, is a super thick-skinned grape to withstand the heat. What you get from that is these really unique tannins and really unique structure of the wine. They're white wines, which I think are the most intriguing, are wines with skin contact or orange wines, which are a little funky. I wouldn't pour a glass on a hot summer day, it's just not that type of wine. Their wines are probably some of the most crazy wines I've ever had.
I think people are afraid of serving wine that their customers wont like, but I always love it because it gives me an opportunity to dive in even deeper in terms of what their palate preferences are, and by serving something they don't like, I think it gives you a better understanding of the type of wine your customer would like.
— Julien Perry