Just west of Bay Street on an unassuming stretch of the old Clubland drag, on the street level of 67 Richmond, you’ll find a Subway.
What you don’t want to do, is go in there.
Instead, turn your head about 12.5 degrees to the left and admire the two towering wood doors that break the building’s monotony with subtle but striking elegance.
Across the cask-cut entryway, as a hint of what’s barrelled below, you’ll see the letters “ordeaux” and “ine Make” sprinkled around amidst half-exposed labels and bolded brands. Further to your left, a security camera, a door bell and a fingerprint scanner. Once you make your way past the threshold, by the miracle of technology or the grace of a concierge, you’ll walk down a set of stairs, almost 20 feet below street level, and at the bottom you’ll find yourself in the latest social cellar to come of age in Toronto’s bursting wine culture.
Welcome to the Wine Academy. The doors you just walked through just opened today.
“Not only will you store your wines here, but we’ll teach you a little bit about wine,” Michael Slattery tells me. He is one of the partners behind the new social space in the upper-east heart of the financial district. “A lot of people know what they like but they might not be sure why they like that particular wine. Part of what we’ll do here is we’ll teach people, ‘Here’s why you like this wine.’”
The group’s managing partner, Aaron Joseph is hard at work developing a Wine Academy educational program based around the expertise of their head sommelier and the curation of their own private wine list, stocked with wines you won’t find at the LCBO, but can be purchased through the Academy’s agency network – just one of the many perks of a $1,000 annual social membership.
“For lack of a better term, it’s a one-stop-shop,” says Joseph. “You come in, you have your wine, you have a class, you go after the class and eat some food, have some more of your wine – have our wine – and the whole social aspect of it is in one central location.”
The location to which Joseph is referring has about 6,000 square feet of space, with about two thirds of it dedicated to meeting, mingling and Merloting, and the other third set aside for the 1,122 cellar lockers they’ve built to store “your wine” for an additional $150 per month. Each locker can fit up to 92 uncased, unracked Bordeaux-style wine bottles, keeping them at a cool 12.5 degrees for optimal long term preservation.
The 2,500 square foot, two-story cellar (in which they plan to host tastings) has also been designed to maintain 70% humidity – a key factor in fending off cork damage and oxidization of wine – and through vibration isolation panels installed in every load-bearing column, the room will also cushion stored bottles from microvibrations, a physical event that has been shown to have a negative impact on wine cellared for upwards of five years. Each locker is also pitch black when closed, preventing any light from disrupting a healthy aging process.
Your wine is also well-protected in the more classic sense of security. “We have forty security cameras here and a large part of them are in the cellar,” Aaron assures me. “Every single aisle and floor is covered.”
While they’ve got your Burgundies and your Barolos handled, your boardrooms, brunches and Brooklyns are also on their radar.
Social members can rent out the slick 14-seat boardroom for $75 per hour (in 30 or 60 minute windows), and the rental comes equipped with full A/V, standard starfish conference phone, unlimited water and coffee service, and access to a catering package through which you can pre-order food for the professional festivities.
The Wine Academy also offers a full-service bar including beer and classic cocktails, and from the kitchen hidden behind the barista’s post, a full food menu from the afternoons through to the evenings. “We offer an a la carte menu,” Aaron explains. “You can get small tapas plates, charcuterie and cheese all day, then roast features at dinner, all kind of centered around the Mediterranean flavours – Spain, France, Italy. We don’t have the capacity to do ‘fine dining’ three, four, five course dinners, but we will do really excellent upscale casual.”
Parties of up to 12 can secure space somewhere under the 17-foot high ceilings of the main room, while bigger groups and corporate jams can connect with the Academy team to figure out ideal arrangements on a case by case basis – and for the most energetic of oenophiles, I certainly expect it to be case by case.
Whether you’re looking to whet your wine palate, ensure the brightest future for your oldest vintages, or sow your social oats with a collection of Toronto’s finest, it’s probably worth a trip to the newly renovated depths of Richmond and Bay. While the city offers alternatives, the Wine Academy promises to press its very own personality.
“Our space took that idea of cellaring and just blew up the whole social club aspect. Only a third of the space is devoted to storage; the rest is for a social experience and dedicated to hospitality.” Aaron and Michael smile at me proudly. “Having a cellar that keeps things secure is just the first part of what we’re all about.”
The Wine Academy has just started to breathe, but what they’re all about already seems pretty exciting.
And things in this industry have a way of only getting better with age.