Every neighborhood needs a good watering hole, and in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood, that place is Bottlehouse — a chic, unfussy wine bar that’s always filled with a convivial crowd and that always has something interesting to pour, no matter what you’re in the mood for. We recently caught up with Soni and Henri Schock, Bottlehouse’s co-owners, for a chat and a sip.
So how did Bottlehouse come to be?
Henri: Instead of throwing keggers in college, I threw wine and cheese pairing parties (sounds lame, I know). I caught wind of a new program at [my university], a semester-long, intensive study off all aspects of wine. I decided to enroll, thinking it would be a fun and casual course. What I quickly realized was that it was so much more. Our professor was one of the most accredited wine educators at the time. The atmosphere and raw focus of this program led to me wanting to explore wine as a career after college. Once I graduated, I took a stab at entrepreneurship and started my own wine consulting business. My primary focus was collaborating with winemakers and educators and creating events centered around wine. I did this for about four years before opening up Bottlehouse.
Soni: I graduated from the architecture program at UT Austin and eventually made it out to the West Coast, working with various commercial architecture firms along the way. Henri and I had been dating for about two years when he came across this opportunity via his wine professor. I was in between jobs at the time, and thought this would be an excellent design opportunity, as well as a way Henri and I could take our passions and collaborate through this business.
Henri: It was one of those opportunities you couldn’t pass up. Right before signing our lease, Soni and I traveled through Spain and wrote our business plan. When we returned, we presented the plan to our landlords, signed the lease, and the rest is history. It’s been an amazing experience and a true life test.
What’s the best part of your job at Bottlehouse?
Soni: I love our customers. We are situated in a small neighborhood, and Bottlehouse often feels like the “Cheers bar” of Madrona. You know, “Where everybody knows your name.” It’s a good feeling!
Henri: I would have to agree with Soni. The people of Bottlehouse are what make it such a great “job.” From our amazing customers, to our dynamic staff — you really can’t find a place like this in Seattle. We have the best people.
Do you have any advice for wine novices — people who like wine and want to learn more?
Henri: Try, try and try again. Get out there, taste and experience. Sign up for wine clubs, classes, events, etc. — anything that will give you the most exposure and works best with your schedule and style of learning. But before doing all of this, figure out the best way to document these experiences. Get a Moleskin, find an app, whatever it takes for you to document your findings and allow you to take notes. I always carry around a Moleskin for wine notes, just in case. If I like a wine, I will typically jot a few notes down, then snap a picture on my phone. I like to date my tastings, too, so it’s easier to recall where and why I was tasting this wine.
Soni: My style of learning works better in group settings. I’ve found that tasting with friends or tasting groups is an excellent way of developing your palette. It’s super collaborative, and because wine is so subjective, different people will pick up different nuances, and can share with the group. But as Henri mentioned, get a notebook. Make sure you’re documenting these experiences, so you’re able to go back and reference them in the future. You don’t want to be stuck saying, “what was that great wine that I tasted … ?”
Are there questions you find yourself answering again and again for your customers?
Henri: There are a lot of people that have a very common misconception that red wine gives them headaches, particularly due to the amount of sulfides found in it. When I hear this, I try to figure out exactly where this is coming from and how their experience with red wine has been less then stellar. What I typically find out is the majority of the red wine they have consumed is domestic, or from New World regions (i.e. regions outside of Europe).
It is nearly impossible to produce good wine that is sulfide free. However, what I usually suggest is for them to start trying wines from Europe, specifically France. Traditionally speaking, the presence of sulfides is considerably less in wines from Europe vs. New World wines. In addition to this, I suggest aerating or decanting the wine before consuming, or drinking older wines if available. Aerating wines has a steady effect of reducing the amount of sulfides, depending on the amount of time the wine has to sit in a glass or a decanter. I always follow up with my customers after suggesting these tips, and the results are nearly always positive.
Soni: Henri and I are always trying to drive trends in wine, recently rosé and Rieslings. Both of these wines have been commonly misconstrued over the years, so we feel it’s our job to bring them to light. Rosé wine has recently caught on in Seattle and has been a huge success. There are a few people out there that view rosé as their grandma’s wine — you know, that white zin everyone used to drink in the ’80s and ’90s. It pretty much killed rosé in the US until recently.
We’re fighting the same fight with Riesling. Most people coming into Bottlehouse will comment on how Riesling is “too sweet.” It’s our job to show that not all Rieslings are created equal. While there are sweet Rieslings, there are dry styles, too. We just had our first Riesling event at Bottlehouse, and it was actually very successful.
So other than rosé and Riesling, are there other wines out there not getting the attention they deserve?
Henri: Wines from Georgia (the country, not the state) are some of the craziest I’ve ever tasted. They have such a rich winemaking history, and they haven’t really changed anything about their approach to winemaking. They are still making wine the same way they did hundreds of years ago, and you can taste it.
Orange wines are pretty underrepresented in the Seattle market, too. In short, orange wines are white wines that have seen contact with the grape skins (white wine doesn’t see any skin contact). The result is a wine that is orange in color, with a lot more intense aromas and flavor variations. There are a few winemakers domestically that are now producing orange wines, which tells me we’re going to see it more and more in the mainstream.
What would you like Bottlehouse to become over the years?
Henri: Bottlehouse has been recognized by various sources as being both the top wine bar in Seattle, as well as in the country. Everything we do at Bottlehouse today and in the future will be to hold that credential. I always want to strive to be the best wine bar in the country, and you can’t do this by doing things the same every day. We are constantly evolving, coming up with unique ways of promoting and marketing wine and trying to spread the love throughout Seattle.
Soni: Bottlehouse is not only a wine bar, but a venue for all types of disciplines — music, art, food. We designed Bottlehouse as more of a community center, where people could gather, learn and explore. While situated in the small neighborhood of Madrona, we have a huge impact on the wine and design community. We eventually want to spread the love of our brand and concept across Seattle and beyond.
So you’re each stuck on a desert island. What bottles of wine do you bring?
Henri: Champagne—a bottle of vintage Krug and Pierre Peters rosé
Soni: A couple bottles of Bandol or Provençal rosé. I mean, we’re on a desert island, so you want something refreshing.