By Matthew Halverson
“I really enjoy crawling around in people’s basements,” says Marc Lazar. Taken out of context, it’s the kind of statement that might earn a guy an eyeful of pepper spray. In a conversation about wine storage and appraisal, though, it sounds a lot less The People Under the Stairs and a little more Other People’s Money. “I love unpacking boxes and digging out the dusty bottles,” Lazar says. “You take those tests that tell you what you’re going to be in your life, and things like this are never on there.”
After four years as the “death, divorce and special-projects guy” at The Wine Merchant (he helped arrange shipping when collectors moved, appraised the collections of the deceased, divvied up squabbling couples’ Burgundies and Beaujolais) Lazar took his consulting business full-time, launching Cellar Advisors in 2004.
Now he’s opening a 6,000-square-foot cold-storage facility for those whose home cellars are overflowing. It won’t be the first underground wine repository in town, but it will be the first that’s aboveboard. Until recently, the ambiguity of Missouri liquor law made it technically illegal to store more than 9 liters of wine for anything other than retail or wholesale purposes. Thanks to a Jefferson City lawyer and a “letter of understanding” from the Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, though, Lazar won’t have to worry about any Prohibition-style raids.
Of course, that’s not to say there isn’t a speakeasy vibe surrounding the joint; for security purposes, you have to be a client to learn where it is. Lazar is, on the other hand, happy to open up about its ambience—just as long as you don’t get your hopes up. “It won’t be terribly romantic,” he says. “It’s going to look like the inside of a spaceship because there’ll be silver insulation everywhere. Now, upstairs in the tasting room, that’s something else entirely.”