Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Mare Island warehouse that once sheltered ordnance, now houses wines

Article Launched: 02/20/2005 09:19:50 AM

Bombs away
Mare Island warehouse that once sheltered ordnance, now houses wines

By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen/Times-Herald, Vallejo

Wines Central warehouse manager Glenn Coats rides through the Mare Island facility recently. (David Pacheco/Times-Herald, Vallejo)

In a Mare Island warehouse where once torpedoes and military ordnance were kept secure, a new precious commodity has found safe harbor.

San Rafael real estate developer and entrepreneur Jack Krystal is hoping to fill a growing need in the region by transforming the concrete building to a wine storage warehouse.

Krystal chose the 710 L St., Building 627 location on the former Navy shipyard's northwest end to house his new Wines Central, LLC because he believes the rapidly changing Mare Island is the perfect location.

"I thought this would be a much better use for it," Krystal said. "It's construction and layout is perfect for this."

Rumored to have once briefly housed atomic bombs during World War II, the building's layout does indeed offer everything a storage operation needs. It features huge, movable cranes, thick concrete walls, floors and ceilings and heavy steel doors that open to allow rail cars entry.

And Krystal is no stranger to the Vallejo area, having developed several projects there including the Fairgrounds Holiday Inn and a number of homes in south Vallejo.

"Vallejo has been dear to my heart for the past 30 years," said the 60-something father and grandfather originally from Argentina.

Krystal said his love of wines was born in his Argentinean childhood.

"In Argentina, it's like Italy and France. You drink wine with lunch, with every meal," he said. "It's like Coca Cola out here."

Krystal leaves the day-to-day operation of Wines Central to Debbie Polverino, of St. Helena, its general manager who has been with the 3-year-old firm for slightly more than a year.

Polverino said she didn't hesitate when Krystal offered her the job.

"He liked the building and he knew it would be great for storing wine. It's near the Napa Valley. Wine storage and distribution is a big business in this area," she said.

Polverino said there are several local warehouses devoted to the industry, though Wines Central is the only one in Vallejo. The city's access to all forms of shipping options from truck to rail to sea, makes the Mare Island location especially desirable, she said.

And Polverino, 42, should know. She was practically born into the wine business.

For the past 25 years, she has worked in the industry, managing warehouses and wineries. She grew up in the Napa Valley, where her family settled after her grandparents emigrated from Spain.

As familiar as she is with the various aspects of the wine business, Polverino said she immediately recognized the potential in Krystal's idea to store wine in a Mare Island building.

"Land in the Napa Valley is very expensive, so most of it is used to grow grapes. There are very few storage or distribution facilities there," she explained.

Polverino's vast knowledge of the various aspects of the wine industry permits Krystal to leave Wines Central's daily operation in her capable hands and she has been busy marketing the facility.

"I talked to people I knew about this great, safe building, the great prices. The police department and fire department are nearby. It's a great location for shipping," Polverino said.

Polverino said Wines Central now has about 80 winery clients and some 40 private collectors storing their precious bottles and barrels in its facility's various sized locked cages.

"Our clients include small collectors, marketing companies, overflow warehousing and wineries' library collections, which are the history of the winery by vintage examples," Polverino said. The Francis Ford Coppola brand of pastas and sauces, C&H Sugar, specialty olive oils and a variety of other merchandise is stored in the always chilly, Wines Central's climate-controlled environment, as well.

Wines Central employs eight local people and expansion is planned, Polverino said.

Besides storage of wines, bottled water, specialty food items and other materials on a lane address system, Wines Central processes orders, arranges shipping and distribution for clients and provides them space to do special projects like special holiday labeling.

Everything is organized on a computerized software system designed specifically for the wine storage industry, Polverino said.

Polverino and Krystal said they especially like being involved in changing Mare Island's military image into a more peaceful one.

"I like that they're taking the old military buildings and converting them to civilian use like this," Polverino said.

Krystal said he hopes his new enterprise will add to Mare Island's renaissance.

"I hope it becomes an indispensable service business for small-to medium-sized wine makers, right at the front door to Napa and Sonoma, and helps make Mare Island an oasis of productivity and jobs for Vallejo," he said.

E-mail Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at RachelZ@thnewsnet.com or call 553-6824.

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