Though “local everything” is the main religion of restaurants and wine lists in the Pacific Northwest, sometimes it’s worth branching out — especially when it comes to wine. French expat and former Microsoft employee Julien Hervet, originally from France’s Loire Valley, missed the excellent, small production wines of his native country. Most aren’t even available outside of France due to the expense and challenges of import/export laws. When Washington changed the archaic multi tiered distribution laws that have governed alcohol sales for decades, Hervet saw an opportunity to procure his favorite top-quality French wines as a direct importer, cutting out the various levels of middlemen, and offer the wines to local consumers at incredibly competitive prices. Julien and his wife, Marie-Astrid Dehoux Hervet, decided to expand on the import company by partnering with Christine and Patrick Morin, owners of La Parisienne French Bakery in Seattle, to offer their native France in a one-stop location in Bellevue — a wine bar called Cépaé. Cépaé (pronounced SEH-pay-eh) is an invented word pulling from the French word “cep,” meaning the trunk of the vine; the Latin word for bulb; and the French term “cépage,” meaning wine grape varietal.
As Eastside residents, the Hervets jumped at the chance to set up shop in Bellevue when new construction became available thanks to the city’s continuing real estate boom. Located on the ground floor of the southern building of the Soma Towers on the corner of 106th Avenue Northeast and Northeast Second Avenue, Cépaé features ample seating at tables, a bar, and a sunny southern patio. Unlike most wine bars, however, the focus is on tasting, with approximately 120 wines available by the half-ounce taste or five-ounce glass. Bottles are available for in-store consumption, but the goal is to provide customers with a chance to try the whole range of wines personally procured by Julien from his favorite winemakers in France — and leave with a bottle purchased at a competitive retail price to drink at home.
Glass pour prices range from $5 to $99 (85 percent are less than $20) with several “Aperitif” (aka Happy Hour) discounts between 4:30-6 p.m. On the top end of the spectrum, Hervet offers Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux and Premier Cru Burgundy, Grand and Premier Cru Champagnes, plus an impressive collection of wines from vineyards neighboring France’s top-rated vineyards. His finds are based on relationships with winemakers cultivated over years of destination research and recommendations from friends and family back in France. In addition to French wines, Cépaé also carries select wines from Italy, Spain, California, Oregon, and Washington, with a couple of outliers from Morocco and Japan.
“Wine is an emotion in a bottle,” said Julien, explaining that it’s meant to be an experience with interaction. “Share a meal; share a moment.”
Though Cépaé opened its doors in early July with a soft launch, its grand opening is slated for this month. It was highly anticipated by locals living upstairs in the towers and surrounding buildings who began patronizing the bar almost immediately, stopping in for a glass or two and a planche de fromage (a towering spectacle of seven cheeses served with freshly baked baguette slices), planche de la terre (charcuterie plate), a platter of mini croque madame topped with tiny golden quail eggs, salads, and various pastries from the adjacent La Parisienne counter.
“The tasting room is a great place for people to get to know us. We want people to come and share what we have discovered.” cepae.com