On a warm autumn day, I found myself on the sunny outdoor patio of Artifacts Cafe & Wine Bar. The small space inside the Lightcatcher opened its doors in November 2015. Though small, it is chockfull of wine of every kind. The museum had approached the owner of The Real McCoy asking if he’d like to open another location adjacent to the museum. He declined, but pointed the museum to his father, Jeff Wicklund, known to friends as Wick. Wick, a veteran of the wine business (he opened his first shop, Wicked Cellars, in Everett in 1996), had been wanting to open a wine bar in Bellingham. The heart of Bellingham’s vibrant art district seemed like an appropriate location.
Wick teamed up with James McClure and Ellen Sheen. Each team member brings different strengths to Artifacts. Wick brings his wine industry knowledge and connections to the table. McClure is in the import-export business, allowing him to travel constantly and take home ideas and various flavor profiles from abroad. Sheen, a former Starbucks employee, brings the necessary organization, service knowledge, and hospitality experience that directly contributes to Artifacts’ unique ambiance.
The idea behind the wine bar is simple. Wick explained since wine is an “Experienced-based commodity, we try to create an ambiance that’s very conducive to wine. It’s hard to get excited about fine wine when you’re next to the produce section in the grocery store.”
Artifacts’ goal is to create an experience with wine tastings and light nibbles. Inside, tall shelves of wine bottles overlook intimate tables. The covered outdoor patio allows for large groups to settle in, or a couple to snuggle in the corner. Space heaters keep the area comfortable even in the cooler months. Outside on the sidewalk, people-watchers can sip wine while observing families, dogs, and friends amble down the sidewalk. With the atmosphere set, it’s time to focus on the wine.
Artifacts cares a great deal about the products they pour into every glass and are honored to link their commodity to the museum’s exhibits. Wick said, “Respect the art form of wine, art and wine are fruit off the same vine.” At any given time there are about 100 bottles of wine and four offerings on tap. The tapped wine not only reduces Artifact’s carbon footprint, but also allows for better preservation, since the lines are air-tight, making for a great tasting pour to the very last drop.
The wine gurus choose quality wine based off personal taste. Keep in mind, though, they have refined palettes and the knowledge to choose “correct” wine. This means, “If a wine is from a particular area it should reflect the terroir of that area. It shouldn’t be McWine, which is what’s happened in recent years,” Wick said. Further boosting their impeccable wine selection, Artifacts has the upper hand with exclusivity and access to wines that may not be available anywhere else in the county.
Wine newbies, don’t fret! Artifacts isn’t looking to intimidate people. McClure wanted to be clear, Artifacts “wants to take the snobbery away from wine.” They host wine classes to help guests learn their taste profiles, decipher the complexities of pairing food with wine, and just generally learn more about wine. Artifacts’ Wine Club offers three tiers based on how much wine you’d like to receive monthly. The Club’s wines are determined based on a monthly theme or region, and celebrated with a special tasting night complete with food pairings. On these nights guests can expand their wine horizons by trying related wines.
Artifacts isn’t just about wine. They have an espresso machine and offer small breakfast options like scones, yogurt, and waffles. Ideally, a guest would stop by for coffee before heading into the museum, then relax with a glass of wine after viewing an exhibit.
While munching on truffle buttered toasts smeared with Artifacts’ rich truffle chicken liver mousse, I eavesdropped on a tasting with a vendor. In between sips of wine McClure and Wick chatted with the vendor about the wine’s flavors, the latest industry news, and even family news. Not only was it was a friendly, comfortable scene to watch, it demonstrated their dedication to wine and the experience that goes along with it.