The good life: New Menlo Park business is about cars, cigars and wine

Drive a fancy car, sip some vintage wine and smoke an expensive cigar. For many, that’s not a bad way to spend a day.

And in Menlo Park, a new business on Constitution Drive off the Bayfront Expressway called Autovino caters to people with a taste for all three. It’s a storage facility for luxury automobiles, cigars and wine.

But to co-founder Buff Giurlani, Autovino is much more than that — a club, of sorts, where local car aficionados can come to take their luxury or high-performance vehicles for a spin, then sit back with their buddies, cigar and wine in hand.

Giurlani, a Woodside resident who owns commercial real estate and formerly worked in the food industry, began forming the idea behind Autovino a few years ago. He was looking for a new business venture, and being a Maserati owner, loves cars.

“There’s no one that talks about cars at home,” Giurlani said. “You don’t have a sense of a club, a community, and that’s what we want to create here, is a community of car people.”

He started thinking about RV storage, then storage for classic cars. One day the name “Autovino” popped into his head, and wine entered the picture.

“I loved the name, so I looked into it and here we are,” he said.

He founded the business with his friend, Dick Burns of Corona Del Mar, Calif. After spending much of the year preparing the building they bought, the owners started bringing cars in this fall, Giurlani said.

Inside the large warehouse space, a dozen cars — including a Lotus, a couple of Ferraris, Giurlani’s Maserati, three vintage race cars — gleam. Clients have signed up to bring in 10 or so more cars shortly, and the club could fit as many as 70 cars someday.

Though the business is just getting started, Giurlani has grand plans for it. Cars will swoop around to the back parking lot on a path outfitted with black-and-white racing checks, then pull into a small “trap room.” The cars won’t be driven into the showroom because their fumes would disturb the finely tuned atmospheric controls inside. Instead, when a car is turned off inside the trap room with the doors shut, an inside door will open and the car will be towed into place by an electric machine.

The showroom currently has a lounge area with leather couches and a coffee table full of car books and magazines. There’s also a racing simulator that allows guests to hit speeds that are illegal on the streets.

Another room with leather chairs, a TV and a sophisticated ventilation system is the cigar lounge.

Next to the lounge, Giurlani is finishing construction of the wine bar. In a room behind, a set of wood-paneled lockers will accommodate about 6,000 bottles of wine.

Soon, Autovino plans to make its own wine. Giurlani and Burns are finalizing the purchase of Woodside Vineyards on Kings Mountain Road, in Woodside. Next to the car showroom at Autovino is a large glassed-in area where they will install machinery and make the wine on-site. Someday, Giurlani says, Autovino clients might be able to order bottles of wine with photos of their car on the label.

Ultimately, Giurlani also hopes to create a second floor in the building with a trattoria-style restaurant.

For now, Giurlani says, he’s working to attract “members” to Autovino. He offers a range of services, starting with basic car storage for around $350 a month. Under more expensive packages, Autovino will transport members’ cars to local racetracks, or allow a member to host an event at the club. Members can get picked up or dropped off in a 1963 Pontiac limousine.

Giurlani said he’s not worried about starting such a luxury-based business in a down economy.

“Most of the people in our projected clientele, they still have their cars and they still need places to keep their cars,” he said.

Dan Davis, chairman of Victory Lane, Inc. based in Palo Alto, publishes an international magazine about vintage car racing and has been collaborating with Giurlani. The Bay Area is one of the most active places in the world for vintage race car enthusiasts, he said.

“It’s a real need to have this kind of club, where auto enthusiasts can gather and enjoy each other’s company,” Davis said. “Not only can they store their car, they can show it off to their friends.”


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