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GENEVA (Reuters Life!) - Security cameras, codes, a double key system, and a two-tonne vault may seem a bit much for a few bottles of wine, but the owners of the fine vintages kept by Au Bonheur du Vin in the heart of Geneva sleep easy.
Situated right beneath a private bank in Geneva and dedicated to people who love their wines, the vault which used to store gold for a Swiss bank is now one of the safest commercial wine cellars in Switzerland.
Built in 1988 as a nuclear shelter for the bank staff, with a safe and one meter-thick walls, the bank and its basement are also surrounded with a fence on pillars in case of earthquake.
Open since 2008, Au Bonheur du Vin currently houses 37,000 bottles for 137 clients and has room for 100,000 bottles in total.
Le Caviste" and manager Filip Opdebeeck has a passion for wine, and looks after such rare vintages as Chateau d'Yquem 1899. His oldest bottle is a Madeira dated to 1850.
"There is a relationship of trust between the owners and myself," Opdebeeck told Reuters.
Open to anyone at a cost of about 0.25 Swiss francs ($0.23) per bottle per month, the cellar has no temperature variations, smells, light or vibrations and keeps its humidity constant.
Confidentiality rules are strictly respected as only one client can enter the safe at a time. There are no names on boxes and only the client's individual code appears on each box.
A Wine Stock Exchange has been created for bottles stored in the cellar. Owners can buy and sell bottles from the safe. Transactions for bottles outside the safe will only be agreed to if the wines have been stored in the identically strict conditions adhered to by Au Bonheur du Vin.
Transactions are made electronically on www.aubonheurduvin.ch and are anonymous.
With over nine years of experience in the wine industry Opdebeeck also offers his expertise and advice to owners looking to buy and sell wines. But he says wine should not be considered strictly as an investment.
"The wine is meant to be drunk rather than being a speculative commodity," he said.
Bankers, diplomats and corporate expats from Geneva and around the world make up the clients who store their precious bottles there. Most have good knowledge of wine and own between 200 and 2,000 bottles.
Going abroad with bottles of wine is not easy due to the difficulties of storage conditions in transportation, the high risk of having them stolen, import taxes or the dearth of suitable and safe cellars abroad.
Some of Au Bonheur du Vin's clients live abroad, have been posted abroad from Switzerland or are using the wine bank as temporary storage until they are settled in a new country.
One client has been relocated to Singapore and is attached to his precious bottles, some of which are for his children and have been purchased to reflect the years of their births.
Editing by Paul Casciato