Terra Sigillata

Local wine shops are to wine what ScienceBlogs.com is to science blogs – while perhaps imperfect, they are both good at directing you to unique sources and enriching flavors. With the proliferation of information and winemakers, we can all use some educated filtering guides.

i-b336c3bf20ba77b3d1b20d37d75ba778-WA_header_logo.gifAnd that is how I view outstanding local vendors of wine. People who know a lot more than I spend their careers seeking out and stocking their stores with underrecognized offerings and low volume quality wines while also contributing to public education on this wonderful, life-enriching beverage.

So I was delighted the other morning when PharmGirl left me a page ripped out of our most recent issue of Food & Wine magazine. In it our local wine merchant, Wine Authorities, was included in their Food Across America series under the header, “home of high-tech.”

The Wine Authorities co-owners are Seth Gross and Craig Heffley, both of whom came from careers in wine importing and distributing. Both struggle with the challenge of being Dads of very young kids and launching a small business. But both also come from a background of dedication to making wine approachable and understandable. In fact, they were very kind last fall to offer their store for a BlogTogether meetup of area bloggers.

The key to their store is their mission in specializing in estate grown wines; that is, wines that are made by the growers themselves. Unlike many supermarket wines that are middle-of-the-road mixtures of grapes from various unattributed vineyards, estate wines are about as close as you can get in wine to the roadside veggie stands one encounters in the summer. Low production from small plots of land allows these wines to express an individuality not often encountered in supermarket wines – the last wine I bought from Wine Authorities was from a parcel of land in France under 2 acres, and it was spectacular. (FYI, it was a 2006 Ch. Labranche-Laffont, Pacherenc du Vic Bilh doux.)

Three things make the Wine Authorities unique in the area. First, they maintain a “unit-dose” wine dispensing station in the rear of the store called an Enomatic that allows one to taste wine (in 1, 2.5, or 5 fl oz servings) before buying. Eight reds and four whites are always on the menu and you get the wine by loading a card with cash that then subtracts your purchase with each pour. Lenore Ramm at Eclectic Glob of Tangential Verbosity has a photo from the meetup.

The second techie feature is that the store keeps track of your wine purchases, giving you a printout of what you’ve bought, their tasting notes, suggestions on food pairing, and providing password-protected access to your order history. No more of, “uhh, Craig, uhh, ‘member when you had that Italian rosé that I liked – something – something – the words were Italian – remember?” No worries – they can pull up your past orders and get it for you, or something quite like it in the rare event they are out of stock.

Finally, Seth and Craig are wine enthusiasts, not wine snobs. Wine is for the people (hence their limited-edition T-shirts, “Enomatic For the People,” with the graphics from the R.E.M. album of similar name). The gents open their store and teach wine appreciation; they offer selections of daily, weekly, and splurge selections. They are committed to partnering with the local community and appeal to individuals and families alike, offering a living room area to enjoy your Enomatic selections and a children’s play area next to the adult “play area.”

Simply put, these are great guys and this is a great wine store with a desire and commitment to being part of the community. No pressure, no intimidation or attitudes, but you’ll still learn something new from Seth and Craig even if you are well-seasoned in your appreciation of wine. I love being able to keep my dollars in the local community and, if they go outside to France or New Zealand, they support small farmers and wine craftspersons. I also like how these gents approach their wares as an agricultural product – if you buy a single bottle of wine, it is wrapped in white paper that I associated as a kid with our local butcher – Seth pointed out to me that they want their customers to think of them as their local merchant and their products just as perishable as meats or vegetables (yes, the temps in your car in our southern US summers can completely kill a good bottle of wine).

Every town and city has to have a place like our Wine Authorities. As many of us, bloggers and readers, travel around the world and our respective continents, I’d love to have your suggestions for similarly unique wine stores in your community. Just drop a note and a link in the comments below or send me an e-mail. (more than one link in a comment triggers the filter to hold it for moderation – don’t be offended; I’ll approve it manually next time I log in – thx!)

Oh yeah, and congratulations to Seth and Craig on the Food & Wine ink!

Comments

  1. #1 Mary
    March 14, 2008

    Somerville, MA

    Two nice ones near me (and by near me, I mean walking distance, of course–no driving!):

    Ball Square Fine Wines has regular tastings. The newsletter lets you know by email.

    Wine and Cheese Cask actually sends a paper newsletter. Quite comprehensive and intriguing.

  2. #2 Ed Yong
    March 15, 2008

    “Finally, Seth and Craig are wine enthusiasts, not wine snobs. Wine is for the people”.

    So Seth and Craig are all about taking something that can be viewed as fairly elitist and impenetrable and bringing it to the everyman. People after my own heart :-)

    Also, that opening line should so go in the frontpage quote-box.

  3. #3 Abel Pharmboy
    March 15, 2008

    Thanks, Ed! If we can get you over here for ScienceOnline’09 I’ll bring you over there for a live Friday Fermentable.

  4. #4 speedwell
    March 16, 2008

    Fredericksburg, TX

    Three and a half hours away in the Wine Country of Texas (that’s “Texas local,” y’all) is a wonderful shop called the Fredericksburg Winery. The shop, I should say, is actually the front of the actual winery. It’s run by the Spitzer family, who also hold informal wine tastings for walk-ins… one of the most fun attractions of this little touristy town. Their wines are available only in their shop and by mail order.

    Part of their philosophy: “We believe wine is supposed to be fun. We believe the only thing you have to know about wine is what you like and what you do not like � the rest is nice to know � not need to know.”

    And although I am not a wine sophisticate by any means, I do know the difference between good wine and bad because a Spitzer took the time to carefully demonstrate six or eight wines for me until I was satisfied I knew what to buy.

    You can visit their site and order, if you like, at http://www.fbgwinery.com.

  5. #5 Drowned
    March 20, 2008

    If you ever find yourself in the UK, you could try searching out a local Laithwaites. They are a small chain (about 10 shops), but they have a different approach than other chains. The buyers look for the more interesting wines from smaller producers – so no Hardys or Blossom Hill etc to be found here. The people working in the shops do have a pretty reasonable degree of knowledge about their product, which is almost unheard of in the UK retail sector and they run monthly tasting classes. They have a tasting table with a selection of 10 – 12 wines available to test every day. They have yet to recommend a bad wine to me – which isn’t to say I’ve liked everything, but that was about personal preference, not the wine itself. And they also keep track of your previous purchases if you wish so that you can try and find a wine you liked previously. And they are also one of the only chains I have been in that sell wine at the more expensive end of the market, so they almost always have something to suit everyones budget and tastes. Plus the case deals can excellent value. And no, I am in no way affiliated with them!

    My favourite recommendation so far has been a white from Hungary that was promised to be so dry my mouth would feel drier when the wine was still in it than before/after I drank it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that was an almost perfect description of the wine.

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