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.
And 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!)