Lucy Mathews Heegaard, blogger at www.thethirstykitten.com, enters the indies competition by choosing one of her 'little guys' with a big name. (The Wine Shop of Minnetonka? Sounds like the title of a movie!)
It's no secret that we are big fans of the 'little guys' of the wine making world – the independent, family-owned wineries with small production, a hands-on attitude and tremendous passion for creating the best possible wines they can produce.
But today we'd like to pay homage to another type of 'little guy' in the wine business. Yes, we're talking about your local wine shop, the small, independent retailer who knows your name, knows your tastes and is passionate about helping you find the right bottle for a special occasion or no occasion at all, for that matter.
Luckily for us, our favorite independent wine shop happens to be the one that is closest to our own home. Having a special affinity for straightforward names – after all, we named our own cat, 'Cat' – we appreciate that The Wine Shop of Minnetonka leaves no doubt about where their focus and passion lies. In fact, proprietor Ryan Sadowski got into the business precisely because of his long-time fascination and study of wine.
When I stopped in recently to stock up on champagne and sparkling wine, general manager Tyler was on duty with no shortage of excellent suggestions. Like a master storyteller, he talks with great animation about each wine he suggests, telling of the grape, the region, the winery and the people who work there. Having carefully selected each wine the store carries, he is every bit as knowledgeable and passionate about the offerings on the lower end of the price spectrum as the higher end, so I know I will always leave with something great no matter what my price point.
When I asked Tyler about being an independent retailer competing with the 'big guys' of today's wine retail world, he noted that he actually likes the creative niche that small stores like The Wine Shop can fill. Speaking of the mega stores, he said, 'They follow the trends. We set them.' He went on to explain his love for the hunt of finding the lesser-known, new players, creative and passionate winemakers who are producing amazing wines but not charging exceptional prices. 'Just like art, once discovered, these new wines usually rise significantly in price', he said. Yet the constant process of unearthing new and promising producers keeps him energised and excited.
Other things to love about The Wine Shop? They routinely host events with visiting wine makers, bringing an intriguing spectrum of producers right to our neighborhood. They partner with the restaurant adjacent to them to allow customers to bring wines purchased from the shop into the restaurant without any corkage fee, a rare treat as it allows us to select from the endless options on their shelves and saves us from paying the traditional, hefty restaurant mark-up. They know us and our tastebuds and are always on target with their recommendations.
Like so much in life, a personal touch and connection is often the difference between a good experience and an extraordinary one. And the nuances and characters in the stories behind the wines we sip brings precisely that connection. The 'little guys' like our friends at The Wine Shop are exactly the people who understand this best.