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  • Guest contributor
3 Sep 2014

You'd expect popularity and multiple votes for a wine shop in a big city like New York or London, but when it's from a town with a population of 12,000 in the sleepy state of Vermont, it's enough to make anyone sit up straight. Windham Wines, in the historical old town of Brattleboro, has already been reviewed once, but when five more competition entries followed, we felt they all deserved to be read.


Susan Dedell converts bulk buyers.

The following is a true story.

I have friends who I dearly love, and with whom my husband and I shared dinners frequently. Their singular only flaw is that they typically served truly terrible wines with their genuinely lovely meals. It remains a mystery as to why otherwise generous and discerning people chose to buy the $3.99 special from the local pharmacy -- IN BULK, it would seem - but there you have it. On one memorable oocasion, one of these already mouth puckering reds was brought out after having been opened and left on the counter some several days earlier. 'It might be a wee bit vinegary, but I think it is drinkable,' quoth our dear friend, and it was 'such a bargain!'

Meanwhile, my own wine palate had been gradually expanding, thanks in no small part to the expert guidance of Marty Ramsburg and Frank Larkin, owners of Windham Wines in Brattleboro, VT. Marty and Frank provide a beautiful selection of hand-curated wines, ranging in price point, but always delicious. Marty and Frank get to know their customers, and are able to provide a highly personalized visit to the wine store. Marty knows, for instance, that I love complex whites, and she recently steered me towards some new Italian bottles. 'This would be incredible with the fresh ricotta from Vermont Shepherd and your own garden peas', she enthused. And how right she was!!

But back to my friends. My own subtle attempts at helping the awkward situation were ineffectual. Bringing wine to their house was quite often a bust, as they would usually have a bottle already opened and waiting. Even though we frequently enthused about a wine we had recently enjoyed (not forgetting to mention its affordability); even though we tried by example to serve lovely (but affordable) wines when they dined with us; even though we continued to gift them with delicious (but affordable) bottles -- still yet we encountered the dreaded bottle of plonk along with their lovely smiling faces.

I shared this dilemma with Marty and Frank, who mused with me upon the nature and philosophy of hospitality and gratitude. It came to me at once, that if my friends knew Marty and Frank, a vineous miracle could occur. With the warmth and humanity that is the mark of these two remarkable individuals, I knew that a trip to Windham Wines was the answer. It was not terribly difficult to steer them there, as it happened. With a special dinner to be held at my house, I requested my friends to stop by Windham Wines and pick up a bottle from Frank and Marty. It only took one visit to the store, and one conversation with Frank and Marty to convince my friends that wine could be delicious, interesting, AND affordable!

Marty and Frank are a genuine, kind, and engaging couple who love both wine and the people they serve. They give of themselves not only to their customers, but to the larger community, doing benefit tastings for non-profit organizations, donating services and product to help support arts and social service fund raisers, and helping create special events with personalized attention and integrity. Windham Wines is a gem in our midst, and Marty and Frank make it possible.


Paul Dedell agrees with his wife Susan, it's a place to fall in love with.

We live in the small but vibrant town of Brattleboro, Vermont. Brattleboro has a fascinating history of novelty and innovation. In the 19th century, people flocked to Brattleboro to take the healing waters, which in reality was the freezing crystal clear Whetstone Brook that joins the much larger Connecticut River in the center of town. Bridging the centuries, Brattleboro became noted as the leading manufacturer of reed and pipe organs, which were sold throughout the world. In 1951, eminent pianist Rudolph Serkin created the internationally lauded Marlboro Music Festival, paving the way for Brattleboro to become known as a haven for artists of all kinds. In the 1960s, young people disaffected by the growing consumer and militaristic society drove their VW busses to Brattleboro to create a new community and reconnect to the land. Through it all, agriculture and farming sustained the area.

It is no surprise, then, that Brattleboro - with it's ongoing history of tourism, individuality, arts, and connection to the land - is today also known for its expanding food consciousness. It is surrounded by small family farms specializing in organic produce, meat, and cheese, has a vibrant year-round farmer's market, and a large food cooperative anchoring the south end of downtown. It was in this environment that Marty Ramsburg and Frank Larkin opened the doors of their delightful and beautiful wine store, Windham Wines, in 2006.

Marty and Frank are very special people. Coming from a background of academia, she as a college professor and he as a long time elementary school teacher, they share their passion for all things wine with their appreciative customers with the engaging and illuminating manner that must have made them equally valued by their former students. Windham Wines offers over 500 different wines from around the world, as well as a small select beer collection. Each bottle has been carefully selected and esteemed by the owners with not only their own tastes in mind, but those of their community as well. It is such a pleasure to walk into the store, be greeted as the friends we have become (they have an incredible memory for the names of their customers), talk dinner plans, and leave in complete satisfaction with the perfect wine at the right price. Marty and Frank are passionate about educating their customers about wine, and to that end design fun and fascinating tastings from around the world - often from small vineyards that are leading the way in sustainable and environmentally conscious growing methods. They are also passionate about supporting their community in myriad generous ways, such as holding an annual wine tasting fundraiser for the AIDS Project of Southern Vermont, partnering creative tastings with local artisans of all kinds (imagine a wine tasting paired with a violin builder!), and donating their services and support to countless non-profit organizations.

Windham Wines, in the embodiment of Marty and Frank, is a real gift to the community. In an area that has a history of putting quality of life at the top of the list, and a long time relationship with agriculture and sustainability, Windham Wines is the perfect complement for both the wine lover and those looking to fall in love.


Sheila Morse describes a merchant who knows more about her than she does herself.

You've asked for a description of what makes a wine shop compelling and unique. I'm so happy to provide you with a paean to Windham Wines in Brattleboro, Vermont.

I moved back to this area (after 40+ years away) from a suburb of Boston, where I was a loyal customer and fan of Lower Falls Wine in Newton, Massachusetts.

But, as much as I liked the owners, shop, service, and selection of that store, this is about Windham Wines and the owners, Marty Ramsburg and Frank Larkin, who have taken my wine appreciation to an entirely different (higher) level!

My first date with my partner was in the wine bar adjacent to their shop, then located in down town Brattleboro. (We had a glorious evening!) I had just started to buy wine locally because my mother had gone in to purchase a bottle and so enjoyed meeting the owners that she recommended we go in to check out them, their shop, and their selection. I mean, who can develop a relationship with a grocery store chain?! Marty and Frank invited us to a wine tasting, and then to a series of wine tastings; they have played a significant part in initiating and expanding our social circle in a new community. I mean, who better to befriend than fellow wine lovers?

Eight years later --

I send them a photo of the wines I have in my cellar, relate details of the meal I'll be serving, and ask for a recommendation. It's cheerfully delivered in minutes.

I call from the road because I realize I'm out of (whatever) and the shop will be closed when I get back home and need it for entertaining, or just a regular weeknight dinner. I leave it to Marty to organize the selection and then she offers to deliver it to my home!

They've done their best to expand the selection of South Africa wines (somewhat limited by distributorship rules in our State) because I'm partial to them.

They know what I buy (yes, computerization helps but that's not the whole of it) and what I like; they know how my taste differs from that of my sister's and cater equally well to both; and they are honest about what I should and should not buy. I mean, I can't for the life of me remember specifics, despite the vats of wine I've consumed, but they are the best personal librarians one could ever ask for!

When we travel to Italy or wherever, we are provided with introductions to vineyards and indulged quite a bit more than we would be on our own.

It's delightful to walk into their shop. It has a fabulous inventory, and is a beautifully designed and welcoming place, made all the more so because of their genuine delight at each and every customer AND their avid interest in our lives. I mean, I can barely remember the names of all my nieces and nephews, but they keep track, AND ask for details.

They care deeply about the community and are true supporters and expanders of the Locavore movement -- not just food but local artists, institutions, and organizations.

My life, and that of my family and friends, has been enriched by Marty and Frank, as individuals and as owners of their wonderful shop, and I hope this relationship endures for decades!

Thanks for this opportunity to go on about people and a place I love so much!


Rex Howland moved expecting fruit trees and apple pie, and instead found fine wine, culture and a part-time job.

Three years ago I moved from Greenwich, Connecticut, to the Vermont/New Hampshire region of the USA. Moving from a town which is in close proximity to NYC and in a region ripe with culture and access to great wines, my two fears were that that there would little culture and a dearth of good wine shops with knowledgeable staff. Without fully checking out the situation with wine stores I took the plunge and moved.

The wine industry and wine has been a passion of mine since I began employment with a company which owned wineries in Washington State and California. Now retired from that company, I have been left with a deep appreciation for wine. Hence the important question as to whether I could find stores with good wine selections and even more importantly, wine store owners with a deep love and passion for grapes and wine and knowledge to match that love and passion.

New Hampshire ended up being my state of residence and in terms of access to good wines, it was more than adequate. It has state wine liquor stores which carry a wide selection of wines. So access to wines was settled. But now where was I going to go to really learn about the wines and grapes, history of the wine maker and winery, growing conditions for particular regions and years, etc? I made new friends and was just about to start a new job, but had no answer to that question for the first three months in my new state. I found myself driving back to Greenwich once in a while to visit my wine store friends and catching upon wine news and trying wines from new wineries (new to me) and exploring selections from different wine regions.

Then it happened. I was reading the local newspaper checking on events for the upcoming weekend and listed under Saturday events was a wine tasting in downtown Brattleboro Vermont at the Windham Wine Store. I know nothing about this store, but if nothing else though it would be a good way to meet other wine enthusiasts. The wines were from a country I have never had wines from before and food was provided to match up with the wines we tasted. Grumbling to myself about the difficulty in finding a parking space, I was greeted by the two owners of Windham Wines and immediately had this sense that I had found my wine store. Marty and Frank knew this was a first time for me at their store and one of their tasting events, so took care to explain how the event would unfold and introduced me to some of the 'regulars.' What followed was a informative and passionate description of the country, growing conditions, the wineries, wine makers, the grapes grown and the resulting aromas and flavors in our glass. I have been to many different wine tastings over the years and had never experienced a tasting that took so much care and thought into what foods to pair appropriately with the wines and to describe the wines we tasted.

I knew I now had a store which would offer a range of wines many different countries with owners who were very knowledgeable and passionate about the wines they offered. Over the next two years my relationship with the store has progressed to volunteer pourer at larger wine tasting events to enable Marty to concentrate more on her presentation of the wines and guest wine taster when distributors visit to preview wines for Marty and Frank. I count among my close friends not only Marty and Frank, but some of the frequent patrons of their store.

So what is so special about the store? It starts with the two owners who share a deep deep passion of grapes and wine and all that goes into making wine. Marty and Frank pay attention to their customers and learn what wines, each of us as customers, prefer. Not just the grape varieties but what tastes we like in certain varietals. I, for one, still prefer a chardonnay with some oak undertones to it. Marty knows and remembers that when I ask her for a recommendation. They are also very skilled in helping customers determine what wines will go best with specific foods and dishes. Many a time I have rushed into the store at the end of a day to tell them what I am cooking for dinner and ask what wines should I buy to serve with the dinner. buying wine at their store can be an educational experience each time I go in. Not only for me but for most customers.

The wine distributor wine tastings I am invited to attend I liken to company team meetings. A group us sit around a table, listen to the descriptions of the wineries and wines from the distributor, we taste the wines and each of us describes what we tasted, what food pairing we think the wine would compliment, and how the wine would be received by customers that frequent Windham Wines. Marty takes notes and makes her decisions on what wines to order based on the collective input of those tasting the wines.

Windham wines has elevated my knowledge and passion for wine and little did I expect that this would happen in a geographic area more noted for its beautiful rural nature. I am grateful I attended that first wine tasting and met such wonderful wine store owners who truly care about their customers and seek to elevate their customer's knowledge of grapes, wine, and wine making.


Roberto Gautier finds an oasis in a wine wasteland.

As someone who lives between Brooklyn, New York and Bellows Falls, Vermont, I have enjoyed the offerings and the offerers at Windham Wines on Main Street in Brattleboro, Vermont, since I discovered it a few years ago.

Marty and Frank set a beautiful, informed and humble tone. Early in this decade I owned a small wine bar in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill at a moment when it was on the verge of being trendy and unaffordable. I also studied the marketing of artisanal products in Basilicata, Italia, in a program sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the consortium of Aglianico del Vulture. When I moved to southern Vermont with my family in 2005, I loved the fresh air, quiet and the local cheeses. But in terms of my long-established love of wine as part of my genetic heritage, Vermont was a bit of a wasteland. When I discovered Windham Wines, I especially enjoyed the catholic selection, the price points and, above all, the exceptional human skills in the shop.

As we all know, WINE in capital letters can be daunting. It is too often presented snobbishly. Wine shop customers are frequently crushed by staff that approach people looking for a bottle of wine as inferior beings. Not Marty and her staff. And, Marty is always open to suggestions and her selection would be respected in any wine-savvy area.

This is my vote for the so-called little people who are sadly under seige along with all of the Mom & Pop stores of an under-rated era.


Windham Wines
Black Mountain Square, 972 Putney Rd
Brattleboro
Vermont 05301
United States
+1 802 246 6400
info@windhamwines.com
www.windhamwines.com