Rows upon rows of bottles with unfamiliar labels, sporting foreign verbiage, split up by region or color or whether they go well with a Chilean sea bass Ñ Jason Bursey knows wine shops can be intimidating.
ÒWhen you walk in the door, youÕre kind of overwhelmed and thatÕs why people go to Giant,Ó he said. ÒWe want them to feel comfortable here.Ó
Bursey is the co-owner of the new Ashburn Wine Shop, 44050 Ashburn Shopping Plaza, Suite 159. The store, located in a brand new portion of a strip mall, has the familiar trappings of a traditional wine shop: wooden racks holding dozens of bottles, geographically divided by category as well as by nation and by state.
Then that big, flat-screen television in the back of the shop catches your eye Ñ the one right across from the stunning dark wood wine bar. ItÕs a symbolic set-up: Get through the intimidating racks of intricate labels and thereÕs fun to be had.
ÒThatÕs going to be our main area for wine tastings here in the store,Ó said Sergio Mendes, another co-owner. ÒWeÕre going to have winemakers, weÕre going to have wine distributors and ourselves doing tastings and giving descriptions about the wines.Ó
Mendes said he wants his shop to make wine fun for people who are intimidated by the process of selecting a bottle or who believe their curiosity about the differences between wines should end at the supermarket shelves.
ÒWe like to work with people if theyÕre beginners in wine,Ó said Mendes. ÒItÕs like a golfer: You donÕt want someone learning bad habits, wasting their time with something they may not like.Ó
MENDES IS a first generation American, as his family had made wine in Portugal for decades. He lived for 24 years in Maryland before moving to Virginia three years ago.
He and his brother, Victor, opened a wine shop in Vienna in 1998; over the next decade, Mendes said the market became saturated. ÒThis area looked like a great opportunity to bring some new labels to people and show them thereÕs another way to buy wine.Ó
The Ashburn Wine Shop will focus on small production labels. ÒWe carry a lot of labels you wonÕt find in the local grocery stores. We also do a lot of labels that are small production: 250 cases, where they do wines that are 30,000 cases,Ó said Bursey, who grew up in Winchester.
The shop will not sacrifice affordability for that specificity. Bursey said that around 75 percent of the labels the store carries right now are between $10-$30, catering to a clientele that isnÕt looking for a high-end bottle on a weekly basis.
That said, Mendes said he wants his shop to attract local wine connoisseurs seeking more expensive labels as well. ÒYou have to bring them out. You just have to find the right bait,Ó he said.
PART OF THAT bait, besides offering off-the-radar wines from around the world, is through the shopÕs aggressive calendar of events, which can be found on its Web site, www.ashburnwineshop.com.
ThereÕs a Tuesday night ÒmenÕs nightÓ and a Thursday night ÒladiesÕ night.Ó Friday night will feature a Òwine down,Ó as customers can sample wines for their weekend plans. Mendes said he also expects to have a consistent stream of people from the industry and wine enthusiasts speak and give presentations on selected nights.
But what it all comes back to for Mendes and Bursey is ensuring that their customers get the expertise, education and friendly advice to enhance their wine-drinking experience.
ÒWe want people to go home, try the wine, get a smile on their face and then call here the next day to thank us for the suggestion,Ó said Mendes. ÒThereÕs no better feeling.Ó