Let It Pour

Let It Pour: Is a nascent wine district forming in Raleigh?

CorrespondentNovember 17, 2013 

SEABOARDWINE-AL-111413-JEL

The downtown wine scene has changed considerably since Seaboard Wine Warehouse opened 17 years ago.

JULI LEONARD — jleonard@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

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    It won’t be long before the season of eating is upon us – that time of year when tables are laden with rich, heavy food, and hosts are tempted to pour weighty red wines to complement the weather. Showing up with a light, bright white could make you the most popular guest at the party. 99 Vines Pinot Grigio from Lodi, Calif., is an ideal choice. Its sunny, pale color recalls late-afternoon summer sunshine. It is almost weightless on the tongue and the finishing notes of melon and citrus are smooth but not sweet. It’s a great way to spread some light in the dark days of winter.

If a rising wine tide lifts all oenophile boats, then downtown Raleighites will soon be living in an age of top-shelf juice bliss.

In the next few months the number of locally owned wine shops within two miles of my house in downtown Raleigh will jump from three to five. That’s pretty remarkable, considering that nine short years ago when I moved here, there was just one – Seaboard Wine Warehouse – within walking distance.

A look around at the single-home construction and apartment buildings going up in and around downtown bears witness to the area’s booming population. But can we really support five wine shops?

“The more the merrier,” said Craig Heffley, who is preparing to open a downtown Raleigh version of his popular Durham Wine Authorities. “If this becomes the wine district of Raleigh, I’d love it. … The thing about it is we all have different products and we all have different focuses.”

When Seaboard Wine Warehouse started selling its carefully selected inventory 17 years ago, its focus was on being downtown’s only wine shop. This was long before Tyler’s Tap Room, 18 Seaboard or Phydeaux moved into the Shops at Seaboard Station and helped it become the anchor of downtown’s north end.

Seaboard was the first wine shop I knew of that kept a record of what you buy, so that when you come in and say “I want that wine I got last time …” they know what you’re talking about. This month, Seaboard announced a new feature, a Le Verre de Vin dual preservation system, which uses vacuum technology to keep opened bottles of still and sparkling wine fresh. It’s similar to the preservation systems The Raleigh Wine Shop and Wine Authorities use to serve by-the-glass tastes of their inventory.

In 2010, as downtown grew, local convenience store king Taiseer “Taz” Zarka and his wife, Gigi, opened a wine and tobacco shop on Martin Street. Then in 2011 came The Raleigh Wine Shop on Glenwood South. Gleaming hardwood floors and a sleek tasting bar made it downtown’s shiny new star. Its inventory offers a wide range of prices, and the worldly selections show a deep understanding of terroir. Plus they sell locally made sausage, cheese and crackers from a cold case in the back.

Wine life was getting better in my ZIP code.

Soon after, Phillip Zucchino and his partner opened Wine Feed, a shop without a retail bricks-and-mortar presence that distinguished itself with its wine classes and home delivery, via bike courier when possible. Now, Wine Feed is opening a full-fledged shop, which will include a wine bar, on the ground floor of the recently opened Hampton Inn building on Glenwood South, about half a mile from The Raleigh Wine Shop.

Zucchino says the new store will complement Wine Feed’s online sales and provide a small wine bar that stays open until 10 p.m. four nights a week. He isn’t worried about the number of wine shops downtown.

“There’s a lot of demand for wine here,” he said. “There’s a growing market and downtown Raleigh is a growing area. We’re not Brooklyn or New York, where there’s a wine shop on every corner. I think the downtown area and the greater Raleigh area can support this number of shops.”

Wine Authorities’ Heffley agrees.

Durhamites know how Heffley and his crew delight in making wine fun and accessible. What they might not know is that he had his sights set on a Raleigh store before he opened the first one in Durham. The space Heffley picked, on North Person Street just a few blocks from the Krispy Kreme, is now lighting up with retail ventures, bringing new life to the nearby Mordecai and Oakwood neighborhoods.

“You’ve got these great neighborhoods and little downtown growing out these ways,” Heffley said.

As a resident of one of those great neighborhoods, I hope to see each of these wine shops thrive. If it turns out that my neighborhood becomes “the wine district of Raleigh” it will know for sure that the gods are smiling on me.

Amber Nimocks is a former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at amberwrites.com.

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