Joe O’Keefe says wine is meant to be shared.
And he has seen it every day since he opened his shop, Wine 101, on Rogers Road in Wake Forest four years ago.
“People fall in love with a wine and they buy a case,” O’Keefe said. “And then they are back right away because they gave it away. It happens every time.”
In the past few years, North Raleigh and its surrounding communities have seen a new crop of wine stores like Wine 101 open for business. The shops are retail outlets for customers looking to buy a bottle or two and take advantage of the staffs’ expertise when it comes to selections and food pairings. But they are also places for wine and beer enthusiasts to gather and enjoy their favorite beverages.
Gary Taylor, owner of Cellar 275 in Wake Forest, said the focus of his business is pairing wines and customers. But Cellar 275 is inside The Factory shopping, sports and entertainment complex, and he knew many of his customers would be parents with down time between their children’s activities. So he also has comfortable seating and a soothing décor that lends itself to sitting and sipping.
Taylor said that over the years, the appetite for good wine has changed.
“It used to be red, white and rosé,” Taylor said. “Just like The Food Network has exposed people to different foods, there is a demand for different wines.”
Taylor said customers have learned not to be intimidated by all the wine that is available.
And O’Keefe adds that customers should trust their palates because they know more about wine than they think they do.
“It’s just like music,” O’Keefe said. “They don’t know why they like it, but they want more and more.”
The new coffeehouse
Tony Fox, owner of Uncorked in North Raleigh’s Falls River Town Center, said his wine shop and café is a gathering spot.
“People like to come in and sit down and taste,” Fox said. “It’s parallel to what coffee shops were 15 years ago.”
Before he opened Uncorked, Fox visited other wine bars and decided he would feature self-service wine dispensers.
“The younger generation is more tech-oriented and doesn’t necessarily want to deal with waiters and waitresses,” Fox said. Uncorked offers 48 wines by the glass in its self-serve machines.
O’Keefe said he has resisted adding more seating around his tasting bar and dispensers because his customers really like talking in small groups while standing in the shop.
“It’s about coming out and seeing each other,” O’Keefe said. “They are ignoring calls and they aren’t texting everybody and their brother. They text more in their cars than in my shop.”
In the spirit of community gatherings, Cellar 275 hosts the Wake Forest Area Road Runners every Thursday. Group runs begin and end at the shop, and Taylor offers post-workout specials.
The business of wine
The owners of the local wine shops say they are competitive because they offer an experience that is different from shopping for wine at grocery stores and big-box retailers.
The emphasis on tastings, food and self-service varies from shop to shop. “I am first and foremost a wine retailer,” Taylor said.
And O’Keefe adds, “the best way to be profitable is for people to buy wine.”
But by offering customers the opportunity to socialize while tasting, talking and learning about wine, the new breed of wine shops, bars and cafés continue to grow in popularity.
“We live in an area where the neighborhoods have embraced us,” O’Keefe said. “They go the extra mile to hang out and shop.”
Customer Jodi Bulmer agrees.
“The people are nice, knowledgeable and super easy to talk to, and there is no wine snobbery,” Bulmer said. “I also love that they are close to home. Great wines and neat places to sit and catch up with friends.”