by Corin Hirsch
Grape things are again afoot in Burlington (sorry). This April, L'Amante owners Kevin and Kathi Cleary will open a wine bar, store and event and education space steps away from their College Street restaurant.
"It will be completely different than anything else in Burlington, or Vermont. It will be all things wine," says Kevin Cleary, who is in the thick of renovations at 126 College Street to create a retail wine and cheese shop, a 36-seat wine bar and a glassed-in event and classroom area where he'll hold classes as part of Vermont Wine School.
The 3000-square-foot space will be called Uva — Italian for grape — and though Cleary is mum on the décor, the couple's trips to Italy have left their mark. "We love going to the small wine bars in Venice, Florence and Rome where it's a really laid-back and casual atmosphere, and you don't feel pressured to eat a whole meal," says Cleary.
A full menu would be difficult at Uva, as it will lack a kitchen; prepared food will be carried a few steps from L'Amante. The bar — where guests can order from a selection of 20 wines by the glass — will not be without sustenance, though. A hand-cranked slicer will dole out imported and local meats and cheeses alongside a menu of small plates and charcuterie.
Uva has been a long time coming. "It's one of those things. We've been here for 10 years, and after five years we had the itch to create something again," says Cleary, who has studied wine seriously for decades. Two years ago, he founded the Vermont Wine School, an outpost of the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and the only formal wine education center in Vermont. (Disclosure: I earned my Level 3 WSET certificate there.)
The new spot also solves at least two frustrations: For years, the Clearys have had to turn away scores of private functions; the glassed-in event space will enable them to cater those events, as well as hold more wine classes.
Another frustration was not being able to sell guests a wine they might be sipping at L'Amante. "People are constantly asking us, where can I buy this wine? And we would tell them who the importer is. Now, If you're drinking a glass of Barolo you like and you're walking out at 10 p.m., you can go over to the store and bring it home with you," says Cleary. (Vermont law calls for a strict demarcation between the retail space and the bar, so shopping with glass in hand is a no-no).
The store will start out with about 150 bottles, mostly French, Italian and Spanish, and will eventually expand the selection to 400. The initial cheese list — think taleggio, Parmagiano-Reggiano and local goat cheeses — will also grow to include a case filled with prepared sandwiches.
Will L'Amante bartender Ian Delorme be behind Uva's bar, or continue to man his post at the original resto? "You're not the first to ask that question," says Cleary with a chuckle, suggesting he might float between the two. Cleary adds, "The entire staff is going to be involved."