Musicians hitting up South Champlain Street's Advance Music for a Marshall amp or new set of guitar strings might soon discover another reason to linger: Artfully displayed in a brick-walled nook are a couple dozen bottles of wine for sale, alongside handwritten, irreverent notes such as "I hate Chardonnay, but I love this one!'
It might seem incongruous for a music store to be hawking wine — guitars are more often tied to beer, after all — but co-owner Mike Trombley (pictured) says most of the people who work at Advance are really into the vino. So when patron (and neighbor) Mike Stolese of Vermont Wine Merchants suggested, "You ought to do something different over here," the idea clicked into place.
The road to wine retail was longer than expected, though. The store obtained its liquor license last summer, but not before three visits from the city. "The city was like, 'What are you doing?'" says Trombley with a shrug, recalling their puzzlement. After Advance was licensed, a separate project kept the staff from diving in for another few months.
Stolese eventually held a tasting for Trombley and crew, who settled on a broad cull of their favorites, from a Spanish Albariño to a California Zinfandel. "We picked some cool stuff," says Trombley, surveying the range of choices, from a $9.99 Portugese Vinho Verde to an Alain Jaume 2007 Chateauneuf du Pape that retails for $48.99.
The bottle that dissolved Trombley's aversion to Chardonnay is a Santa Barbara Winery Chardonnay; this lighter version, he explains, made him realize that his disdain was for the oaky butterbomb Chards that crowd the market, not for the grape itself. Waving a greenish bottle of Honig Sauvignon Blanc high in the air, he exults, "This Honig stuff is just really, really, really good!"
Other bottles were chosen for more jocular reasons: A B.R. Cohn Chardonnay is made by one of the Doobie Brothers, and the label of a 2008 Fetish Playmates Barossa Valley features a silhouetted vixen. (Inside is a blend of Shiraz, Mataro and Grenache).
Though Trombley stresses that the staffers are not wine experts, he can hold forth on cork-free zorks and fermentation with the ease of a true oenophile. Even so, the handwritten hangcards mostly eschew tasting notes and are instead covered with phrases such as "Take a walk on the wild side..." (next to a Finca Vieja Tempranillo) or "Zorks off to you" (next to the Plungerhead Old Vine Lodi ZInfandel).
The store has only been selling wine for a week and a half; so far, they've sold about 15 bottles. Advance will soon be adding bottles of Cayuga White from Shelburne Vineyards, a fridge to keep a few whites chilled, and a mission statement that'll be mounted on the wall. "We often have to explain this [to customers]," says Trombley. The staff might also position bottles and glasses atop the ornate 1892 Story & Clark pump organ in the room's corner.
Trombley says they aren't trying to compete with nearby wine shops such as Dedalus and Burlington Wine Shop; rather, the nook is for customers, for those who wander in, and for "moms and pops bringing their kids in for lessons." The beauty of being across the street from their wholesaler, he adds, is that the store only needs to keep a few bottles of each wine on hand, running across the street to grab more as they need to.
Occasionally they might dart past a 7D staffer making the reverse commute. It's about 99 steps from our front door — not that anyone's counting.