Championing Ohio Wines, Vino Where You Live
The regionally-themed Paris wine bar Le Reserve de Quasimodo has been serving clients continuously since the 1200’s. But the concept of a regionally-themed wine bar in the Midwest has almost no history. Now, Tom and Laura Noonen want to rock the wine bar world — by putting Ohio wines toe-to-toe with international and national labels and demonstrating that Ohio wines will hold up to stiff competition.
The co-owners of Vino Where You Live, a wine bar in Mt. Vernon, keep about 200 wines on hand, selecting from 35 Ohio wineries. Tom and Laura choose bottles that are unique, handcrafted reflections of the winemaker’s passion for grapes and the artistic process of winemaking. Each week, on average 50 people come through the wine bar, spending $4-$12 per glass, depending on bottle price.
‘We try to find small lots, small batches, biodynamic, interesting and quirky wines,” says Laura. ‘What a customer saw on the shelves six months ago isn’t going to be there when she comes back.”
‘I intentionally run a very tight inventory. We don’t cellar at all unless there’s a reason, as, for example, for some wineries, you have to pre-order. The intent is that it’s always something new…whatever we think is current and fresh.” To keep a fresh inventory, each week the Noonens order on average four to five cases of primarily Ohio wines, through four distributors and directly from wineries.
Laura — an international trader for retail companies by day — is the kind of person who follows through on a good idea. ‘The genesis for Vino Where You Live came from Laura’s getting an Ohio wine as a gift 15 years ago,” recalls Tom, who has a nursing background, but is now in the family business full time. Sadly, neither remembered the name of the winery that started it all. ‘She liked the wine and then we found out [Ohio wines] are hard to find. That started the concept — wouldn’t it be cool to be a one-stop focal point for local wine?”
‘Laura began seeking out properties, but we were limited by township since only two townships, Clinton and Pleasant, had Class D liquor licenses available. That limited our property search, and when this house and grounds became available, we bought it in March 2009.” Vino Where You Live opened to the public in November, 2009.
Their Ohio flight menu recently featured sweet whites from Wyandotte Winery and Ferrante; sweet reds from Valley Vineyards; dry whites from Firelands and Burnet Ridge; plus dry reds from Ferrante and South River. They also keep well-known national labels on the shelf for people who want a familiar wine. However, to show off local flavors, they encourage that any wine be tasted alongside an Ohio wine.
See related story: Southern Ohio Wine Renaissance
Opening a 6,000 square feet house on a stunning 5.5 acres that was previously a showcase for local landscaper Mark Meier and his interior designer wife Mary, wasn’t a walk in the park. Tom and Laura spent six figures transforming the property, including turning a mudroom into a commercial kitchen, the former kitchen into a tasting bar, and the ‘acoustically perfect” Great Room into a dining and music area. Downstairs, the basement took a new lease on life as an art gallery.
Indoors, Vino Where You Live seats an intimate crowd of 55-60 people, and outdoors an additional 30. For their popular acoustic and unplugged music nights, reservations top out at 32 people, allowing regulars to chat and get to know new folks.
It can be tough sharing an enthusiasm for Ohio wines. Tom’s story of one business meeting is enough to make local vintners shake their heads or cringe. ‘I started going to Chamber of Commerce meetings and telling people, ‘we’re opening a wine bar!’ Normally, they’d say, ‘That’s great!’ and then I’d say, ‘We’re featuring Ohio wines,’ and one guy literally walked away from me.”
‘I knew that kind of attitude is what we were going up against. You can’t make people like anything. But people should be willing to try. I’m not going to put a gun to their head and make them drink something — so we’ll sell them whatever they want. But life’s too short to be stuck in a rut and not be open to the possibility that good things are to be found everywhere,” Tom said.
Initially, Tom and Laura offered appetizers they could make in a jiffy. But soon they realized they wanted a specialist in the kitchen. When Connie Clark of True Works Catering came to Vino for a charity event, Laura found that Connie had a philosophy for food that matched the way she selected wines – local, delicious, but also unusual. Laura hired Connie as kitchen manager, and now their weekend specials include lemon chicken with capers, spicy shrimp and grits, farmer’s potato salad with bacon and eggs, and chocolate espresso crÃ¨me brule. Connie emphasizes organic and natural choices and fresh local ingredients.
A passion for Ohio wines doesn’t mean Laura and Tom will select just any wine for their shelves. ‘We’ve had a lot of [winemakers] contact us, and we’ve turned some away,” states Laura. ‘There’s a passion that needs to come across, to make it educational, and great drama. We’re trying to make both the venue and wine selections something that’s really unique and special, that it’s never anything predictable.”
Tom names Chuck Harris at Ravenhurst Champagne Cellars as one of his fave winemakers. Laura points to Cincinnati as worth watching: ‘…the area has some brilliant wine as well – Meranda-Nixon, Kinkead Ridge, and Henke Winery.”