Beginning in January of this year, localflavor has been featuring a different independent Northern New Mexico wine shop in each issue. In part, this series was conceived as a way to showcase the personalities and unique qualities of these locally owned businesses—as well as highlight their strengths. But then it got more interesting. We discovered within this vigorously competitive field a collective championing of the same kind of sustainable, organic, farm-to-table standards for responsibly produced wine that are applied to our foodstuffs. This month, we pick up the series by shining a light on two small family-owned grocery stores with wine selections that are anything but small in scope or stature.
Rancho Viejo Village Market
One year ago Jane and Jay Winter opened Rancho Viejo Village Market, a pristine emporium nestled within a commercial center on curvy Rancho Viejo Boulevard, linking Highway 14 and Richards Road beyond Santa Fe Community College. For the Southside of Santa Fe it fills a niche. Smartly displayed on blonde-wood shelves in the corner of the market is an impressive, global sampling of well-made wines, including wares from important producers, popular brands and must-have spirits and beer. You’ll find beans from neighboring Aroma Coffee, fresh Plaza Bakery breads, gourmet food items, artisan olive oils, hand-made greeting cards, daily papers and general staples, all congenially purveyed. The Winters have created a country store in urban clothing.
Jay Winter, a tall, dapper man of middle years, stands by the counter reflecting on the process of opening. “It’s been enlightening. I have newfound empathy for anyone in a start-up business, including us,” he says wryly. For the Winters, whose family has owned Blue Chip Insurance Agency in Santa Fe since 1966, the business at the foot of a picnic-perfect, tree-lined park was only meant to be an investment. But when a local grocer decided not to build across the street, Jane and Jay stepped in to provide a market. “There isn’t another store for miles,” says Jay, “and we’ve seen solid support from the residents. That’s key.” What’s been tricky is being in a location not on the way to anywhere—unless it is. “Every day,” he tells me, “someone says, ‘I had no idea you were out here.’”
Conspiratorially, to avoid embarrassing his wife standing nearby with a customer, Jay adds, “The real reason people come in here is Jane. They walk up to me and say, ‘Where’s Jane? I need a bottle of wine.’ She remembers what wine they bought and what they were eating.”
Since meeting the seemly Mrs. Winter more than a year ago when nothing stood in the store but her,I’ve learned she’s composed, humble and assiduous in her approach to business. The market is a reflection of her: tasteful, pleasantly appointed and elegant in a practical way. Adjusting a strand of well-cut hair behind her ear, Jane says evenly, “Some days are better than others, but we’ve seen our sales slowly increase. My goal is to move away from some of the convenience items and expand our wines and spirits. It’s so much more fun to sell Pinot Noir than potato chips.”
What makes this small market stand out is their long suit of offerings. If you want to ogle dozens of Cotes du Rhône, this isn’t your destination. But, if you’re comfortable with a smaller selection of say, a Sancerre, a Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley, a Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, or a Junmai Daiginjo sake without feeling like you need to be a sommelier to figure it out, this could be your place.
Walk in on any given Friday from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m., and you’ll find the Winters pulling corks or putting out a flight of tequila. A recent tasting featured wines supplied by Crawford Malone, a local businessman who brokers wine from some of Napa Valley’s top producers, including Burgess Cellars, a second-generation winery in St. Helen founded by Tom Burgess, in 1972. Along with son, Steve, Burgess makes estate wines from grapes grown solely on the family property. The 2007 Merlot (a steal at $22) from the Triere Vineyard, near Yountville, is seamless: redolent of black cherry, plush as melted chocolate, with a firm tannic backbone. Despite the slander of Merlot by the movie Sideways, there are magnificent examples out there, and this is one. Jane and Jay dispensed tastes in small plastic cups, hailing many guests by name. The evening at Rancho Viejo Village Market had the ballyhoo and warmth of a community gathering.
Rancho Viejo Village Market is at 55 Cañada del Rancho, Santa Fe, 505.474.2828. ranchoviejovillagemarket.com. They’re open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In one form or another, a Kaune’s (pronounced “connie’s”) has been around for nearly a quarter of the time Santa Fe has been a capitol. It’s the only family-owned, full-service grocery (they deliver) in this 400-year-old burg. Kurt and Cheryl Pick Sommer took ownership of the business—located at the corner of Old Santa Fe Trail and Paseo de Peralta—eight years ago. Make no mistake: The store, now known as Kaune’s Neighborhood Market, is Cheryl’s. You’ll see her there all the time, working on displays, mopping spills, dashing to and from her suite of offices, housed in a separate building behind the store. Sharing credit for shaping Kaune’s spirited new vision is Vice President of Operations, major domo and wine director, Rick Hale.
Six years ago Kaune’s invested in a full liquor license and waded into the shallow end of Santa Fe’s wine and spirits pool. It’s now doing swan dives. “It was a case of extreme exposure,” recalls Hale, a robust man with close-cropped red hair. “We took out the diaper section, built wood shelving and wine salespeople force-fed us samples. It’s amazing to look back,” he says. “Our offerings were completely different to what you’ll find now; we’ve a much better defined, well-rounded selection.”
When they began, admittedly, Hale didn’t have an experienced palate. That has changed. He’s since earned a reputation as one of the most articulate and analytical buyers in Santa Fe. “One of my wine reps says I’m hard on wine, but I just don’t know any other way to do it,” says Hale, who estimates he tastes about 1000 wines a year. “My job is to take the risk away, to find wines representing the best value, whether its $10 or $200,” he continues. “Good wines share fundamental components. I look for a life force in the wine. Is it distinguished in some way? I want balance between the acid, tannin and fruit. Is the alcohol integrated? With lower-end wines, is it a crowd pleaser? In the higher-end, I expect more complexity and expressive aromatics.”
Even with the 500 wines he has on display, Hale knows there are stores with more space and ample choices. But Kaune’s is emblematic among Northern New Mexico’s elite markets, given its size, for noteworthy artisan wines such as Grower Champagne, white Burgundy and Riesling. “Sales may not fully justify some placements, but it encourages our customers to expand their frame of reference,” says Hale, pouring Riesling for guests in the room designated for wine tastings.
It was a 2008 Dönnhoff (the producer) Schlossbockelheimer (the town, in this case “Schlossbockelheim” plus “er,” added to designate origin, in the same way you’d form “New Yorker” from “New York”) Kupfergrube (the vineyard) Riesling Spätlese (the grape/ripeness) from Nahe (the region) of Germany. (Now you can understand German labels. Stick with it.) At a retail price of $61, it’s not an everyday wine, though it’s a bargain compared to those of equal pedigree from Burgundy. “These aren’t chemists,” says Hale of the Dönnhoff family, who has made wine on the same 32 acres since 1750. “They’re in the fields, tasting from the vine. They know when it’s time.”
Dan George, a floppy-haired young gentleman who represents the winery swirls the sheer platinum liquid, which shimmers in the glass, like dew. “This has lemon flower and yellow rose. There’s power, yet a multi-layered sophistication,” effuses George. Indeed, the expressions in the wine change every second. “Spätlese isn’t necessarily sweet,” he insists. “This isn’t. It’s ripeness you get, of nectarine and lime. The acid is bracing. This is electric acid!”
Hale adds, “You can taste the provenance of the wine, as well, the slate it’s grown in, even copper, like the vineyard’s name.”
Another guest remarks that they are learning new “vin vernacular.”
At the front of the store, a retailer’s hot spot, are “stacks” of less expensive table wines. “They can’t just be cheap,” says Hale, “they have to represent the quality we offer.” Bashfully, he continues, “The other day, a gentleman stopped me and said I did a great job. ‘You go into a lot of places,’ he told me, ‘they’ve got bottles everywhere, like a shotgun blast. Here, it’s like a rifle shot! Bull’s-eye.’ That was the nicest compliment.”
Kaune’s is located at 511 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, 505.982.2629, kaunes.com.
Story by James Selby