Reminder: November’s Virtual Tasting is the 2009 Owen Roe Abbot’s Table Red Wine. The tasting takes place on Wednesday the 17th. Read more about it here.
On Monday November 1st good friend and fellow Washington wine blogger Catie McIntyre Walker of Through the Walla Walla Grapevine opened a brick and mortar wine store in downtown Walla Walla.
While Walla Walla is awash in wine, there are surprisingly few stores that offer large selections of local wines – and no dedicated wine retailer. Perhaps most importantly, no one in town offers a large selection of imported wines. Many Walla Walla winemakers currently drive to Seattle to check out the world’s latest and greatest.
McIntyre Walker plans to move into this vacuum and provide a store with both a large local selection as well as a large selection of imports. She also plans to offer numerous bottles of bubbles.
Catie McIntyre Walker is a Walla Walla native. One might say that alcohol is in her genes so to speak. She hails from a family that made moonshine in West Virginia back in the day. She writes, “My first fermentation project came at age 18: four cans of fruit cocktail, several cups of sugar, and a couple packages of yeast. The molten sweet fruit bubbled and churned and eventually – voila! – I had ‘brandied’ fruit.”
As Walla Walla grew over the last several decades into a major wine region, McIntyre Walker was quickly captivated. She began taking classes at the Walla Walla Community College Enology and Viticulture program, studying under the late Stan Clarke. Of her decision to open a wine store, McIntyre Walker says to me, “It all started with the wine blog, so be careful!”
McIntyre Walker started Through the Walla Walla Grapevine June 30th of 2005. The blog started as a way to keep track of the blossoming wine scene in Walla Walla. McIntyre Walker says with a laugh, “I thought I was the only one reading it.” She soon found, however, that she was not.
As her readership grew, people began asking where they might find some of the wines McIntyre Walker was writing about. With many of the Walla Walla Valley wines limited in production with little to no distribution, she sensed an opportunity.
In the winter of 2008, she started an on-line business offering Walla Walla Valley wines. McIntyre Walker’s trademark name for the store – Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman – came about when she was “screwing around one day trying to create the website.” The alliterative name quickly became a brand. McIntyre Walker started out offering about thirty wines and over time this number doubled. She says of the on-line wine business, “It kind of took on a life of its own.”
At the time, McIntyre Walker was working as an assistant at a law firm where she had worked for ten years. She had considered taking the plunge and creating a brick and mortar wine store but had resisted leaving the comforts of a stable, long-term job.
In November of 2009, a friend approached her, saying he had found what seemed the perfect space in downtown Walla Walla. While McIntyre Walker agreed the space was perfect, she wasn’t ready. As November became February, her friend reached out to her again and said, “Catie, that space is waiting for you.” After much internal debate, she decided it was time.
When I first drove by the store location last summer, it was an abandoned business front – the site of a former hair salon – in need of much love. On my visit on Fall Release weekend, the space had been transformed.
The Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman store is immaculately decorated. McIntyre Walker used the bold color themes that brand her website to decorate the store. The walls are crimson, accented by a black and mustard trim. There is a sitting area in the front and an area for wine tastings in the back. Indicative of McIntyre Walker’s mischievous streak, the bathroom decorations are a must see.
As the saying goes, for any business the three most important things are location, location, location. McIntyre Walker’s store has all three. Everyone coming off Highway 12 to downtown Walla Walla passes directly by the shop. The building is right along 2nd Street, a block from the Marcus Whitman, on the same block as Skylite Cellars, and across the street from the Sleight of Hand and Spring Valley Vineyard tasting rooms. There is abundant parking both behind the store and behind the buildings across the street.
McIntyre Walker says the response from the community has been extremely positive. Since the opening, she’s been busy lining up winemaker events and filling out the store’s stock, with a number of winemakers bringing wine by while we sat and chatted.
While it’s always inspirational to see someone follow a dream, watching someone do it in today’s economy is particularly moving. But it’s never a bad time to have a great idea. Was McIntyre Walker scared to walk away from a secure long-term job into the great unknown of the wine world? “I’m still scared!” she says with a laugh.
We wish her well.