Behind every great wine program is a great director or manager. Most of the time, they’re hidden in plain sight of customers, listening to conversations about the juice folks are enjoying, discreetly tinkering with menu-tasting notes, planning the next event to keep consumers curious. They’re all-knowing yet ever-curious. Enter Kristin Wood, wine program manager at Palate Bottle Shop & Reserve. While she’s relatively new to Palate, she’s a wine-biz vet. I sat down with her to chat about the wonderful world of wine.
encore (e): Palate is well-known for its expansive and thoughtful wine selection. How did you approach taking over as wine manager, and what’s your background in beverage?
Kristin Wood (KW): I started working at Palate last June. So, when I was offered the position as the wine program manager in October, I was eager to take on the task. I felt confident because of my fortunate background in the industry; I thought I could lend our well-thought-out shelves fresh new wines at every price point.
It’s not easy to curate a wine department and make it approachable to every patron: from the novice customer—who simply likes wine and wants to learn more—to the aficionado, and everyone in between. You really have to work well with everybody around you—our wonderful staff, each of the well-represented distributors, but most importantly, the customer. I have to taste and decide on wines for their palate.
I love the business. I have had the chance to work on most sides. I was a fine-dining wine buyer by the time I was 24. I was a wine distributor for three separate companies for several years, wrote a wine column for a weekly publication, worked as a “taster” for another distributor, and finally accepted an offer to work in a boutique wine retail store. After 16 years, I get to experience my favorite part of this amazing industry: selling great wines directly to the consumer. I adore the inquisitive enthusiast; it’s the side of the job that makes me the happiest, as I am one myself.
e: What events are you excited about coming up?
KW: I am thrilled about our 2020 wine program. We are currently doing a six-class WINE-101 course that has proven to be a ton of fun. It sold out fast! People really are excited to learn about wine.
WINE-201 will be coming this summer. We have free weekly wine tastings on Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m., but now we will be adding wine and music pairings, too. This month we had Gravity Records come and spin some rock from Washington State to pair with beautiful wines from the region. We had three knowledgeable vendors pouring nine wines and we’ve found our customers love it.
In April we are hosting an Argentine “Asado”—a multi-course wine dinner, where the Famillia Zuccardi’s national sales manager (and Wilmington’s own) David Koebely will be showcasing beautiful wines from the unique region of the Uco Valley in Mendoza, Argentina. Rx’s executive chef and owner, James Doss, will prepare cuisine from the region. It will also feature traditional, homemade empanadas from Folks Cafe owners Tammy and Juan de Pacini, who are originally from Ecuador and Argentina.
I am starting a new department in April, too! I’m going to have an entire Pét-Nat section and a chilled red section in our walk-in cooler. This will be our first time featuring these.
There is so much happening at Palate, and when it comes down to it, I have to give a lot of credit to our general manager, Jeremy Malanka. He is very talented at creating an awesome lineup of events, and it’s obvious to us all how much fun he has doing it. Palate has been a great place to gather with friends and experience wine and beers from around the world, but it is so much more than just a bottle shop.
It’s a modular restaurant due to our own epicurean food truck, it’s a changing draft beer selection, it’s a wine-by-the-glass bar and offers 16 unique wines by the glass. It’s a music venue, and it’s a fantastic event space all wrapped up in one fun, open-air environment.
e: I know you implemented an Australian wine program with proceeds going to relief for the fires. How’s that going?
KW: We are giving 10% of all Australian wine sales to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. It is our small way to acknowledge the wildfires devastating the land and animals of this beautiful country, which happens to be an amazing wine region. I wish we could do more. If you haven’t tried an Australian wine, or you’ve enjoyed them in the past, we have a beautiful little section dedicated to this cause where we can all give back.
e: What are you drinking right now? What do you love, and how do you want to expand curious palates about town?
KW: Well, wine happens to be a family business in my house. My husband has been in the industry for going on 18 years now, so we are both excited about new trends and cool alternative varietals from all regions.
I’m currently loving the Time Place Wine Co. wines (we carry their rosé and Zinfandel). The Zuccardi, cabernet Franc Poligonos from the Uco Valley in Mendoza, Argentina, is a favorite (not many people have had cabernet Franc from this region). I am in love with our dry rieslings, falanghina and white blends for spring. We are a rosé and bubbles hot spot, so I have brought in many new ones!
To expand curious palates around town, I will always say one thing: taste. If there’s a tasting happening at any of our Wilmington wine venues, go. Taste as many wines as possible; that’s the only way to expand your palate. I will say our WINE-101 classes are designed to help you do just that.