Wine Shop with a Wilmington Vibe

Wine Shop with a Wilmington Vibe

Stop at the wine shop and throw out your misconceptions before you open the door.

Prepare to relax. This is an experience to be savored, by the glass, buy the bottle… it’s all about immersing yourself  in the world of a wine shop, Wilmington style.

wine shop wilmington winePeople tend to think of wine shops – wine bars – as all hoity-toity, as places where you need to have vast knowledge or a previous wine repertoire. Many people are intimidated before they even walk into a wine shop. The secret really is, says John Willse of Wilmington Wine, that there is no secret.

John shares some thoughts on beating the “pretentious hipster” image that can make any wine shop exude intimidation.

  • Be prepared for an experience, above and beyond everything else. Wine shop proprietors and staff are there to guide you in the right direction, no matter what your level of wine knowledge. They are equipped with expertise. When you walk into a wine shop, look forward to being disarmed. Ownership should welcome you with open arms, saying, “Here – here’s the world of wine.”
  • A good wine shop proprietor, and the staff, should have the ability to educate you about wine. Don’t expect them to know everything, because wine shop personnel will tell you that they are always learning too. “I don’t know everything about wine,” says Willse, “but I know enough, and I continue to learn. We educate ourselves continuously. I’m not a sommelier. I grew up with wine, I enjoy wine, I like talking about wine.”
  • You will run into those characters that consider themselves the end-all-be-all in the wine world, laughs Willse. Consider that part of the experience, and the entertainment.
  • A wine shop can be whatever you want it to be – a place to stop after work, or an after dinner stop, which makes it adaptable to whatever your agenda is. There is no right time to enjoy a glass of wine.
  • Attending a wine tasting event is a great way to get to know a wine shop and its personality. Expect to taste various wines, read notes, and talk about the host’s personal experience with the wines. Additional information like grapes, regions, how to understand labels, and the nuances of particular wines should be part of the presentation.
  • Look for wine shop staff to make an effort to understand your personal palate. They are there to make recommendations and help you expand your experience and take a journey through the world of wine. Don’t be shy – talk about what you taste and what you would like to learn. The proprietor should try to discern your palate with questions that help him/her negate varietals to narrow down your preferences and then pinpoint options that will please you.
  • Don’t expect the staff to open every bottle of wine for tasting, but they should be able to share something from every category with you. A wine shop will have examples of every type of wine in terms of palate – drier, sweeter, more minerally, fruity, oaked or un-oaked.
  • Don’t be shy about stopping in to just enjoy a glass of wine. You don’t have to purchase a bottle every time you visit a wine shop. The bar experience of wine tasting is really for everybody, not only oenophiles. “It’s not a formidable opponent,” assures John. “We shouldn’t actually look at it as something you are coming up against that’s going to intimidate.”
  • Food and wine go hand-in-hand. Ask your wine shop proprietor to help you with pairings. That’s their specialty, especially for the wine bar owner who has made the love of wine their world.

Beyond the vine, there’s an expanded role that a family-owned, specialty wine shop can play in the community, especially a city like Wilmington with both vibrant, local-oriented neighborhoods and a steady flow of tourists.

“A wine shop should be a place for artists, writers, readers, poets – the creative community – to do their thing. The shop is the vessel for how the owners want to be a part of the town,” John notes.

wine shop wilmington


About John Willse: A native Wilmingtonian, John has been proprietor of Wilmington Wine since the beginning of 2016. A chef first, John moved to the front of the house as a bartender, and then a waiter, which was his springboard into the management end of the restaurant business. Although not a sommelier himself – this might be on his agenda, he says – John has plenty of experience managing hospitality staff, including sommeliers, during his 20-career in hospitality management. He was general manager for a 4-star Italian restaurant in New Orleans, and then the start-up manager for a 3-1/2 – 4-star nouveau French restaurant in New York City. Working in the restaurant business is a lot like his previous life as a musician – it’s about entertainment experience, he says. Wilmington Wine combines wine shop, the bar experience and entertainment. Willse hosts Friday evening wine tastings and a variety of community events, from book clubs and poetry nights, to art walks.


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