Featurepreneur: Raising the (Wine) Bar in the Valley

Featurepreneur: Raising the (Wine) Bar in the Valley
By Genevieve Allen Hearn

Winegrunt Wine Bar opened in Windsor last summer, and it offers the kind of experience one would expect to find in a European city. It is brimming with rustic charm, hosts live music, has a wide selection of wines, and organizes events that offer experiences that are both intellectual and convivial. Owners Robert Buranello and Astrid Friedrich gave The Grapevine some insight into their business venture.

The Grapevine (GV): Tell us about the concept of Winegrunt Wine Bar. Were you inspired by other places you’ve visited?

Robert Buranello and Astrid Friedrich (R&A): We wanted to open a place that reflected some of the realities of our experiences in the local wine industry. When we first arrived, we worked at some local wineries, “at the most basic level,” in order to gain that all-important, basic, practical knowledge. We did much of the “grunt” work of the local wine industry so we were “winegrunts.” We also continued to read a lot about wine and got proper training. We applied some aspects of our former training as academics to this new avenue of our lives. Yes, to some degree, we incorporated elements of other places we visited. In particular, we were influenced by our years in Cape Town, South Africa, our travels throughout Europe (primarily in Italy, France, and Germany), and our years in the US, especially California. However, one very important thing we did get from all those different places throughout the world is that the most attractive and successful places drew inspiration from their immediate surroundings. Our décor, and food and drink menus, are all locally-sourced and inspired.

GV: January is a month when people often choose to go ‘dry’ after a month of over-indulging. What is your wine-drinking philosophy?

R&A: Our wine-drinking philosophy is that it should be enjoyed responsibly. In cases where there is a designated driver amongst a group of guests, that person gets non-alcoholic drinks on the house. Furthermore, if there is any possibility of drunkenness, we indicate the orange rotary dial phone on the wall with local taxi numbers below. That phone has only been used to call a taxi because of intoxication once, and it was done very responsibly.

GV: What makes Windsor the ideal spot for your wine bar?

R&A: We chose Windsor because of its history (the “Athens of Nova Scotia,” Fort Edward, etc.), developed infrastructure, three wineries in the Avon River area, its freshwater lake (Lake Pisiquid), and, of course, its location. Windsor is “the gateway town” to the Valley. Its location as the closest town to Halifax has helped us attract people from the city. People from further up the Valley come to our place in Windsor to catch live jazz, for example, because of the quality musicians we attract, and the fact that the drive is so much shorter than going into Halifax.

GV: A Sense of Terroir was an interesting event you held in November that looked at the cartography of the Valley’s wine region, while pairing food with local wines. Are you planning on hosting more unique events this year?

R&A: A Sense of Terroir was a resounding success. The idea of pairing local food and wine over a gorgeous soils map that indicates all the most salient elements of our local terroir was inspired by a recent trip to Barolo, Piedmont. However, with the map that we commissioned from Marcel Morin’s Lost Art Cartography, we feel we did an even more impressive job with our terroir. Yes, we have more events planned. There will be one event per month at Winegrunt Wine Bar. We have one planned for January 22 with an Acadian theme involving another excellent local winery.

GV: What is your best piece of advice for anyone opening a business in the Annapolis Valley?

R&A: GO LOCAL. By that we mean to underscore the beauty and bounty of your surroundings and involve local people as much as possible. We tried to do that with our wines (90% of our extensive list is local), food (our chef is from the Windsor area, and we source almost all our food locally, from farms, farm markets, etc.), décor (our interior reflects the rail, shipbuilding, and agricultural history of Windsor and the Avon River Valley, with local artists using our space as a kind of gallery for their paintings), and music, where we get local musicians to play jazz, blues, soul, maybe some R&B. Many are immediately local but others come from Halifax and surrounding area. If you want appeal to the local community and be part of the fabric of the town you are living and working in, get invested locally. We are involved in town committees and many other aspects of Windsor and Hants County, and also have become members of a number of wine clubs at the local wineries. If you talk the talk, you must also walk the walk.

Winegrunt is located at 43 Water Street in Windsor. Learn more about Winegrunt and keep up-to-date on their events by visiting winegrunt.com.