Thursday, 07 June 2012 06:00
Today, June 7, 2012, marks our one year anniversary of Market Alley Wines. And what a year it has been!
I am often asked why I opened a wine shop in Monmouth. The answer is both complex and quite simple.
After leaving my job in journalism, I was really at a crossroads on what to do with the rest of my life. We started toying with the idea of opening a business. We talked about things we were passionate and knowledgeable about and wine was at the top of the list.
We also did our homework. Paul had access to an extensive study the city of Monmouth commissioned a few years ago that analyzed consumer markets, spending habits and lifestyles in specific areas. To sum it up, we found residents of Monmouth spent a whole lot of money on wine. And they spent a whole lot of money on wine outside of our area. Frankly, so did we.
The idea came together pretty quickly after that.
Paul and I both have been wine enthusiasts for years and love going to wine bars wherever we travel. One of the earliest I remember is Webster's in Chicago which opened in 1994. But wine bars go back as far as the 1890's with the opening of Gordon's in London.
Here is Paul at Nine One Five Wine Bar in Key West several years ago. Doesn't he look happy? Flights are a good thing!
Wine bars are nothing new even in this area. Regionally, there are some great wine shops too that all are unique in their own way. The Wine Sellers in Macomb has been in business for nearly 10 years and really set the benchmark in this area for great service and a great selection of wine. The Grape Life in the Quad Cities is really beautiful and welcoming. Aledo has a wine shop which I haven't been to yet but have heard wonderful things about. There are wine bars within driving distance in Quincy, Galena, Galesburg, Le Claire, Iowa City and Muscatine to list a few.
We visited a lot of wine shops and took notes about things we loved (flights, comfy chairs, copper countertops) and things we didn't (dusty bottles, lack of menus, poor service).
I also was inspired some other non-wine shops. Calico Cat in Galesburg has long been a favorite shopping destination of mine. The store has always carried great merchandise but it is the customer service that makes it a stand out. Theresa, who managed it for ages, always went out of her way to get to know her customers and their tastes. I knew when I walked into the "Cat", I would be shown new items that were just up my alley.
Innkeepers in Galesburg was another place I drew inspiration on. An absolutely beautiful space, the coffee shop/restaurant quickly became a destination spot for people to meet and gather. Monmouth lacked a "destination" so creating one was something I felt the community would really support.
All in all, Market Alley Wines is a complicated stew of inspirations, ideas and love. There is also the "Susan" factor which, honestly, if you haven't experienced it, is kind of hard to explain!
I never get tired of people telling me how beautiful our shop is and how wonderful their experiences are there. I am so, so pleased my community has embraced not only the wine shop but me as well. I am also thrilled how many people really love wine and are growing and learning more about it all the time. We don't get mad when our customers experience other wine shops ... we love that too! Loving wine is what it is about.
Sure, it took cajones for Paul and I to open a small business in our small town in a struggling economy. But it has taken the love and support of this great community to make us a success.
So today on our one year anniversary, I raise a glass of wine to YOU and give you thanks from the bottom of my heart.
I can't wait to break out year number 2 on you!! We are going to have a BALL!
Thursday, 24 May 2012 06:12
Following Polka Dot Press owner Kim's lead, I have written a recap of our NRF adventure! It is mostly wordy words but some photos too!
On February 19, 2012 at 8:10 p.m., I sent the following email (in its entirety) to Paul:
We should totally do this:
Yeah. So Paul brainstormed a bit and thought it would be cool to get some live shots of our shop in action. On March 6, “No Reason” was playing a gig and the house was packed. Paul stopped the band and told everyone we wanted to tape them. I would say a line or two outside then we would both step back inside the store at which time everyone would raise their wine glasses and cheer.
Easy enough, right? It took me about 5 minutes and 40 takes to say one sentence (the word “rural” gets me every time!!) My frustration is shown at the beginning of our bloppers reel:
Paul had every single person in the shop that night sign a release (although they were never requested by the NRF). Later, at the reception dinner for the finalists, everyone thought that first shot was staged which I found quite funny!
I taped the shot of Donna (well, actually two) and Paul did the taping of Joyce, Dee Ann, Tamy, Nicki and Chad on the following Friday. Paul did all the editing on his Mac, recorded the awesome blues soundtrack and coached me on the voiceover. He even made me a sandwich so I guess he did catering as well!
Fast forward. We made the top 40. We thought we probably would get that far. Then came word we made the top 20 and the real work began. Voting. We made the top 10. Our competitor in that round got disqualified for cheating so we made the top five. Then I got the call we were in the top 3. WINNERS!!
Seriously, I have only ever owed $10,000. To think I would be winning that much was astounding.
Between local radio, newspaper and television coverage, we had over 40 contest related news items about MAW. Over 40. And there at least two more coming this week! (All the news coverage is linked on the front page of our website under MAW Buzz.)
Flash forward to May 15. I closed the shop for three days and Paul and I hopped a couple planes to D.C. After check in for the conference, I had a video interview and some crazy cat walk photo shoot that I hope doesn’t come back to haunt me.
The NRF is launching a 60-day campaign on e-fairness and they believe it is retailers like us who can best tell the story of retail.
Here I am in a full page ad in Politico:
Paul and I decided to take a break and have a glass of wine and there we met Kim and her husband Mike from Polka Dot Press.
Kim and I both suffered with the “what to wear” syndrome but I think we both pulled it off just fine.
Next a rehearsal for the next morning’s awards ceremony. Then a cocktail party and dinner reception for all the Leadership Conference attendees.
Here I am with Tanna and Kim at the reception:
I sat next to Bill Brand, Home Shopping Network VP, who was the most delightful dinner guest I could have imagined. We are the same age and he was a former journalist and I think we kind of bonded! Also met his boss, CEO Mindy Grossman, who wore the most delicious high heeled shoes without once giving a wince. In her world, that is nothing. In my world, it’s a “GO GIRLFRIEND!”
On Wednesday, we were up at 5:30 a.m. I knew I would be nervous so wanted to write my acceptance speech notes. Not that it mattered.... Got to the breakfast at 7 and choose to eat sparingly.
And then it hit me. After only two bites of fruit ... it hit me. “I’m in Washington D.C. I have won. My little store, in my little community, in my dysfunctional state. I am really here with all these wonderful, successful people.”
I could feel it instantly well up inside of me ... sort of like that hot acidic wave you get before you vomit. The tears started welling in my eyes and we still had 20 minutes to go. I knew I was doomed.
When Bill Brand called my name for third place, I was thrilled. Of course we all wanted first, but this was WINNING. Here I am with my BIG CHECK:
They had the BIG CHECK and everyone was applauding and I had to give my speech. Here is what I wrote:
I would like to thank the NRF for this wonderful opportunity. Believe me when I say I have received more publicity than this check could buy. Thanks to my family for their love, hard work and support. Special thanks to Paul for your inspiration, undying enthusiasm, love and perpetual "atta girls". Together we are a force.
I am honored to be in the final three with Tanna and Kim ... who are both inspirations and great business models for future entrepreneurs.
Mostly, I want to thank my loyal customers and community for their unflinching devotion. I said on my video that that leaving my career for retail was the best decision I ever made and it is true. Retail has changed my life for the better in so many ways. And I also think my business has changed the lives of many people from our community for the better. I took a chance on opening up my small business in my small town in a bad economy and my community took a chance on me. Sure, retail means jobs but it also means a chance for happiness, revitalization and growth. How is that for awesome?
But here is what I said:
“Thanks ... sob, sob ... Thanks ... I need a Kleenex ... sob, sob. “ Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad but I did blubber quite a bit!
I did a couple quick interviews before we were whisked away to Capital Hill. Ellen Davis, a Galesburg native and NRF Sr. VP, was our escort for the day. We got a chance to meet her husband Chad who is a Monmouth College graduate.
It was so exciting (and exhausting and HOT!) Senator Durbin’s office had the most wonderful travel posters including one from Bishop Hill (where Mom and Jerry live.) "More Swedish than Hilly". heh. Congressmen Schimkus and Schilling were most accommodating and delightful.
Paul photo-bombing the Capital shot. Seriously, can you find him in this photo?
I bought a new bra with a metal clasp that set off alarms everywhere we entered. Good times indeed.
Finally, the three finalists, Tanna, Kim and I, all met back up on the steps of the capital for a final photo shoot. I was antsy because wine awaited for us at another reception!
Finalists photo shoot:
Tanna and Kim were both so gracious and savvy business women. Each month, Tanna pairs with a local not-for-profit and donates a portion of her sales to that organization. I would love to do that in Monmouth.
Finally, all the finalists and our loved ones were treated to a spectacular dinner at “Occidental Wine Room”.
For some reason, I got to choose the wine! It was a really expensive wine list so I tried to keep it reasonable. All the white wine lovers had never had a Sancerre and it was a hit!
Ellen and Margaret (our event coordinator whom we all thought from her emails was in her 60s but was a fresh faced 20-something dynamo) planned a night tour of some sights. By this time, we were all completely exhausted, but Paul and I were flying out the next day and knew this was the only time to sight see.
Here we are at Lincoln’s Memorial:
Ellen escorted us through the Vietnam Memorial and Korean Memorial. Amazing. Then our bus driver took us by a few other sites ... Iwo Jima (like four times) and a small part of Arlington National Cemetery.
We got back to the hotel just after midnight and everyone hugged and said our goodbyes.
The next day, we slept in a bit then grabbed a cab into the city. Taking Susan T’s suggestion, we went to the rooftop at the W. What a view.
Rooftop at the W, with the White House in the background:
Then to Ebbitts for the best raw oysters we’ve ever had. We even had some for dessert. Not kidding.
Here I am eating the best oysters ever!
Now we are back home with a whopping $10,000 check but experiences and adventures that are priceless. The NRF rolled out the red carpet for us and everyone treated us like VIP's.
As I write this tonight, I am sitting on my patio watching the cardinals and sparrows and rabbits strut around my yard. I hear more birds chirping and a mower running a block or two away. This is my home. And I love this community.
And I am tearing up all over again, because it is the people in this community and all our friends from Galesburg, Galva, Indiana, Georgia, Colorado and all over the world, that made this all possible for us. We are truly honored by your support and hope we can continue to make you proud.
2012 looks to be a very great vintage in Monmouth.
I forgot to remember ....
Wednesday, 28 March 2012 13:00
then I remembered I forgot.
After a super busy night at the wine shop last Friday and after a short but sweet dinner, I was driving home and thinking about the very real prospect of putting on my pj's then enjoying a glass of wine. Then another thought randomly popped into my head.
"Wait. I started a blog."
Then this, "Oh crap. I forgot I started a blog!" In flippin' January!
Those who know me, also know there has been a whole lot going on the past few weeks. Those that don't would probably just be bored by the details. Plus it isn't like I am the only busy person around here.
So today's post is simply a thump-on-my-head reminder that I really have some things to say about wine. Some of them even interesting.
And there is a possibility something really exciting might be happening in the next couple week's so I really need to get myself organized.
Or at least get myself a glass of wine.
Maple City Miracle
Monday, 13 February 2012 08:33
(or how to enjoy a $200 dinner for two in your jammies)
Paul here. It's no mystery that Susan and I love to cook, and for us, Sunday is our main "cooking event" day - we generally mount quite a production and aren't afraid of four or five hour cook times. By the end of the cooking day, our kitchen is a disaster, but the multi-course meal is generally pretty dang awesome.
This Sunday, we wanted to do simple... not a full day production, but a simple single plate or bowl meal - something we could have fun cooking, but that wasn't a huge production. And something we could source entirely here in Monmouth.
We settled on saffron risotto with lobster. We've made the saffron risotto before, but it's not our go-to risotto recipe - it seemed like it'd pair well with lobster (we picked up a single frozen tail at County Market for $9.99). While you can get saffron in the spice isle, we actually used some we ordered from the Spice House in Chicago. Saffron is the dried stigmas of a certain breed of crocus floor. For this recipe, you toast just 1/4 teaspoon for a few moments, and then grind it in a mortar and pestle and mix with melted butter - the color and aroma of the saffron-infused butter is just amazing. It's easy to see why this was once one of the most valuable substances on earth!
The other two tricks for this risotto are adding a ground up, dried arbol chili to the concoction - and instead of using chicken stock, I use the cheapest canned chicken broth I can find at the store (it's saltier and cooks up wonderfully). You can find the complete recipe on the recipe page.
At the tail end of cooking the risotto (about 45 minutes worth of zen-like stirring), it was time to prepare the lobster. We took the meat out of the shell and cubed it. In a small pan, we put in about a tablespoon of water and started adding butter at low heat, one pat at a time (you want it to melt nicely, not bubble or foam). After four pats, you just drop in the lobster and let it slowly cook for four or five minutes, using a soup spoon to baste the top of the lobster - then turn the lobster and cook for another minute or two and remove from the heat.
We put the risotto into a deep bowl, split the lobster and put it on top and added some parsley for color.
About 15 minutes into cooking, Susan decided it was a meal fit for a special wine - but something light and airy to pair well with the rice and seafood dish. She decanted a bottle of 2009 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir.
Upstairs in our jammies, we sat down with our bowl of risotto and a glass of Sea Smoke. First - the aromas! The saffron spiciness with the hint of red pepper - the buttery lobster - the silky, slightly peppery Sea Smoke. A true feast for the senses. Then the first sip and the first bite... and we knew. We'd crafted something amazing. Every aspect of the complex floral flavors paired with the next, set off by the spiciness of the arbol chili and the wine. Put simply, it was one of the best meals we'd ever had in our lives - something to savor and linger over.
When all was said and done, we managed to craft a simple, bold and amazing meal with locally procured ingredients - in a Michelin starred restaurant, it'd easily have been a $200 dinner for two. Cooking great flavorful meals doesn't have to be complex or expensive - and what's better than a romantic dinner for two enjoyed in your jammies right here in the Maple City?
Monday, 06 February 2012 11:11
While I am not that into football (my running comment of the day was "Go Cubs!"), Paul is more of a traditionalist and has always had a small party for the big game each year.
Being one who is always on board with both food and drinks, I was enthusiastic about that aspect. Paul's go-to Superbowl food is BBQ pork. He developed his own recipe that includes a lot of vinegar and a long, slow cooking of the pork. It is served with white bread and pickles although he puts out rolls for the uninitiated. I made a sweet and spicy BBQ to go along the side. You can find out how to make it on our recipes page.
Most of our guests drank beer which is a great accompaniment to the BBQ. I drank Cantina di Soave, a simple white wine from Italy that stood up well to the meat and all the other snacks. Keeping with this week's theme, Paul drank Alta Luna Phases, a red blended wine that also complimented the pork.
What did you do for Superbowl Sunday? Any food/drink traditions in your house? Do tell!
Mmmmm ..... meat
Tuesday, 31 January 2012 08:27
Since the wine shop is closed on Mondays, I generally spend the day running errands and playing catch up. Yesterday, my travels led me to Galesburg where I was able to procure some lovely filets and a can of green peppercorns from Cornucopia. (I also bought a couple of nice cheeses for the shop!)
Having made a roast chicken on Sunday, we were both in the mood for some cow. Paul was in charge of the steaks and butter braised them in our iron skillet. He also took charge of the roasted rosemary potatoes. I made the green peppercorn cream sauce (with whiskey!) and sauteed mushrooms with a little garlic, onion and thyme.
The steaks were just beautiful! Perfectly seared on the outside and totally rare and bloody on the inside. A meal that good needed a great, bold wine. Paul choose Earthquake 2009 Zinfandel.
Now, Earthquake is not a wine I carry in the shop. Until this week that is. Before Christmas, I had a customer order a case of the Earthquake to give to a friend as a gift. He raved about it and said it was one of the best wines he has had (this from a Cabernet and Merlot drinker!) Since I hadn't previously tasted the wine, I asked if he would take 11 bottles rather than 12 so I could try it. He agreed and we've had the bottle in our queue ever since.
We opened the wine and let it decant. The aromas were strong ... full of ripe fruit and jam. But it was the taste that knocked us over (not the high alcohol content I assure you. But at 16%, it is a very high one indeed!) It was so rich, so full of plums and berries, so rich, so smooth. A total smashmouth! We absolutely LOVED it!
I'll order a case for the shop Wednesday. The price, at $22, might turn some people away but at the very least, we can work down that inventory one bottle at a time. I love my job!
Learning about Wine
Saturday, 28 January 2012 16:02
One of the coolest things about my job is I learn something new about wine nearly everyday. Like anything, the more you learn, the more you realize you all that you don't know. Wine is a perfect example of that.
For the first time, Monmouth College is offering a wine tasting course for seniors. Students had to meet several criteria including a high GPA, be 21 years old or older and have a recommendation by the instructor. 16 students are in the class with a waiting list of who knows how many. The class meets at MAW once a week and is taught by Craig Vivian. Craig also has several guest lecturers lined up covering everything from wine and religion to philosophy of wine.
I am so excited to be a part of their wine education ... it is the key to really appreciating wine and making it accessible and enjoyable. I am hoping we can offer some of the classes to all of you too. How about the "Aesthetics of Wine Labels?" Or the "Chemistry of Wine?" It sounds interesting, doesn't it?
Wednesday dinner and wine
Thursday, 26 January 2012 14:07
It is no secret that we are totally into food and wine pairings. When we nail it, the food and the wine are brought up to a higher level. Plus it is a lot of fun experimenting!
A few months ago, we bought a lovely bottle of Antonio Sanguineti 2004 Brunello di Montalcino. For those unfamiliar with Brunello, is an Italian wine made from 100% Sangiovese grapes. Aged in oak barrels for four years, this wine is so powerful yet sublime and perfect pairing with tomato and pasta dishes.
At our last meeting with this Brunello, we made spaghetti and meatballs. All from scratch. We ground three meats for the meatballs, made our own pasta and bread. We used fresh tomatoes and herbs from our garden and slow cooked the gravy all day. To say it was a memorable meal is an understatement.
Yesterday, we decided to make a simpler version of that meal and grab another bottle of Brunello for a nice dinner at home. We had meatballs already in the freezer, used store bought fresh pasta, and made a quick sauce of onions, tomatoes, herbs and wine.
The wine benefits from a long decanting and was again an amazing accompaniment to our fine dinner.
We are firm believers in finding great wine and a great value. But we also love taking an ordinary weeknight and turning it into a special occasion. Yesterday was that day for us. Heck, tonight might be too!
Welcome to the MAW Blog!
Wednesday, 25 January 2012 16:53
Welcome to our new Market Alley Wines blog! Sure we have a great website and are pretty active on Facebook, but sometimes we want to get a little more in depth with all things wine.
We'll try to post regularly what we are drinking and eating (including recipes!), recommendations, restaurants we love and articles that interest us. We'll also have a blog roll of sites and blogs ... including food and wine themed and also those of friends, family and local folks.
We encourage you to be active participant as we roll along. Tell us what you are drinking and digging, tell us a great wine experience, tell us a story. Let's enjoy this ride together!