It's a Wine, Wine, Wine World

Specialty wine shops each slice the universe of wine in a different way

What makes a wine shop a specialty shop? Nobody knows. Some stores focus on wine from just one country, or even one state; others have wine from all over, but mainly from small producers; still others have no particular focus, but they consider themselves specialists because they seek not only to sell wine but to educate their customers. Indeed, many owners list this as one of their goals and one of their pleasures--to introduce people to the world of wine.

Below, a few places where you can get to know your world a little better.

Solo Vino
You might think of this St. Paul shop near Selby and Dale as a highbrow kind of place, but co-owner Chuck Kanski swears that the top three sellers at Solo Vino are all $5.99: Protocolo Tinto, Casa Solar Tinto, and Casa Solar Blanco, in that order.

Something special, by definition: Sam's Washington Avenue Wine Shop's Sam Haislet
Michael Dvorak
Something special, by definition: Sam's Washington Avenue Wine Shop's Sam Haislet

Location Info


Solo Vino

517 Selby Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55102

Category: Retail

Region: St. Paul (Downtown)

"These are our anchors," says Kanski. "But if you want we can take you downstairs and sell you something for $350."

In the basement are also hard-to-find wines: not necessarily expensive but not necessarily available. One of these is Albariño Do Ferreiro, Cepas Vellas, wine made from 200-year-old Spanish vines; the 2004 vintage sells for $33.99. "Four cases come to the state and us and Sutler's are the ones who get them," says Kanski.

Spanish wines account for 30 to 40 percent of Solo Vino's sales, says Kanski. "We definitely place our hat strongly on Spanish selections."

Another big part of their business is special orders--especially for hard-to-find domestic wines. "Our ability to request and special order has become a big deal over the last couple years," he says. "Just because it's not on the shelf floor, doesn't mean we can't get it."Solo Vino, 517 Selby Ave., St. Paul; 651.602.9515;


Osteria i Nonni
Loyal fans of St. Paul's former Italian deli market, Buon Giorno, might remember the wine bottles stashed neck to heel in one small section of the store. "It was basically Aisle 2," recalls Tom Selbitschka, bar manager and wine buyer for Osteria I Nonni, Buon Giorno's three-year-old offspring.

At the Osteria complex, which includes a deli and a restaurant, the wine shop has grown up. About 500 different wines load the shelves: They're all Italian, says Selbitschka, and these days many more are from small family producers. Prices range from $5.99 to $500.

About half of the wines in the shop are on the restaurant's wine list. But if you're dining in the restaurant and you want a bottle from the shop that's not listed, go ahead and wave for the server. Osteria's rule-of-thumb markup for wine brought from the wine shop to your table is $15--probably not worth it for a $15 bottle of wine, but a great deal for $50, $90, or $120 bottles of wine. "The more expensive the wine, the better the deal," confides Selbitschka. Osteria i Nonni, 981 Sibley Memorial Highway, Lilydale; 651.905.1080


Sam's Washington Avenue Wine Shop
Every boom-time downtown needs a good wine store. (What, you thought urban revivals were fueled by money or politics?)

Minneapolitans almost didn't get theirs. When Sam Haislet, founder and co-owner of Solo Vino, left his St. Paul store, he was going to leave wine behind. "I thought, what the hell, I'll just go do something else," he says. But wine was not through with him yet. "It just wouldn't leave me alone. I still had all these ideas for things I wanted to do in the wine world."

He read a study done by Lund's and saw that something like 30,000 people had moved into downtown Minneapolis in the last decade. That was the spark he needed. He opened Sam's in May in the Warehouse District, and he couldn't be happier.

"Part of the dynamic is that everybody who's here is a new resident," he says. "These are people who are building the neighborhood, so they have this adventurous spirit."

Haislet's new stock is mainly from small, boutique wineries: wines you've never heard of and couldn't find if you had, because the larger distributors don't carry them. He's trying to answer the question, "Is it possible to bring in a product nobody's ever heard of and sell it?"

To this end, he's trying hard to keep the price down. "It's a lot easier to take a chance on a wine that's $10 to $12 rather than $25 or $30," he acknowledges.

About 60 percent of the 800 or so labels at Sam's are imported; Haislet says his attention is turning more and more to Chile and
Argentina, where the wines are more complex than those from Australia but comparable in price. He carries wines that cost $300, but he said most of what he sells is $25 or less.

Let the drinking renaissance begin. Sam's Washington Avenue Wine Shop, 218 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.445.1045;


The Wine Thief
There's a little olive tree in the window at The Wine Thief, a bright mural on the brick wall and a folding chalkboard out front announcing that the store's open. It's a homey little shop tucked in a homey row of shops on St. Clair, and when you walk in the door, you'll be shocked to find not homey clutter, not wine bins shoehorned next to each other and stacked into teetering columns, but space. Empty, gleaming space. You might think you're in the wrong place, but you're not. A rack with a dozen kinds of sake sways in the corner; Belgian ales stand on a small table; and to the left, shelves stretching the length of the store are loaded with wines. A-ha.

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