[Cross-posted at www.popandpour.ca]
The first time I met Tim Hendrickson, he was selling me cheese. In between stints as co-owner of some of Calgary’s most interesting and eclectic wine shops, Hendrickson was the resident cheese guru at Blush Lane Organic Market in Aspen Woods, and every time I saw him it turned into an educational experience about cow vs. sheep vs. goat milk, aging and ripening techniques, the nuances and subtle differences between the products of different countries. The man straight up knows his cheese, and his knowledge and enthusiasm about his wares led me to try things I never would have picked out for myself. This earnest desire to serve the customer and teach them new ways to appreciate their favourite indulgences translates seamlessly to his current venture at Wine Ink, where he gets to engage with people about his foremost passion.
For Hendrickson, wine was initially a family affair: his parents often enjoyed a bottle at the dinner table, and his father was a chef who encouraged his son’s interest in the topic. After some personal study on the subject, Hendrickson initially entered the retail wine world as “a strong back and delivery driver” before ultimately transitioning to a position at the front of the store handling sales. He worked for the initial incarnation of Calgary’s The Wine Shop in the mid-90s, where he met current Wine Ink business partner David Bransby-Williams, and after the passing of the original proprietor in 1996, he was given the chance to become a store owner for the first time. He sold his stake in the shop a few years ago, but the thirst for the business never left his blood, and last year he teamed up with Bransby-Williams once again to open Wine Ink, a store focused on bringing consumers adventure and value from all corners of the wine world.
Stepping into Wine Ink’s storefront on 17th Avenue and 9th Street SW feels like walking into that funky loft space that you always regretted not renting back in university: exposed brick walls, decades-old original hardwood floors, vaulted ceilings, and, yes, a small upstairs lofted office overlooking the rest of the shop. A series of vintage finishing touches give the whole place a thoughtful, commemorative feel, one designed to enhance the appreciation of the deep history behind the product line while remaining comfortable and welcoming to a modern audience. ”The interior design of the store utilizes all reclaimed materials,” says Hendrickson, “from the wood to the metal and even the counter panels. The panels themselves are from a church vestibule out of the U.K., which were initially brought here for the stained glass. The wood that actually built them was actually originally cut locally [in Canada] and taken over there — now it’s come full circle.”
Although it is a new shop with a new name, Hendrickson confirms that Wine Ink shares a common philosophical vision with his last vinous venture, a vision that he feels is now being unveiled at exactly the right time. ”Both David and I have always put a strong emphasis on unique, interesting, value driven product. The difference now is the market has changed, with the consumer being much savvier, [such that] the demand for us to continue our original mandate is paramount. The need for us to inventory brand wines is no longer a concern; in fact it is us who create our own brands again.” In other words, you don’t need mass-produced recognizable liquor store wines to succeed as a wine boutique anymore; wine buyers are now armed with more information and as a result are more willing to seek out the new (and more rewarding) experiences that a specialty shop can provide. Hendrickson is particularly focused on catering to the local audience living around 17th Avenue, on being, as he puts it, “the local cellar for the community.” He points out that “since this area is home to a large number of condo and apartment dwellers with space constraints, people tend to shop for food and wine on a much more daily basis. We want to provide a wide range of ready-to-drink, affordable products to meet their needs.” For this reason, a large number of the bottles in Wine Ink’s inventory fall into the comfortable weeknight-wine budget of $20 or less.
So how do Marx, Lenin and Mao fit into the mix? You may have seen Wine Ink’s colourful and dictator-heavy print ads in various magazines around town, featuring a veritable Communist party of totalitarian rulers and thinkers festively raising drinks together. They have certainly caught my attention, and Hendrickson explains that they were inspired partly by the industrial interior look of the store and partly by the conceptual idea behind it. ”The marketing is directly related to the service concept. Wine to me is a social experience that involves interaction between environment, science, politics and individuals. The idea is not dictator-focused, but more about a social community, a conceptual pun. ’Wine Inkorporated’ was inspired more by what I didn’t want to be: ’17th Avenue Fine Wine’, ‘Mount Royal Wine Merchants’, or ‘Dave and Tim’s Libation Liquidators’, to name a few.” The theme behind the store seems to be one of engagement, of stripping of pretensions, of contributing to and enhancing one’s surroundings…Wine For The People? Wine Ink’s ultimate goal, according to Hendrickson, is “to integrate into the area and be an integral part of the wide range of services that it offers.” Thanks to an enthusiastic response from its neighbours and from long-time supporters of Hendrickson and Bransby-Williams around the city, Wine Ink has made significant strides in that regard since it opened in April 2011.
I greatly admire the work that Hendrickson and Bransby-Williams are doing to showcase the flavours and values lurking in some of the world’s most underappreciated wine regions. A great way to enhance your knowledge and appreciation for wine is to grab a $20 Tuesday dinner wine from Austria or Portugal (or some of the far more obscure areas discussed below) instead of from California or Australia, and this is one place that will let you do just that. If you’re moved by the spirit of the proletariat and happen to find yourself in Wine Ink, what should be at the top of your to-buy list? I found out from Tim in the official PnP/CIA Wine Ink Buying Guide:
Q. What was the very first bottle of wine from Wine Ink that you opened for personal consumption? How was it?
Tim Hendrickson: The first wine was Medici Ermete, Lambrusco “Concerto” 2010 (Italian, $19.95) — a Lambrusco revelation! [Author's Note: Lambrusco is a lightly sparkling Italian red...definitely a conversation piece, and a great aperitif.]
Q. What’s the single weirdest bottle in the Wine Ink inventory? What made you bring it into the shop?
Tim Hendrickson: Huh, single weirdest, eh? Well, how about the Pheasant’s Tears Kisi 2010 (Georgian, $27.25) — an obscure varietal, produced in the most antiquated fashion [involving burying wine-filled, beeswax-lined clay storage vessels in the ground], yet yielding a strangely wonderful experience and brought in for that exact reason.
- That’s local art on the walls, rotated bi-monthly.
Q. Say I was a totalitarian ruler in need of (1) something cheap and cheerful to appease the masses and (2) something a little more special and elite for a quiet dinner with my tsarina. What would you recommend?
Tim Hendrickson: For the workers, I might suggest the Kup Calkarasi/Bogazkere Red Blend 2008 (Turkish, $10.50), and for the missus, the Edoardo Miroglio Pinot Nero Reserva 2009 (Bulgarian, $33.50).
Q. I ask this question to every retailer I interview…what’s your top “black sheep” bottle, the one that is generally ignored by customers even though you feel it should be flying off the shelves? If you want, you can give me 3 answers: black sheep still wine, black sheep sparkling, black sheep dessert.
Tim Hendrickson: Black Sheep Wines:
(1) Still — Marchetti Verdicchio (Italian, $18.50) — classically crafted, deliciously drinkable.
(2) Sparkling — Alianca Tinto Bruto Reserva (Portuguese, $18.95) — a full-blown dry sparking wine made from the Baga grape in Portugal’s Bairrada region; red bubble with tannin. [Author's Note: I had no idea such a thing existed, but now I must try it.]
(3) Dessert — Etxe Onelo “Licor de Tannat” 2005 (Uruguay, $33.35) — made from the red Tannat grape, it’s a third fortified, a third dried-grape Amarone style [air-dried grapes fermented to dryness], and a third dried Recioto style [same process as Amarone, but fermentation is stopped with some residual sugar left in the wine, making the end product sweet].
Q. What’s the all-time best-selling wine in Wine Ink history?
Tim Hendrickson: The best-selling wine is the Francesco Candido Salice Salentino Riserva 2006 (Italian, $15.45).
Wine Ink is located at #101, 932 – 17th Avenue SW. All you need to know about the store is laid out in the bottle picks above…when you pull out options from Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria and Uruguay to carry the flag for your shop, you get major props for adventurous awesomeness.