By Tim Krohn
MANKATO — From $8 bottles of “Cheap Red Wine” to $75 bottles of “Brunello di Montalcino,” The Wine Rack is hoping to fill a growing demand from wine novices and connoisseurs.
Mike Baumann and Dianna Nusser, owners of the Wine Cafe in Mankato’s Old Town, have just opened an off-sale wine shop in the same building.
“We’ve had an off-sale license for a year. We were selling cases of wine after wine tastings,” Baumann said. “People wanted hard-to-find wines and specialty wines they couldn’t find elsewhere. We knew there was a demand.”
The demand for wine shows no abating. Nationwide, wine sales have surpassed beer sales for the first time. Some of the demand has been fueled by media coverage and movies such as “Sideways” in which the merits of pinot noir wine are discussed in exceptional detail.
“We had college kids coming into the Wine Cafe who never drank wine before, but they wanted pinot noir,” Baumann said. “The movie had an effect.”
So do wine labels, he said. “A nice-looking label or something flashy, those wines sell more.”
There is an unending supply of quirky names and flashy labels. “Red Flyer” a California wine has a red flying saucer on the label. “Jailhouse Red” features Elvis Presley. “Fat Bastard” wine is a popular line as is “Fish Eye” wine.
Baumann and Nusser, who own rental properties and a courier business, own the historic Stahl House building where the Wine Cafe and Wine Rack are located. They purchased the Wine Cafe a year and a half ago when the former owner decided to get out of the business.
They’ve stocked 600 kinds of wine so far and plan to have 1,000 on the shelves soon.
“I’ve been learning as we go,” Baumann said. “I’ve learned a lot since we’ve run the bar, from ordering and holding wine tastings every month.”
He said the wine tastings draw many who have experience in wine and many who just want to learn more about different wines. Baumann said people who come to the off-sale store and aren’t sure what they like can go to the Wine Cafe next door for a sample of different types of wine.
The shop has a section of Minnesota wines, including Northern Vineyards and St. Croix Vineyards selections, both from Stillwater, and Alexis Baily Vineyards from Hastings.
“We sell a lot of Minnesota wines. There’s a lot more local farms that are growing grapes. There’s more interest in the local vineyards,” he said.
He said foreign wines, particularly from Spain, Australia, Chile and Argentina also are growing in popularity.
“They’ve made wine for a long time, but they are getting more investments into upgrading their wineries and they’re making better wines.”
The Wine Rack also has a section of organic wines, where grapes are grown without pesticides.
Besides the wines in stock, Baumann said special orders will be a big part of the business. “People come in with wines from all over the world they’ve tried, and you have to find a wholesaler that carries them. There’s a lot of odd and specialty wines people find and want.”
More information about the Wine Cafe and Wine Rack can be found on the Web site www.winecafebar.com. The Wine Rack, 301 North Riverfront Drive, is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.