On a gloomy, rainy day in Spokane, the glowing lamps from inside Vino! are a welcome sight from the wet streets. The small storefront is a misleading sight from Third Avenue.
The local wine shop boasts a large selection of wines, for both the serious connoisseur and the casual sipper, that you might not expect from its humble exterior. Vino!'s local vibe is strong, from the moment you walk into its welcoming entrance, surrounded by bottles of Northwest wine, to the short stroll to the wine bar, art gallery and cellar, located in the back.
For more than 20 years, the wine shop has built a solid core of return customers, primarily through its wine subscription service. The key to Vino!'s success, according to owner John Allen, is engaging the customer in the entire wine experience.
"Partly the reason we're as successful as we are is because we offer so many people the opportunity to have an experience with wine," Allen says. "Our objective is to make sure people have as much fun with their wine as we do at the store."
People who buy wine, buy it everywhere, Allen says, and when they find a type of wine they like, they tend to stick with it. That's just human nature. And with the massive growth in wine sales over the past 20 years (especially at major retailers, such as Costco), wine shops have to stay ahead of the curve, Allen says, which is why the staff at Vino! taste more than 200 wines each month.
"We don't sell anything at Vino! unless we taste it and approve it," Allen says. "We guarantee them."
Their wine of the month club is what makes Vino! the most unique, Allen says. Subscribers get orders of their favorite bottles and hand-selected wines based on their preferences. (You can join for as little as one $15 bottle per month.) Starting off with just a couple hundred subscribers in the '90s, the wine shop has nearly 1,000 today.
Vino! also provides wine drinkers the chance to learn more about wine through tastings every Friday and Saturday afternoon and through classes by wine producers themselves, blurring the lines between consumer and producer and allowing greater exploration of the product.
"We're sort of a bunch of wine geeks, and we really like wine and want people to enjoy what it is they like," Allen says.
2nd PLACE: Total Wine & More; 3rd PLACE, Nectar; NORTH IDAHO'S BEST, Pilgrim's Market, Coeur d'Alene