Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
November 20, 2009
My week began on a Monday morning at the Philadelphia Airport at a few minutes past 7 a.m.
Having slipped through security with greater than expected speed, I found myself with a little more than an hour to kill. At the sound of an iron screen being raised, I turned to my right and spied the early-morning opening of a wine bar called Vino Volo. For some, 7 a.m. on a Monday may not seem like prime time for a glass of wine, but I’m a professional. What, you want me to queue up at Starbucks?
I entered the bar and took a look around. The room had a clean, contemporary feel with blonde hardwood floors, leather chairs and sleek displays highlighting bottles of wine from around the world. It was easily the nicest space in the Philly airport. On the bar and tabletops sat wine lists and wine books stacked and ready to read. George Taber’s “To Cork or Not to Cork: Tradition, Science, and the Battle for the Wine Bottle” and “Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink,” by Tyler Colman sat side by side. Clearly this place was serious about wine.
Taking a seat at the bar, I noted the lack of a television set, this in the home of the Eagles, Flyers, Sixers and of course the National League Champion Phillies. One has to be pretty confident in their concept not to allow televised sports in an airport bar. Especially in sports-crazed Philadelphia.
But Vino Volo is on a quest to upgrade the airport experience. And if that means creating a civilized space where patrons can sit, sip and tune out the travails of travel sans sports, then so be it. Based in San Francisco, the company has opened up 10 wine bars in airports around the country, ranging from SEA to JFK, from SMF to IAD, from OAK to EWR. If you fly enough you’ll recognize that those are the airport codes for Seattle, New York, Sacramento, Washington, D.C. (Dulles), Oakland and Newark. There are plans for more, perhaps as many as 50, and if they succeed Vino Volo will not only be doing a service for travelers – they will be helping the entire American wine industry as well. Pouring wines and educating the public in a captive environment can only increase consumers’ appreciation for global wines.
The investors behind Vino Volo have made a bet that frequent flyers, one of the most affluent and sophisticated groups out there, will buy into the concept of biding their down time between flights by sampling and learning about wine. Beyond that, they hope that flyers will buy, period. They have set up a wine club that they hope to swell with members who have discovered wines in airport Vino Volos. They also have an online sales component where flyers who have tried their wines can go to order them.
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I sat down at the bar and ordered a tasting-size sample of three wines from a menu titled “Discovery Flights.” The “Malbec and Beyond” offering included a Nieto Senetiner Santa Isabel Malbec 2008 from Argentina, a Clos la Coutale Malbec, Cahors 2007 from France, and an Apaltagua Reserva Carmenere Apalta Valley 2007 from Chile. None of which I had tasted before, for breakfast or any other meal.
The congenial young man behind the bar was busy getting the place ready to roll for the week, but nonetheless stopped and gave me a nugget about each of the three wines as he poured. The Cahors was Kermit Lynch selection and had recently received “scores in the 90s from Parker.”
The carmenere (I guess it was the one that was the “beyond” in the “Malbec and Beyond” description) is generally blended with Cabernet Sauvignon but has become a hot grape in Chili of late. And the Argentinian wine was the product of a top-notch producer (Nieto Senetiner) in Mendoza and is a steal at less than $15.
It was 7:30 on a Monday morning and not only had I already learned something but I was comfortable enough to actually wish that my flight would be delayed so that I could try another flight – another flight of wine that is. Perhaps the “California Kings” or “Bistro Whites.”
No doubt, Vino Volo is already making the skies more friendly.