Capitol Hill is getting uncorked.
On Tuesday, the owners of DCanter arranged rows of sparkling wines closest to the door for the soft opening of their new wine and beer store on Barracks Row. It was one of the hottest days yet of Washington’s summer and the sparklings, rosés and crisp whites were on bold display — as were the cans of DC Brau in the back.
When designing her new business, Michelle Lim Warner wanted it to be far removed from the stereotypical dark, mahogany-lined wine cellar.
Bright, crisp and boutique-like, DCanter hopes to invite those timid oenophiles scared by dark rooms with rows and rows of indistinguishable bottles. Signs atop the shelves show which wines are bolder or lighter in style; books and wine and beer gizmos line tables and shelves throughout. Classes, tastings and other events will round out the store’s focus on education and love of artisanal wine and craft beer.
She and her husband, Michael Warner, a certified wine specialist, will fully open the store at 545 Eighth St. SE on July 23. DCanter is a part of the recent boom in all things wine on Capitol Hill: Art and Soul and CityZen were among the seven D.C. restaurants named in Wine Enthusiast magazine’s top 100 wine restaurants in the country. Chat’s Liquor regularly hosts wine tastings, including a Champagne event during a Barracks Row culinary festival. A creamery and wine bar, Sona, announced plans to open in late fall on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The fervor has even extended to the Capitol itself, with the ever-popular Wine Caucus planning an East Coast-themed event for September. As with fine dining, wine is becoming more accessible — this has resonated with the residents of Capitol Hill, many of whom were already wine lovers. People want to know about the wine-making process, want to sample everything and are less intimidated by fine vintages.
Drink the World
DCanter will offer some 300 artisanal wines (think small production, low-yield) and 60-80 craft beers. It will be open Sundays, taking advantage of new D.C. liquor laws that will help put the District’s old blue laws to bed. The Warners hope to offer classes a few times a month and weekly tastings. Most tastings will be free — after all, most participants walk away from a tasting with a bottle in hand — and classes will cost $35-$70. The sessions will be taught by the Warners, by their producers and by beer and wine specialists from throughout the country, even via video conference, Michelle Lim Warner said.
DCanter is across the street from Belga Café, where a hefty wine and beer list is the norm, and a few storefronts from the new Balkan restaurant Ambar, which prominently features Serbian and Croatian wines. Warner said she’s noticed people love to drink wine from places they have been or seek to explore.
“Whenever we travel to those places, there is just always a certain feeling that you get,” she said. “We wanted to bring that here.”
Getting the experience is one of the reasons people travel to Virginia’s wine country, explained Seth Chambers, the winemaker for Naked Mountain Winery in Markham, Va. He said almost 90 percent of the people who walk into their tasting room are from the greater D.C. area. This includes Congress: Rep. Ted Yoho, a Republican freshman from Florida, said he and his wife recently took a weekend trip in Virginia’s wine country.
“You can get wine in D.C., but when you come here, you can see the country, sit on a deck, see the hummingbirds and, like this year, hear the cicadas,” he said. Naked Mountain, about an hour outside D.C., has had its barrel-fermented chardonnay, which is about 35 percent of the winery’s yearly production, twice featured at the White House.
Change Is the Constant
Schneider’s of Capitol Hill has been a family-owned business on the Hill for more than 60 years. Josh Genderson is the fourth generation in the business and was born and raised in D.C. He said that even though the demographics of Capitol Hill have changed, what has stayed the same is a number of people from throughout the country moving into the city for work.
These people come in with beloved wines from home. Diplomats and embassy staff members also request wines from throughout the world — Schneider’s is a direct importer and has a 20,000-square-foot temperature-controlled warehouse for fine wines.
“People here have had the opportunity to travel the world and have been exposed to wines throughout,” Genderson said. “Wine is certainly something that is taught or learned through experience and I think the hodgepodge and melting pot of the Hill is a tremendous advantage in this.”
He said folks walk into the store wanting wine to pair with food or to re-create some travel experience.
“Someone will go to vacation to Italy, for example, and they want to re-create the feeling that they have had at a restaurant in Tuscany,” he said. “You see a lot of that.”
A Wine for All Seasons
So for tonight, a Gewurztraminer or a pinot gris? Sangiovese? A blanc de blanc, blanc de noir or a rosé? Or more simply: glass or bottle?
For the hot, humid and rainy summer, Michelle Warner recommends a chenin blanc. “This type of wine can be very refreshing and crisp with lively acidity and delicate citrus, melon and apricot flavors,” she said. If anyone is up to take her advice, Sonoma, the restaurant and wine bar along Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast, has a glass on the menu.