A new wine boutique has opened just off Hertel Avenue, and I’m pretty happy about it. Before stopping in to talk to owner Rebecca Christie, a friend of mine (who owned a catering company) told me that Rebecca stocked really good wines. It was with that sentiment that I walked into Savory Sips, expecting to have an enjoyable experience. And while the wine was very good, it was Rebecca who stole the show.
When it comes to wine knowledge and the ability to convey it to the customer, Rebecca has her game down pat.
Just after pouring me a sample of an Argentinian Cuvee Reserva sparkling brut, she darted off to attend to a young couple that had just walked in. “Looking for something to go with dinner?” she asked. Yes, they were looking for a pairing. A quick conversation about the food, and Rebecca had a bottle in a bag and the happy couple was out the door. As they walked away, she called after them, asking how their Halloween was, before promptly returning to the bar, where I was seated.
This time she poured me a Dolcetto from Northern Italy. As I took my first sip, another customer walked into the shop, looking for a Spanish red. Rebecca threw out a couple of suggestions, along with scorings and various chatty notes, and another bottle was sold. “Just get out of work?” she asked the customer, followed by a brief conversation about the mild weather.
After rejoining me, she poured a Lebanese wine from an ancient vineyard. “These are 32 year old vines – it’s a red called Chateau Kefraya… oak earth tones, elderberry plumb… it’s known for its drinkability and it’s affordable,” she mentioned, as I sniffed the contents of the glass. “Most everything that I stock is between $11.99 and $27 dollars. I have access to 5000 different wines that I don’t shelve – for customers who are looking for special orders. I concentrate on excellent wines that I think my customers would enjoy – nothing is mass produced, the wines have constistent scores, and are all organic (though not necessarily certified). I’m familiar with each and every wine, and I know the producers and how they produce it. I’m big on education. I also feel that customer service is key. This place is cozy because I want people to feel comfortable and ask questions. If they are in a hurry I can help to direct them efficiently, and if they want to stick around and sample wines, that’s fine too. I don’t carry a giant selection because each wine is hand picked – purchasing wine should not be an intimidating experience.”
As I talked to Rebecca (while she was attending to customers all along), I grew curious as to how she knew so much about wine, and how she suddenly sprung up in North Buffalo. It turns out that the art of wine production has been in her Italian family for generations. “It’s in my blood,” she said. “My grandfather had a hotel and vineyard in Italy. I grew up learning how to make wine – the artistry. Eventually I opened a wine boutique in Lewiston (2011). My customers loved the hand picked sale. They would have a taste, talk, ask questions, and I would tell them what they wanted to know. As for how I made it to Hertel, I grew up in North Buffalo, then moved to California after college. Upon returning to the area, I married a Canadian and we lived in Lewiston, which is why I initially opened my business there. But when people began to reinvest in Buffalo, I knew that I wanted to come home. I closed a thriving business in Lewiston and returned to my roots in North Buffalo – it’s home.”
Incredibly, Rebecca still makes the daily commute to Lewiston, where she lives with her husband. To me, the fact that she sacrificed comfort and security to open a business in Buffalo, shows me just how much she is invested in this city. “My friends have all returned too,” she told me. “They’re all coming back now that there is pride and opportunity. How could I sit by and watch, without doing something myself? My new customers love it – they are so happy to have me here. Plus, I still retained half of my Lewiston customers who make the trip to North Buffalo and then explore the city.”
Along with selling bottles of wine, Rebecca holds free group wine tastings, supplies wines for events, produces social media wine videos, organizes Village Wine Tours (one to 70 people) at Seneca Lake, Niagara on The Lake and the Niagara USA trail, and even makes free personal deliveries to customers each evening after work. Talk about dedicated to the cause.
“I’m also an oil painter and an inventor,” Rebecca said [laughing]. “I’m very right brain. I built the bar that you’re sitting at – I wanted this place to look like a Tuscan hut – an authentic European boutique. It fits my personality and my style. The space was once the back storeroom for a florist – it was a mess. Now it’s a place to bring your friends and explore the world of wine. I carry 160 wines by design. 95% of my customers come in because of the customer service, and say that they love it here because they are not overwhelmed and they love my selections. There are books and couches – it’s comfortable. I have the top wines in the world (for the price), and I can special order typically unattainable vintages. I can find just about anything for a customer (or wine collector). I also get the wines at very decent prices. If it has to do with good wine, then I can tell you about it. I opened Savory Sips to bring something to North Buffalo that wasn’t here already. I wanted to open something special that shows just how much I love my old neighborhood.”