Small-production wineries often produce spectacular wines, but they often can be hard to find without doing major homework.
Forget the homework.
Paul and Jenni McNeill, owners of The Wine Thief, 120 N. Wenatchee Ave., have done it for you.
“The Wine Thief puts a lot of effort into finding really good wines,” said Roni Hosfeld, a member of The Wine Thief wine club and owner of D’Olivo at Pybus Market. “It’s the go-to place to find a special bottle of wine.”
The wine store’s business motto, “Think Global Taste Local”, is spot-on.
Special bottles of wine at The Wine Thief, such as Betz Family Winery Pere de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, K Vinters Old Bones Syrah 2007 and Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf Du Pape 2008, are among an eclectic mix of hard-to-find and every day drinking wines from around the world.
But The Wine Thief (winethiefstore.com) also carries an impressive supply of Washington favorites, including many jewels from local wineries.
And if you prefer beer over wine, The Wine Thief also carries a growing selection of microbrew beers by the bottle, as well as five revolving microbrews on tap. Customers can bring their own growlers in and get them filled to go, or they can stay and enjoy a glass of beer while their friends enjoy their wine.
Bottles of great wine and popular microbrews aren’t all customers find at the successful business. It also features wine by the glass, a popular and growing wine club, lady’s nights on Thursdays, wine tastings on Friday nights, annual champagne tastings and a refrigerated case with cheeses and dried meats that it can’t keep filled.
“We get our cheeses from dealers who buy from specialty cheese makers from around the world,” Jenni said. “We have discovered that we need to double our cheese capacity because we can’t keep it in the store.”
The Wine Thief actively promotes other small businesses it wants to introduce to its customers. It teams with some of the area’s best chefs to host special wine-paired dinner events in its store.
“We do this to offer something different for our customers,” Paul said. “When you experience the food and wine together, you don’t just have dinner, you are making memories. We feel like this is the way we were meant to dine.”
The Wine Thief carefully pairs wine with each dinner course, and the wine-paired dinners have been a big hit with many of its customers, including Wenatchee resident and wine club member Cate Straub.
“The Wine Thief has elevated the wine scene in Wenatchee at a time where wineries and fine dining are just coming to the forefront in our community,” Straub said. “They work side by side through their wine tastings and wine-paired dinners that have given us all an opportunity to experience great wineries and chefs that we never would have otherwise met.”
And Straub likes how The Wine Thief is evolving.
“The store is constantly changing with the addition of the meat-and-cheese case, salt bar, non-alcoholic option and outdoor seating,” she said. “It has become my go-to spot on Friday nights and has completely changed how I eat and drink in Wenatchee.”
But if you know nothing more about wine than whether it’s red or white, that’s fine, too.
“Wine can be intimidating,” Jenni said. “You approach it and think you need to know a certain amount about it, and that’s just so not true. Here, we don’t want people to feel limited by their perceived lack of knowledge or inexperienced pallet when it comes to wine.”
“Paul and Jenni provide friendly and non-pretentious wine advice for every occasion from holiday dinners to summer picnics and never fail to find the perfect match for what I’m looking for,” she said.
Paul and Jenni grew up in small business families. When the couple first married, they visited Spain for two months and were “dirt poor,” Jenni said. They would fill their wine bottle at the local wine store, and take it back to their room and mix it with Coca-Cola. During the couple’s stay in Europe, they learned to recognize and appreciate the nuances and qualities of wines from different regions, such as France, Germany, Spain and Italy.
Paul developed a knack for locating special wines and brought that skill back when the couple returned to the states.
When they moved to Wenatchee, they were pleasantly surprised to discover the Wine Bin on Mission Avenue and were frequent customers. But when the business closed its doors for good, Paul could no longer find the wines he really liked. So he turned his passion of hunting for rare and small production wines into a business.
The couple opened its own wine shop in May 2011 in a small location on North Wenatchee Avenue and operated there its first year. It chose The Wine Thief for its new business name because of the play on words. In the wine world, the wine thief is not a mysterious guy lurking in the shadows of a dark alley, wearing a long black trench coat, a Lone Ranger mask and a Dick Tracy hat. Rather, it’s a tool similar to a turkey baster a winemaker uses to withdraw a sample of aging wine from an oak barrel.
“We first developed our logo guy carrying a wine thief in his hand, but it looked too much like he was carrying a vat of blood,” Jenni said. “So we had him packing off a couple of bottles of wine instead.”
Depending on what bottles of wine he’s stealing, the wine thief could be making a pretty good haul. Prices at The Wine Thief run from $4.99 to $450 a bottle. Price is determined by the region of the world in which the wine was made and how much of it was produced that season.
The new business flourished, and quickly outgrew its first location.
“It was about a third of the size we have here,” Jenni said. “It was a cute space with a beautiful fireplace, but we quickly discovered we needed more room. We wanted to be in downtown Wenatchee, and we found this space available. We really like being in this part of the downtown.”
Paul is now a certified sommelier — a wine steward who supervises the ordering, storing and serving of wine. Shalee Johnson, also a certified sommelier, joined the business in 2013.
“Shalee came with a background in wine, cheese and fine dining,” Paul said. “With this experience, it gives her credibility to help our customers make good and informed selections.”
With a plethora of great wine in the world, one may think choosing which labels and regions to offer in the store would be a difficult undertaking. But the task is made easier with two certified sommeliers on staff.
“It was Paul’s job originally, but now all three of us work together to purchase wine,” Jenni said. “If we don’t like it, we won’t sell it. Paul is very picky. He wants people to see what they’ve seen before, but at the same time be able to find the recognizable labels they can’t find in other places. Shalee has a wonderful pallet for wine. She’s a perfect fit for our business.”
Facebook fits the business well, too. The Wine Thief uses its Facebook page (https://facebook.com/winethiefstore) to stay in touch with its customers.
The Wine Thief has aged well for Paul and Jenni McNeill.
“We weren’t sure where we would take it,” Jenni said. “But we’re pleased with how it has evolved to where we are today.”