Some wine experts carry with them a breadth of knowledge that is overwhelming at best and intimidating at worst. But Josh is not your typical oenophile. He discusses wine with the same child-like passion as he does Star Wars action figures and Spider-Man comics. It is both endearing and contagious.
And while he may describe himself as a nerd—don’t be fooled. Josh Villapando of Assorted Table Wine Shoppe is as cool as a Napa morning breeze.
I had (Not Just) coffee with Josh on an early morning in the market and I discovered what wine appreciation can look like, and why more people should approach their passions with the same confident humility as he does with the wine he loves.
Can you describe a typical day for you?
Grab granola and a coffee, kiss my wife and baby goodbye. Most of the time, I’m in a car, but I do my best to ride my bike once a week to work. I get the store open, which is basically a mash-up. All these doors are from the Habitat Re-Store. It’s held together with zip-ties, PVC, chewing gum and positive thoughts. Then we start seeing wine reps all day. Through the course of the day, we taste between 12-40 wines. You look at it, you smell the wines, you taste them, you see where they’re being featured: big box stores, or small Mom & Pop stores, restaurants. We see if they will fit-in with any events or promotions we are doing. We’re also tasting beers and sake as well. And then we have deliveries coming in, and obviously, we’re retail so we have by-the-glass-folks who have never been in before, or that are power-lunching, tourists, or convention goers.
And your staff?
Our staff has got to be very nimble. They have to be able to multi-task, be proactive with the list they’ve been assigned by me, and also reactive with incoming deliveries, to customers, to spills. Roughly around 5:30-6:00, we start getting hit with folks that want to get a wine by the glass or split a bottle. And on Tuesdays—that’s probably our busiest day. We have a Tuesday night wine flight. It’s $5 plus tax and we give you a $5 gift certificate towards any bottle of wine in the shop. And the five glasses of wine (in the flight) are 10% off by the bottle—that day only. And you can use that $5 gift certificate. It totally incentivizes the guest to buy the bottle of the wine they just tried. It’s an event model that is an amalgamation of what I was doing at Pasta & Provisions and Reid’s Fine Foods.
What was your reaction when you were contacted by Cigars & Leisure for a feature article in their Summer 2018 magazine?
I was really flattered to be considered. I was stoked.
In the Cigars & Leisure article, you talk about approachability as it relates to wine (“Golly guys, it’s grape juice, it’s alcohol. Take it easy.”) How does that attitude translate to your shop in such a public space like 7th Street Public Market?
(laughing) To be clear, I think I was misquoted. I’ve never said ‘golly’ in my entire life—maybe doing a Gomer Pyle impersonation in 8th grade. Never having owned a store before and doing this completely by myself and being self-capitalized, all we had to work with was whatever was leftover: appliances and shelving from Reid’s Fine Foods. Seeing the space, in its infancy—it made no sense to have a really fancy, polished, wood-grain ‘this’ or marble ‘that.’ It would have been a clash, in my opinion, with the vibe that was going on with the other vendors who were already here. Additionally, it’s just not in my personality. Don’t get me wrong. I can throw a tux or suit on and talk about Napa cabs, or vintage verticals of Robert Mondavi. But I think because I’ve been doing this for so long, I just want to have fun with wine. And I want people to have fun with it—not have it serve as a vessel making you feel better about someone else.
Ok, what is with the Star Wars figurines?
Well, first, they are ‘action figures,’ not figurines. The collection is all mine. A little over two years ago, I found out my wife, Jenny, was pregnant. And to me, that was a sign that I need to do some adulting. So, the selection is not just Star Wars, it’s Batmobiles, Japanese die-cast robots, Legos. They go from 1961 all the way to now. We have some super exclusive stuff, like a telescoping sensor-ray R2-D2 from 1977 for $130.
Did your love of Leia and Luke precede your love of Lafite and Latour?
Oh, absolutely. Please!
What are you drinking at the moment (generally—right now it’s 8:30 in the morning)?
Currently, I have a new love for Albariño, from the northwest region of Spain. It has a lemon-lime personality, beautiful, zippy citrus notes, but also some stone fruit like peach and apricot—but no oak treatment. Face-ripping acidity.
So, it wants food?
Oh yeah. It’s said that Albariño is the perfect pairing with razor clams.
Because of the fattiness?
You’ve partnered with Zia Pia, Orrman’s, and Viva Raw for collaborative tastings and dinners. What is it that you enjoy about pairing with other vendors in the market?
The reason we do these comic book themed, or MacGyver themed, or Star Wars versus Star Trek wine tastings, is because these are the things I’ve always wanted to do. But I’d always get shut down by the bosses. Now that I am my own boss, I don’t have to ask for permission. And it may or may not be profitable, but the good news is the last couple of years, we’ve been able to get them to the point where they are.
How has the market supported you as a small business owner?
Every day, I’m so thankful, blessed. I’m very lucky to be invited to this spot by Charlotte Center City Partners and 7th Street Public Market. It was the push I always needed. I’ve always had a salary job, paid time-off, benefits. It was super scary doing this. I call it ‘Eu-fear-ia.’ It’s euphoria and fear put together. But 7th Street Public Market, Chris Clouden and his team, (Robert) Krumbine, (Michael) Smith, Moira (Quinn), Chris Hemans, Kyle (Bridges)—they have been remarkably supportive: the reach, the networking, the ability to be practically in the middle of town. We get courted by so many developers. But could I do multi-course dinners, wine education? Could I do holiday gift baskets? Could I do all this with ease with Charlotte Center City Partners and 7th Street Public Market bringing them to our doorstep?
Come to Josh’s doorstep and leave pretensions on the welcome mat. And maybe wear a Spider-Man t-shirt. It will earn you (7th) Street cred in Josh’s wine world.
In the next newsletter, I will try to break-out of my salmon poke serial ordering habit and eat something else at Bonsai Fusion. Maybe—it’s so good.—Ben Jarrell