Hastings: WineStation lets customers sample various types

When Bob Kniejski was developing ideas for the Winston-Salem Wine Market, he came up with the slogan “Explore. Experience. Enjoy!” It reflects the kind of shop he wants. Kniefji and his wife, Wini, opened the shop in late November, 1231 Creekshire Way. And though the Kniejskis planned regular free tastings to help customers with those three Es, they also invested about $20,000 in the Wine Station dispensing system made by Napa Technology. Essentially, this is a wine vending machine. Customers buy a debit-style card at the register, loading as much money as they want. Then they grab a glass. Kniejski has three temperature-controlled dispensers that each hold four wine bottles. Except for sparkling wines, the machine can accommodate any of the nearly 500 750-ml bottles that the shop carries. A customer inserts the card in a slot, then chooses a wine and the size pour they want. Kniejski also can customize the amount, but he currently has the machines set up to offer pours of 1 ounce, 2 ounces or 4 ounces. Once the machine pours the wine, it displays the balance remaining on the card. People don’t have to use up the balance on one visit. They can take the card home and bring it back another day. A tank of harmless argon gas keeps the wines under pressure and fresh for up to 60 days, though Kniejski said he’s been averaging about 10 days to empty any one bottle. (Carolina Vineyard & Hops on South Marshall St. has a similar system that uses nitrogen, but CV&H sells only North Carolina wines.) Prices vary depending on the wine, but many of the 1-ounce pours cost about $2. The other week 1-ounce prices ranged from $1.35 for a French Cotes du Rhone red blend, which costs $17 a bottle, to $5.60 for the Domene Serene Evenstead Reserve Pinot Noir — a $69 bottle that was rated No. 3 in Wine Spectator magazine’s Top 100 Wines of 2013. The goal is to allow customers to try some wines they might not otherwise taste. This can be a more relaxing way to taste for some people. Unlike an organized tasting, you don’t have people waiting in line behind you or a salesperson bending your ear about how the wine tastes and how good it is. “I wanted a non-intimidating place where people who have no knowledge of wine can go and be com-fortable,” he said of his idea for the shop. “I also wanted a place where people with some knowledge can go and learn more, and where a discriminating customer can go and find fine wines.” The Wine Station gives him a lot of flexibility in achieving those ends. The other week, his white wines in the Wine Station included a French Rhone blend, a New Zealand sauvignon blanc and an Italian wine made from the unusual falanghina. Reds included an Australian shiraz, Oregon pinot noir and Italian barbaresco. “We try to mix it up in the machines so we have different grapes, different countries, different price points,” Kniejski said. “So people can have something they’ve never had before, or people who wonder if a $70 bottle is really that different can try it and find out.” David Kelly decided the other week to satisfy his curiosity about the 2011 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, a well-known Napa Valley wine that sells for about $68 a bottle — and he ended up buying it. “I made my decision to purchase a bottle of Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon on the fact that I could use the tasting card I purchased to get a 1-ounce pour…. While this Caymus is an expensive premium red wine, I liked the fact that I could base my decision to purchase on my actual tasting of the wine and not someone describing what the wine might taste like.” Kniejski has been impressed with how customers respond to the Wine Station. “I’ve been surprised to see someone load $100 on the card, have one glass of wine, then go out the door. But you know they’re coming back,” Kniejski said. The other day, Doug Brewer stopped by the store after work and tried the Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc, a wine he had never had before. “I do a lot of my shopping up and down this street, and I’ve wanted to come in for a while,” Brewer said. “It’s pretty neat,” he said of the Wine Station. “I don’t know a lot about wines, so I can come in here and try whatever I want to sample. I think this is one of the best ideas you can have for a wine store.” Kniejski is discovering that the Wine Station is fun for a lot of customers. “Here’s the other thing that’s cool,” Kniejski said. “Some people will come in, get a card and go straight to the machine. They’ll get a 2-ounce pour, then walk around the shop looking at wines while they drink it.”