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Blanc & Rouge

'Everything Wine' in Snohomish

A charming 100-year-old building with soaring ceilings and chandeliers houses a wine shop, wine bar and tasting room with a definite Euro-feel. Tall chairs at three small bars and a wood cabinet that is the base for commerce definitely has a French vibe and a Northwest rural feel; the two merge successfully. Not what you might expect in this small town, but what a joy to discover.

Mary Pat Connors started the shop in 2012. By 2013, she told a friend it was difficult to handle the shop alone and she couldn't find someone to help. The friend said, "I think I know someone." That someone was Mina Williams (photo), a Northwest native. A year after graduating from the UW in journalism, she moved to New York where all good journalists think they must go. Over the years, her writing covered perishables, logistics and technology, and the grocery and restaurant trade. After New York, Mina spent seven years in San Francisco and two years in Chicago, where she wrote for Supermarket News, Nation's Restaurant News and Women's Wear Daily. Among other things, she wrote about salt producers in Wales, boutiques, and wineries. "I like knowing how things work," says Mina. "For wine, I wondered how it goes from grapes to bottle, not the process, but the mechanics: growing, shipping, tariffs, taxes, then onto the shelf. It's not dumb luck or an accident. It takes a lot of dedicated people. That's exciting to me."

Mina returned to Seattle in 1999 to assist with aging parents. She freelanced for the same people she had been writing for full-time. Around that time, she met Eileen Mintz, a local culinary PR agent and began working with her, dabbling in the restaurant operations side of things. "Because I understand operations, I could listen to a restaurant owner, then translate that into what made sense in the kitchen," she recalls. "If you don't understand operations, things can go wrong. Your passion becomes a nightmare." An inveterate researcher, Mina tended to "over-research" for stories, but then understood the whole picture. "When blogging exploded, the world changed. I freelanced and worked for the Everett Herald in community reporting. The Herald was owned by the Washington Post and I had a feeling they would sell the paper. I went to work for a wine and liquor distributor for a few years. While there, I took the Certified Specialist in Wine Course through the Professional Wine Education Association. I then went through the first two levels of the Court of Sommeliers and am a certified sommelier. Eventually, the distributor wanted to go a different direction. I wasn't doing anything when I heard about Blanc & Rouge needing help."

Mina began working with Mary Pat in 2014. Three years later, Mary Pat approached Mina and husband Bruce Rutkin about buying the business. "We looked at this seriously," says Mina. "I wrote a business plan with an overview of Snohomish and researched census data and County records. It's an evolving area with both young families and retirees moving in. The State requires a heavy commitment to inventory; it's not a hobby. It felt like the perfect business for us. We love the community and the business, there's free parking for customers, and we have a reverse commute!"

The inventory hasn't changed much since Mina was the buyer before becoming the owner. "I'm most proud of the inventory; there's real depth for this small market. I'd put our inventory up against just about anyone in Seattle. We have 300+ different wines and nearly 2,000 bottles, depending on the time of year. We have a nice line of Washington homegrown wines - from Cedergreen Cellars and II Vintners to Dunham and Canvasback, a California winery that uses Washington grapes. We have a shrine to bubbles, from Italy to South Africa to Chile and France. There is a Captain's rack for beauties that go from $50 and up from all over the world, and wines from $10-50 from Spain, Italy and France, plus the Canary Islands to Morocco and elsewhere. We have a Quilceda Creek Cab for $200 and a $10 Australian Shiraz. We know people will have questions, so our staff is well-versed; we want to provide that hands-on service. When I choose wines, it's about tastiness and a good story. I've tried everything in the store, so people can trust what I tell them."

They're serious about being "everything wine," and offer glasses, decanters, gifts, and gadgets, plus cheese, almonds, chocolate bars from Spain and Seattle, bourbon cherries, elderflower tonic, bitters, cookies. In May, they ramped up their by-the-glass program with a menu of local and international wines and $5 glass pours that rotate quarterly. They added two more bar spaces, with a total of six chairs.

"In addition to augmenting our by-the-glass program, we've increased our events, classes, and tasting nights," says Mina. "If there's an out-of-town winemaker visiting, we try to have them in; we want our customers to have access. We hire a chef for winemaker dinners offsite and consult with people. One customer wanted to make a seven-course birthday dinner and had us do the pairing. Another group was going to Italy and we put together a tasting from all the places they would visit. To celebrate Tour de France, we tasted around France."

Their wine club is free to join. Members receive six bottles quarterly at their chosen price point: $15, $25, $25, $50.

Blanc & Rouge is a wonderful experience as is. But the future may hold 4 ounce tastes of high-end bottles with a Coravin system and a deepening of on-premise menus, both wine and food. "Our plan is to be the spot for wine drinkers in the North Sound," Mina declares. We think she might already be there.

Blanc & Rouge
801 First Street
Snohomish, WA 98290

Connie Adams/January 2019

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