Does Sarasota need another wine store? Judging by the response to downtown's new Sarasota Wine Co., the answer is yes. On a recent visit, several locals were waiting for the store to open and very pleased that the proprietor, Joe Levine, opened early for them. Levine has spent a number of years in the wine trade from Naples to New York, Atlanta and, now, Sarasota. His vision is to create a welcoming neighborhood store with a wide selection of affordable wines that are both popular and special personal selections.
Levine was surprised that there was no dedicated wine store downtown. He found out that the permitting processes and other regulatory hurdles typically take six months to get through. Both he and his wife worked together to design and build the shop's unique space. With the theme of white throughout, it provides a pleasant contrast to the dark wood or metal shelving at other wine emporiums.
A sense of camaraderie pervades the store, as neighbors, tourists and wine lovers gather to sample wines and listen to winemakers discuss their wares. Last week, an opening tasting with two winemakers produced a large crowd. Conversations and guests with samples spilled outside, where a lengthy cushioned seat provided a respite from the crowd.
Levine’s extensive experience provides him with contacts at small family wineries. His focus is on highlighting these producers, as well as other niche winemakers that small Florida distributors provide. A unique and inviting sales method he employs is “6 for $60.” He has created attractive six-bottle carriers and allows the consumer to choose six bottles from a wide selection on two walls for $60. Those wines are priced higher, but the option provides a nice opportunity to experience a number of different wines from a wide variety of producers at a reasonable cost.
In Venice, meanwhile, the Casey Key Collector Wine online retail operation recently opened a boutique shop and wine bar. The lavish venture is the brainchild of Steve and Cheri Harner. Steve purchased The Crow’s Nest restaurant in Venice in 1976. Steve sold the property in 2017 and retained the wine collection, which became the basis for the company. His offerings are quite extensive and, since he purchased them, the provenance is guaranteed. Wines can be obtained online or in the store and numerous selections by the glass or bottle are available. Wine lockers are also offered.
Sarasota Wine Co. is located at 64 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota. For more info, call (941) 343-2289 or visit the shop's website.
Casey Key Collector Wine is located at 266 S. Tamiami Trail, Venice. For more info, call (941) 480-1866 or visit the shop's website.
Bob McGinn has spent his entire career in the wine industry—forming wine clubs, working in wine sales marketing and engaging in all facets of the winemaking process, including vine management, fermentation and yeast analysis. He has developed wine programs for companies such as Marriott, Sheraton and Smith & Wollensky, and consults with local restaurants. You can read more of McGinn’s work at gulfcoastwinejournal.com.