FAIRBANKS — With the notes of a string orchestra playing in the air, the warm light cast by chandeliers and the faint smell of fresh paint, patrons of one of Fairbanks’ newest businesses browse aisle after tastefully arranged aisle of works of art from around the world, looking for the perfect selection to take home.
Instead of masterfully crafted creative works to be hung proudly on a wall, Northern Vines Fine Wine and Spirits sells its art by the bottle.
Opened just a little more than two weeks ago, the wooden shelves of Northern Vines are stocked with a dizzying array of exotic and hard-to-find wines, beers and spirits from just every corner of the world.
It’s the latest endeavor of local entrepreneur and restauranteur Melodee Weber, who has had a hand in a variety of bars and restaurants in Fairbanks over the years. She said her goal was to create something Fairbanksans can’t get anywhere else.
The selection and content of Northern Vines is all thanks to Bruce Abbott, a 31-year-old Fairbanks native and Northern Vines’ manager and buyer. He’s one of the foremost authorities on wine in Fairbanks, with a number of certifications and an encyclopedic knowledge of grape varieties, wine chemistry and wine history.
On Saturday, he strolled through the store like a proud art gallery curator, pointing out particular bottles of wine he hand-picked for the store. He tells the stories behind a Argentinian Bonarda, Chilean Carmenère, Portuguese Douro and Italian Falanghina, explaining the flavor, the regions and, importantly, which meals are best paired with each bottle.
“There are literally thousands of grapes that people haven’t been exposed to in Fairbanks, and it’s really fun to expose people to those different ones,” he says. “Our philosophy is a bottle of wine for everybody who walks in the door.”
While Northern Vines has a selection of fine wines that might break the bank, there’s something for everybody. One customer takes home three bottles of Argentinian wine, while the next customer buys a case of Bud Light. And that’s fine for Abbott.
“The person who is buying the Bud Light is just as important to us as the person who is buying a bottle of Caymus cabernet or McClelland scotch,” he said.
Bottles of wine range from about $8 to $300. Most wines sit in about the $15 range, none of which you’ll find on the shelves of the local grocery store. In addition, there are the usual selection of beers as well as unusual and interesting microbrews.
In the two weeks, Weber says they’ve enjoyed a strong start and they’ve had trouble keeping the shelves stocked to keep up with demand, but she’s already looking at expanding, adding fine imported cheeses, chocolates and cigars.
Abbott, who has boundless enthusiasm in sharing his passion with others, says particularly popular exotic wines include the Pinotage, a South African signature wine, and the Mourvèdre, originating from the Rhône region of France.
On Saturday afternoon, Fairbanks resident Aaron Welterlen smiles and points out a selection of wines from New Zealand wineries that he had worked on as well as another collection from wineries he visited in Argentina.
“It’s brilliant,” he said. “Typically, you’ll go somewhere and end up liking a wine, but when you go back home, you will never find it. This is really nice.”
There is already a growing contingent of regulars who walk the aisles looking for the latest unusual wine to try.
For Abbott, who can tell the intimate story behind each bottle of wine, Northern Vines simply has been an opportunity for him to do what he loves.
“Wine is this wonderful combination of chemistry and art that go together, from the growing of the vine to the winemaking to the appreciation of itself,” he said. “I’m just incredibly grateful to do what I’m passionate about.”
Northern Vines is open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. It is located at 475 Riverstone Way, in the shopping center near the intersection of Chena Pump Road and Chena Ridge Road.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544.