Mark Collier / Staff Photo Mussels Fra Diavolo is one of the food specials available at Cork, prepared by chef Laura Thompson.
WATERBURY — What happens when you take away the pretentiousness of wine tasting and add in local bites, a cozy atmosphere and a knowledgeable staff? You get Cork Wine Bar & Market in Waterbury.
After moving home to Vermont following a 10-year stint as a ski racing instructor based in California, proprietor Danielle Nichols opened Cork in September 2011, and it’s going strong. While in California and traveling around the world for her job, she discovered the concept of the combined retail shop and wine bar, a setup that allows patrons a less expensive way to try and learn about a variety of wines.
“I loved how global wine was, and my goal with Cork was to make a space that offered value-driven wines in a more approachable atmosphere,” says Nichols, 35. She has succeeded in doing just that, though not without some challenges.
While renovating before opening, Tropical Storm Irene hit Waterbury; the space was fine, but she worried about her business plan. “I looked at Waterbury as this incredible, quiet place that had, and still has, a ton of potential. The Alchemist (brew pub) had enriched that, and I wanted to get in on it. So, when they closed I was a little unsure, but it’s been great.”
Nichols credits the consultants and free services at the Women’s Small Business Center and the Vermont Small Business Development Center for aiding her success, and she’s thrilled to see her vision a thriving reality.
The shop focuses on smaller production and boutique-style wines that aren’t available in grocery stores in the area. Most of the wines are under $30 a bottle, but the 120 or so offerings range from $8 to $80 a bottle. Customers can special order, with discounts on full or mix-and-match cases, and Nichols has put together cases of 12 different wines (six red, six white) for $100 for the holiday season.
The wine bar features a glass pour menu of a dozen wines sold in the shop, accompanied by light dishes ranging from homemade hummus and pitas to local cheese and charcuterie and paté plates, in addition to salads and panini.
“We try to cater our glass pour list to all different styles of wine — juicy, dry, earthy, jammy. We offer tastes so people can find what they like,” says Nichols. Champagne and local hard ciders are also on the rotating menu.
Relatively new are specialty nights, which have been well received. “It has been wonderful how supportive Waterbury has been. There’s such a great sense of community. Waterbury is going to keep moving up. It’s a cool dynamic of restaurants and great people,” Nichols says.
On Mondays customers can enjoy Vietnamese pho; on Wednesdays, oysters shucked to order; and on Thursdays, mussels and ceviche. Saturday nights there is live music, which is currently Seth Eames from 7 to 10 p.m. Cork also hosts events — birthday and holiday parties, as well as rehearsal dinners for couples looking for a more European, tapas-style meal.
If you’re looking to learn a little about wine without the posturing, to enjoy a light meal in a warm, relaxing space or to find a special bottle, Cork is the place to go.
“My approach to anybody that walks in the door is: ‘Let’s find something you like,’ with no formal training — that’s what it’s about. That’s the best part about wine, they’re all different. I want to get people excited about learning about wine. If someone can walk away with something they love or having tried something new, I’m happy.”
Cork is on Stowe Street in Waterbury and is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays starting at 2 p.m., Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays starting at noon. There’s no posted closing time. After Jan. 1, it will be open Tuesdays at 2 p.m. Learn more at corkvt.com.
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