VAVino: New Mall mantra: Go wine!

To anyone who understands Italian, the name of the new Virginia wine bar set to open on the Downtown Mall in July– VAVino– has a secondary meaning. Not only is it a clever way to combine our state's two-letter abbreviation with the no-translation-needed "vino," but it also suggests the confidence this new venture expresses in the Virginia wine industry: "Go wine!"

The first-ever wine bar (on this scale, at least) devoted exclusively to Virginia wines, VAvino is the brainchild of winemaker Michael Shaps [See Hot Seat, page XX].

"I had been looking for the perfect spot for two years and had just about given up hope," he says. But this spring, the gods smiled on Shaps. When the Sun Bow Trading space became available, he had just purchased a vineyard in Burgundy, France (another lifelong dream), and he and wife, Christie Shaps, had just had a baby.

Though he makes wine for several local vineyards– in addition to his own in Burgundy– it was Shaps' collaboration with King Family Vineyards in Crozet that helped transform this dream into a real possibility. Since it's illegal to operate a bar (unless it's connected with a restaurant) in Virginia, VAVino is officially a "remote tasting venue" for King Family Vineyards (every vineyard is allowed five "remote locations").

In fact, this wine bar will sell– and celebrate– wines from about 200 different Virginia wineries. If you didn't think there even were 200 wineries in Virginia, consider this: four to five new ones open each year in the Charlottesville area alone! Jefferson would be proud.

Though it was certainly inspired by classic wine bars in France (Shaps studied winemaking in Burgundy), VAvino is a contemporary American take on a classic European genre. The spacious, luminous interior, painted shades of semolina and pumpkin, will sport curved black banquettes, a 25-foot zinc bar, scattered little bistro tables, and a generous retail section.

In addition to hundreds of wines available by the bottle, VAvino's menu will list about 40 wines by-the-glass, as well as feature wines and daily specials. Carefully selected "flights" (1.5 oz. tastings of four different wines) will encourage enological exploration. State-of-the art Le Verre de Vin wine display coolers and Austrian tasting glasses will ensure top-quality sips and lots of swirling.

"Wine geeks love to leisurely swirl and sniff their wine in big glasses," Shaps says.

In addition to the main bar, VAVino has a separate Reserve Room for rare vintages, and an info-section with winery brochures and books on wine. Open during regular hours (seven days, 11am-10pm, or so) the Reserve Room will also host the venue's many planned educational events (vertical and blind tastings, wine tasting classes) and can be reserved for private groups.

Sparked by the May 16 Supreme Court ruling in favor of wine commerce ("states that permit in-state vintners to sell directly to consumers may not deny that right to out-of-state producers"), VAvino's Internet "wine club" will enable wine lovers from most U.S. states to purchase Veritas Viognier or Barboursville Cabernet Franc.

Though the emphasis is clearly on vino, not on food, VAVino's menu will include a variety of cheese and paté plates as well as several dessert specials. By the end of July, we should all be cheering "VA Vino!"

VAVino brings the pleasures of Bacchus to former Sun Bow spot.