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10.21.09

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Phaedra

Artisan Wine Depot

By Stett Holbrook


MOUNTAIN VIEW'S Artisan Wine Depot is different from most wine shops. First off, the 5-month-old store is in an unlikely setting: behind a roll-top door next to an auto shop in an industrial strip of Mountain View.

"We're kind of like a speakeasy wine shop," says Artisan Wine Depot marketing specialist James Tran in reference to the store's discreet, camouflaged appearance.

Inside is a smuggler's cave of vinous treasures. The small space is densely packed with domestic and international wines, many of them from lesser-known, small production wineries. "It's like home cooking rather than mass, cafeteria-style cooking," Tran says of the store's selection. "We want to offers wines that have good stories to tell."

The shop also offers premium beers and soon will stock sake if they can find the space. For wine lovers, the place feels like an overloaded toy store.

Artisan Wine Depot also sets itself apart in that wine buyer Christine Tran, James Tran's sister, is a sommelier. Sommeliers most often work in restaurants, and Christine used to put her wine knowledge to use at Mountain View's now-closed Castro Point restaurant. She also has experience in corporate wine buying and beverage-program development for retail and restaurant establishments such as the Straits Restaurant Group and the Wine Club. As the sommelier-in-residence at the wine shop, she is able to walk customers through her wine selections and help them pick the right wine. She also sticks little tasting notes with food pairings to each bottle, kind of like a cheat sheet for wine.

She has created a feature on her websites (artisanwineshop.com and askthesommelier.com) called "Ask the Sommelier." Not to be confused with Metro's monthly column "Ask the Sommelier," Christine Tran answers questions about food and wine pairings, serving wine and other queries submitted online. She's hoping to enlist the help of other sommeliers to offer a robust panel of experts.

She has tasted every wine in the store (not all at once) and aims to offers great wine values and wines that are "varietally correct," i.e., wines that best express the characteristics of the grapes from which they're made. Finding good wine is easy in California, but finding good wine at a good value is the challenge. "There's an art to finding good wine at a good value," she says.

White males dominate the wine industry, so as an immigrant who fled Vietnam with her family by boat after the fall of Saigon, Christine Tran offers some refreshing diversity in the vanilla wine world. She left a career in high tech to pursue her passion for wine. Because of her mother's partial French ancestry, she was exposed to wine when she was growing up but only on a limited basis. She's a certified sommelier now and is preparing for the arduous master sommelier exam. There are 150 master sommeliers in the world, and only 14 are women.

Finally, in spite of the Artisan Wine Depot's low-tech industrial setting, it's actually a rather technologically sophisticated operation. On Christine Tran's recommendation I picked up a bottle of a 2007 Bruscus San Valentino Lambrusco 2007 and nonvintage Praia Vinho Verde. An online account was created and my receipt emailed to me.

The coolest part is that when I logged in later I could see my purchases and then click on the wines to read tasting notes and background information on the wines. For regular customers this is a great feature that allows them to retrieve details about wines they enjoyed but can't quite remember. The store's online inventory matches the in-store inventory. Order online, and if you like, the staff will even box up your order and chill it for you if necessary. That makes pickup a breeze and saves on shipping.


Artisan Wine Shop

400A Villa St, Mountain View. 877.WINE.730 or 650.969.3511.


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