Trying different wines has never been so easy since the opening of the West Indies Wine Company in Camana Bay on 1 March. With a push of a button, customers can try a tasting, a half glass or a whole glass of 80 different wines that are as fresh as the moment the bottle was opened.
Wine lovers in Grand Cayman have to be thrilled with the opening of the West Indies Wine Company, an establishment that defies an easy label.
“We’re a tasting room and we’re an eclectic wine retail store,” said store manager Alex McClenaghan.
The tasting room aspect features 80 ‘WineStation’ dispensers produced by a company called Napa Technology, a leading manufacturer of machines that keep wines from degrading after opening. Used in tasting rooms, wine stores, restaurants and bars, the WineStation keeps wines fresh for up to 60 days after the cork is removed by pumping argon gas into the bottle and removing oxygen. This process prevents oxidation, a common wine defect that is similar to foods becoming stale.
“Every taste will be as fresh as when you first pulled the cork,” said McClenaghan.
The retail aspect of the West Indies Wine Company, which is along the Paseo at Camana Bay, features bottled wines and spirits and even cases of beer.
The wines in the WineStation dispensers are arranged in particular way to make it easier for customers to find the kinds they like. White wines start along the wall on the left side of the store and continue clockwise to a portion of the back wall. The lighter-bodied white wines are placed first and as the WineStations progress toward the back wall, the wines get progressively fuller bodied until the Chardonnays are reached. After the white wines, the red wines follow a similar progression of lighter-to-fuller body as they progress from left to right along the back wall.
This arrangement not only allows customers to taste a wine with the kind of body that they’re looking for at the time, but if they want to try something they’ve never had before, they can try one placed near a wine they know and sample something with a similar body style.
To use the WineStations, customers have to get a ‘smart card’ from the cashier. McClenaghan said that the cards work one of two ways; either people can buy a card with a certain dollar amount on them and WineStations will deduct credits with each pour they get; or customers can secure an open smart card using a credit card and the WineStations will add charges with each pour. The account is then settled with the credit card before they leave the store.
The cost of the pours depends on the price of the wine in the dispenser and the size of the pour. Customers have three sizes of pours to choose from: a one-ounce tasting; a three-ounce half glass; or a 5-ounce full glass.
There are three rinse sinks in the store for customers to rinse out their glasses if they are trying multiple wines.
Tasting pours range from as little as $1.50 and go up to $25 for high-end wines. Glasses range from $7 to $100.
To help customers navigate through the wine choices, the West Indies Wine Company has two certified sommeliers on staff – McClenaghan and Josh Wludyka.
Note pads designed for jotting down tasting notes are available throughout the store so that customers can keep track the wines they have sampled and how much they liked them.
Customers can also go to West Indies Wine Company website to see tasting notes on all 80 wines in the WineStations at any given time.
Clean and fresh
To get a pour, customers simply grab one of the clean wine glasses available at different places in the store, slide their West Indies Wine Company smart card into the slot on the WineStation containing the wine they want to try, put the glass under the spout and push the button for the size of pour they want. The requested size pour is then dispensed into the glass, propelled by argon gas that ensures every drop is dispensed.
As the wine is dispensed from the bottle, the void is filled with more argon gas that prevents oxygen from coming in contact with the surface of the wine.
In normal circumstances where oxygen interacts with wine, the bottle needs to be consumed quickly before it starts degrading.
McClenaghan explained that many bars and restaurants don’t have extensive options when it comes to serving wines by the glass because of the risk involved in opening a bottle, only selling one or two glasses and then have to discard the rest of the bottle because it became oxidised. However, by keeping oxygen out of the bottle, the WineStation system extends the shelf life of the wine considerably, giving establishments that have the system about two months to sell through any given bottle. This allows them offer many more kinds of wine without the same risk of spoilage that establishments that don’t the WineStation system have. Once customers have their wine in a glass, they can take a seat at one of the tables inside or right outside the store and enjoy their beverage. For those who want to join their wine-loving friends, but would rather have a beer, the West Indies Wine Company has a cooler filled with cold beers they can purchase.
Although it is not a restaurant, the West Indies Wine Company offers some nibbles from the nearby Bay Market for sale on Friday nights and allows people to bring food from any of the nearby restaurants to its establishment to enjoy with their beverages.
Jodie Ehrhart, the wine sales manager for Cayman Distributors Limited, said the West Indies Wine Company offers a great way to try new wines.
“All the people who are afraid to buy a whole bottle of something they haven’t tried before can come here to taste the wine before they buy a bottle,” she said. In addition, a dozen or so of the wines that can be tasted are available exclusively at the West Indies Wine Company, allowing customers to try wines that aren’t sold in any of the other retail stores in the Cayman Islands.
Ehrhart noted that the West Indies Wine Company is a perfect place to hold a birthday or another type of celebration and could even facilitate a evening buyout for a private event.
The West Indies Wine Company is also a retail store, selling bottles of wine and spirits and even glassware, decanters and other wine gadgets.
Because of the type of liquor licence it has, West Indies Wine Company is also able to offer bottles of wines – including Champagne – and spirits for sale as long as they are at least 750ml in size.
In addition to the wines offered for tasting, the store also sells bottles of many of the most popular brands sold in the Cayman Islands, McClenaghan said.
The store keeps its air conditioning on at between 73 and 74 degrees 24 hours a day to help maintain the quality of the wines. The store has a commercial wine well water chiller that will allow someone who buys a bottle of wine to rapidly chill it to their desired temperature.
As far as spirits are concerned, West Indies Wine Company sells a selection of rum, vodka, gin, tequila, scotch whisky, bourbon whiskey and liqueurs.
Customer can also buy beer retail, but it must be a minimum of an entire case.
The West Indies Wine Company’s liquor licence also allows it to sell its retail goods for extended hours. It is open seven days a week, from 10am until 10pm Monday through Thursday; from 10am to midnight on Friday and Saturday; and from 1pm to 9pm on Sunday.