The wine's about to flow in North Central. Justin Coleman
, former GM of The Ordinary, is opening Monarch Wine Merchants
at 1107 King St.
"I left that post in late August of last year to pursue this project naively thinking I could pop this open in a few months," Coleman says. Now it's looking more like late spring for the first time wine shop owner.
But while he may be a newbie to the vino retail biz, Coleman is a veteran sommelier. The Court of Master Sommelier's Level 2 somm got his start at New York City's Balthazar in 2005 as assistant wine director. From there he went on to become the chef/somm at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's The Mark Restaurant in the Mark Hotel.
Living in Brooklyn at the time, Coleman says he fell in love with a little wine shop called Smith & Vine. "I just loved the whole feel. It wasn't big, it was kinda quaint and warming. I loved the wine selection. They didn't take themselves too seriously, but offered serious fun wine, no bullshit mass market wines. Somebody gave a shit about what they were selling. I loved the staff, somebody always said hello. Everybody was knowledgeable and friendly but not snooty. They were there to chat, but stayed away if you wanted to browse," he says.
And that's the sort of place Coleman hopes to achieve with Monarch Wine Merchants.
"I liked that whole aspect of it," Coleman explains. "With buying wine, everybody can tell what a rotten tomato looks like at a vegetable stand, but when you're talking about wine, unless you've done some studying, there's not really much to go on besides a pretty label." Which is where he hopes Monarch comes in. Part wine shop, part education center, the shop will be divided into two parts with bottles up front and a classroom in back.
It's the kind of place he says he couldn't find when he moved down to Charleston. "When I was off work on Sunday or Monday and my wife and I were cooking dinner at home and we wanted to pick up a decent bottle of wine not at Harris Teeter or Total Wine, a place where they care about what you eat and drink, there wasn't anything there," he says. "Bull Street Gourmet, I liked going to, but the staff is busy making sandwiches, and offering diner, lunch, groceries, there was no dedicated spot for wine."
Today the peninsular wine landscape has grown. There's recently opened goat.sheep.cow.north and Wine & Company
, but they offer a number of things, including a restaurant service. Edmund's Oast Exchange is also in the works and will have not only Brandon Plyer's beer offerings, but also a wine program from Sarah O'Kelley — obvious competition, but Coleman still sees Monarch as offering something unique.
"Everything on the shelf will be stuff I love to drink myself, and have been vetted through a tasting process, my knowledge, and my staff's knowledge. If you have any questions, we'll have an intelligent answer for you," he says. "My palate tends to veer toward the Old World, mostly European domains from small, family operated wineries, usually multi-generational. I'm a sucker for the old school notion of a winery being run by a family or young couple with small production and definitely a penchant for a lot of natural wine. I don't want to pigeonhole myself and don't want to seem trendy or trite, but those are wines I tend to veer towards, not only on a political scale but also on a tasty scale."
Monarch will have a small staff — two people to begin with including Coleman — and will offer tastings, wine classes, and events in back.
"We might dabble into beer a little bit, but with Edmund's Oast Exchange, I don't have the chops that those guys do. It would be beer retail suicide. In all honesty, I don't know shit about beer. Wine is my thing."
Look for Coleman's thing to come to life when Monarch Wine Merchants opens as soon as May.