Forget worrying about what wine pairs with fish or steak. Digress Wine in College Park is asking deeper questions:

What wine pairs with … a hard day at work?

A quiet evening by yourself?

Catching up with old friends?

A geek-out session with your wine buddies?

A first date – or a fifth? 

Former wine sales reps Brian Kerney and Rob Chase are in the process of transitioning the store, which they purchased last fall, into a combination wine bar and retail shop with a concept they hope will change the way Orlando thinks about wine.

They’re gradually remodeling the old space, and they’ve changed the store’s name online and on social media. But the Digress concept is more than just a name. When Kerney and Chase left their jobs at Augustan Wine Imports, they were eager to leave behind – and even contradict – many of the rules and conventions of the wine world.

 

BrianRobCavanaughsDec2017
Digress owners Rob Chase (left) and Brian Kerney hope to change how Orlando thinks about wine.

Central to that rule breaking is the way Digress will organize its wine list and retail displays – not by region, varietal, or characteristic (big reds, aromatic whites, etc.), but by the mood of the drinker.

Chase and Kerney believe wines should be chosen, not for prestige or popularity, but for quality and for the occasion. They promise to take care of the quality side; as for mood and occasion – they’ve devised five categories to help customers with that. They call them the “Five Paths to Wine Enlightenment.”

  • Crushin’ it 
    Highly drinkable wines that you may not have heard of but that go down easy at the end of a long day.
    Example: 2016 Brachetto – Matteo Correggia Anthos, Roero Piedmont
  • Too sexy for my …
    Sensuous wines that are all about texture – plushness, finesse, and elegance. These are wines that “conjure up romance, great music, great art, and memorable times,” says Kerney.
    Example: 2015 Mencia – Descendientes de J. Palacios “Petalos,” Bierzo, Spain
  • Get along gang
    Excellent expressions of familiar varietals
    Example: 2014 Pinot Noir – Talley “Estate,” Arroyo Grande, California
  • Feed your head
    Wines to geek out on, for when you want the wine to be the center of attention.
    Example: 2015 Romorantin – Francois Cazin, Cour-Cheverny, Loire Valley, France
  • Truly transcendent
    Classic stunners that “could change your life.”
    Example: 2012 Nebbiolo – Burlotto G.B. DOCG, Barolo, Piedmont, Italy

Key to this concept is the idea that anyone could love a wine from any category, depending on the situation. Even for the most discriminating wine drinker, say Kerney and Chase, there are times when a blockbuster bottle or a nerdy hipster wine just isn’t appropriate.

VanGogh Tasting
A recent Digress tasting featured so-called “wines of joy,” as described in a little-known wine book co-created by Vincent Van Gogh.

Kerney recalls bringing several funky, geeky bottles to a New Year’s Eve party with his wine industry friends. The bottle they enjoyed most was the polar opposite of those – a big, jammy California red blend with 15.5% alcohol. It was the favorite, he says, because it paired best with the occasion and the mood.

Late April Rollout, Food & Flights to Come

Digress plans to roll out its by-the-glass list by the end of April, with at least three selections in each of the five categories. Prices will range from $8-$16 – pretty reasonable, considering that Barolo on the sample list. Soon after, Kerney and Chase will launch a sixth category with low-alcohol cocktails (think Aperol spritzes), beers, and non-alcoholic selections.

Eventually, they plan to offer flights within and across the categories, as well as events spotlighting each category in turn.

If all this makes you hungry, don’t worry – Digress is teaming up with Chef Ian Russell of the Smoke and Donuts food truck to start offering small plates to pair with each category. (Hint: gourmet mac and cheese is a strong contender for the Get along gang; cassoulet is a leading option for Truly transcendent.) They’re currently working to get the permitting they’ll need to make that happen.

 

Raconteur pairing
J.J. Prum riesling with garlic sausage & spicy kimchi at a recent Digress “Raconteur” night

They’re already wading into wine and food pairings, though, with their new Saturday night “Raconteur” collaboration with Orlando Meats. Since early March, the popular local butcher and restaurant has been offering Digress patrons a different selection of small plates each week, complemented by half- and full-glass pairings from Kerney and Chase.

But Why “Digress”?

“Digress,” Kerney says, “is a state of mind.”

I’ve said in the past that I consider Brian Kerney a wine philosopher. Never has that been more true than when he’s sitting in his unfinished wine bar, drinking a great rosé , talking about his vision and explaining his choice of a name for it. His words speak for themselves.

Some of my greatest experiences and most creative ideas have come from getting lost for a little bit, or taking the road less traveled, or reading something of a totally different genre that reminds me of something in my everyday, workaday life. When you jump back into your ‘true life,’ you have a much more refreshed ability to approach it with a clear, creative mindset.

In Europe, they really understand that. They allow for more breaks during the day as a society. If you stop off for an Aperol spritz on your way home to see your wife and kids, you don’t storm immediately through the door with all the pent up stuff from the day. You got the chance to decompress, to have an interaction of a different type.

That’s Digress. Try something different, go off on a tangent that brings you back to a truer version of yourself.

Born of Frustration

To some degree, the Digress concept was born out of frustration with the rigid rules and realities Kerney and Chase encountered during their time in the world of wine distribution.

Too many times, Kerney says, he saw restaurants purchase “insipid pinot grigio” simply to fill holes in the pinot grigio categories on their wine lists. Too often, he saw big suppliers pressure reps to sell “cynical” wines produced only for financial gain, leaving more interesting and artistically-produced wines and smaller producers by the wayside.

He and Chase were eager to leave those constraints behind and forge their own path – one that would allow them to introduce wine lovers to new wines and a new way of enjoying them. It’s starting to happen, they say.

Italian Tasting Courtyard
A recent al fresco tasting of Italian wines at Digress

The retail side of the store is already organized into the five “paths,” and Chase says the layout has been a great conversation starter. People have to ask ask for guidance, and that opens the door for discussion about their preferences and allows him to suggest new options. Customers have been overwhelmingly receptive, he says.

Chase and Kerney say customer service will be key to the Digress concept. With a wine list that’s based on mood and filled with fun and unfamiliar varietals, it’ll have to be. Kerney says he tries to read each customer and guide them to the appropriate category, based on the experience they want to have.

There are times, he rightly points out, when wine should be the soundtrack, not the headliner. How many times have we wine lovers rushed through a glass of something that could’ve been Truly transcendent because someone was waiting to pour the next bottle … or because we ordered it at a busy social occasion where we couldn’t really listen to the wine?

If wine enlightenment is what you seek, perhaps a different “path” would’ve been a better choice. The guys at Digress are there to help.

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