By Ann Luongo
Have you ever longed to go to a wine tasting event, and sample delicious wines from a variety of regions, but just haven’t been able to for one reason or another? The owners of Uva Wine Bar, in Plymouth, have taken that wine-tasting event concept and turned it into an incredibly successful business.
“The concept of Uva Wine Bar actually started while on vacation in Grand Cayman. We [owners Katy Gaenicke and Michelle Manware] were on vacation and went to the West Indies Wine Company where we saw the self-serve wine stations,” said Gaenicke. “As two friends who love wine, we were instantly enamored of the idea of self-serve wine and having the opportunity to taste a variety of different wines from different regions.”
It was an “Aha!” moment for the friends, and they both thought it would be a great business to bring back to the South Shore. When they returned from their trip, they immediately got to work creating a business plan, securing a loan and seeking out the best location – Court Street in downtown Plymouth.
“We spent a great deal of time researching self-serve wine bars and discovered that there are really only a handful of them in the US,” Gaenicke said. “We visited ones in Charleston, SC, Winter Park, FL, and Milwaukee, WI, and spoke with the owners who served as consultants for us. All signs pointed us in the direction of creating one in New England.”
The friends (and now business partners) purchased 12 wine stations for their location so they could offer 48 different wines. Although they have a few wines that are favorites, they change out the wine selection on a regular basis. Every week, new wines are introduced.
“We choose our wines so that we represent a wide range of varietals, including grapes that people may not have heard of before. We also make sure that the wines in our machines represent all the different wines throughout Old and New World regions,” Gaenicke added.
The pair, while having very different backgrounds, always shared a love for good wine.
Manware has spent her professional career as a full-time physician assistant, working for several obstetric-gynecology practices on the South Shore. She has always pursued her interest in learning about the pleasures of wine as a hobby, and has taken several wine education courses across the country, including in Napa Valley, and she most recently completed the first level certification course with the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Gaenicke’s background is in marketing and public relations. She spent the past 20 years operating her own PR agency, so her experience in media relations, social media branding and marketing has proved to be a valuable asset in creating Uva. She, too, has always been interested in wine and learning about the different varietals and regions, so the idea of starting a new business owning a wine bar was not totally out of left field for her.
The Plymouth location is the only location – for now, said Gaenicke. “One of the most popular questions we get at Uva is, ‘Is it a franchise?’ The answer is no. Plymouth is our only location for Uva Wine Bar. We just opened in June 2019, so we are taking baby steps, but it is certainly a scalable operation and we may consider growth in the future, but for right now we are putting all of our efforts into the Plymouth bar.”
Uva Wine Bar currently employs 10 at the moment. They started with five, but quickly realized that they’d needed a bigger team. “Self-serve is a misnomer; it takes a lot of people to check people in and out, make sure the machines are kept full, clean the wine glasses, prepare foods, bus tables, etc. We also like to spend time with our customers and help guide them through the wine offerings so it is worth having extra staff on hand so everybody gets personal attention at Uva, if they want it,” Gaenicke said.
Uva is not just a bar, it is an experience, according to the partners. In a traditional bar or restaurant, customers review a wine list and then make a decision (or a guess) on a glass of wine they may like and they get a full glass, for better or worse. Uva, on the other hand, is an interactive experience where people can not only enjoy wine, but learn about wine if they want. Every wine has a card in front of it with a description, tasting notes and information about the grape, the region it came from and the flavors one can expect.
“Because customers can serve themselves and the machines serve three different pour sizes, they can sample a variety of different wines with just a taste (1.5 oz.) or half glass (3 oz.), and then when they find their new favorite wine they can opt to get a full glass (6 oz.),” according to Gaenicke. “This makes it a perfect place to go with friends and family, as well as host a private event. We’ve hosted Christmas parties, birthday parties, bridal showers and even a retirement party at Uva in the past six months.”
Another way they try to stand out is by creating a community of wine lovers. Uva hosts art and paint parties every week where customers can make beautiful and unique artwork. They host monthly wine tastings and offer wine classes for our customers. They’re also starting a monthly Game Night at Uva so people can meet and socialize with other like-minded people. While most of their wine-tasting events and paint parties are open to the public, they can host private tastings of paint parties for a specific group, as well.
Not a fan of wine? (Gasp!) Not to worry. Uva carries craft beer from its neighbors at Second Wind and Mayflower breweries, in addition to hard cider and spiked seltzer. For those looking for non-alcoholic options, there is soda and sparkling water.
“It was never our intention to open a restaurant with the bar, so we decided at the very beginning that a small menu with wine-friendly foods would be best,” Gaenicke said.
“Expanding on the self-serve concept where people get what they want, on their own terms, we offer a ‘build your own’ cheese board. Customers simply check off what cheeses, charcuterie and tidbits they want on the menu, and the kitchen makes it to order. We also have a variety of delicious seasonal desserts that are made by a local baker in Plymouth. After our first summer season, we decided to expand our menu to include flatbreads. It is a simple add-on since we don’t need a full kitchen set up for that.”
Building a new business brings its own special set of challenges, and Uva was no exception. Juggling the wine bar with their other careers (they have become part-time jobs for both for now), as well as managing their families has been a challenge. Gaenicke added, “As business owners, we put an enormous amount of time into it and it is exhausting, but it is so worth it!”
“We love it when people walk in to the bar and say they don’t know much about wine or what they like to drink. After a few minutes with us or one of our staff they can learn about what varietal might be best for their taste, and often leave with a new favorite wine.
Alternatively, she said, they also get a lot of wine connoisseurs at Uva who sometimes come in with skepticism about the self-serve aspect of the bar. “It is really fun to engage with them, and they are always impressed with the offerings at Uva and find a wine that they love.”
Gaenicke and Manware agree that they didn’t want to create a pretentious wine bar that would be intimidating for the casual wine drinker.
“We have some employees who are passionate about wine and know a great deal, and other employees don’t know much about wine but are constantly learning at Uva,” said Gaenicke. “Everybody brings something to the table at Uva whether it is technical support, wine wisdom, or being a master at making cheeseboards! We’ve worked with the Boston Wine School to do employee training so we can all answer basic questions about wine and help guide our customers through the 48 wines we have available. It is a small staff but we have quickly become a family. I think that positivity rubs off and makes every night at Uva enjoyable for the customers, and the staff.”
The friends also agree that being active in their community is extremely important, saying they don’t want to be ‘just a local watering hole.’ They’ve hosted several fundraisers at Uva in the six short months they’ve been open including a “Clink for Pink” campaign, where $2,500 was raised for the BID Plymouth Breast Center.
“Overall, at the end of the day when people leave Uva and tell us they had an amazing time and say it was the perfect night with their friends or significant other, we could not be happier and we feel that all the blood, sweat and tears was all worth it,” said Gaenicke. “We get the same feeling when we read an online review. So far, we’ve been blessed with rave reviews and we’ll do everything we can to keep them coming!”
Uva Wine Bar is located at 46 Main St., Plymouth. Contact them at 774-283-4211or visit uvawineplymouth.com