Waco, Texas is a surprisingly great town to do some drinking of just about any kind. The halfway point between Dallas and Austin is home to Balcones Distilling, the multi-award winning producer of the blue corn-based new whiskey Baby Blue; the wonderful coffee and cocktail bar Dichotomy (featured previously on Sprudge); and of course, Dr. Pepper, the sugary soft drink with cult-like status within the great nation-state of Texas. And you can add natural wine to that list, thanks to the aptly named Wine Shoppe. Owned by husband-and-wife team David and Abigail Mayfield, Wine Shoppe is home to one of the best lists of minimal intervention wines in the state.
Opened in 2014, the story of Wine Shoppe is similar to that of many noteworthy bars, restaurants, and coffee shops found in ostensibly unexpected cities: it is a homecoming of sorts. David was toying with the idea of moving his eponymous beer, wine, and spirits wholesaler David Mayfield Selections out of Austin. But instead of relocating to a city with an already established scene—LA, New York, etc.—the Mayfields were drawn back to their adoptive home, to the underserved market of Waco, Texas, where they both attended college at Baylor University. (Being less than three hours from every major Texas market certainly didn’t hurt either.)
The move was not without its challenges. Wanting to be a wholesaler, retailer, and tasting room, Wine Shoppe would be running afoul of the arcane and rather convoluted Texas alcohol laws, which in essence would prohibit them from retailing liquor (don’t even get me started on the beer). So the Mayfields had a choice: keep the beer and spirits and drop the tasting room or bet it all on wine. They chose wine.
This concept for a space that blurs the lines between bottle shop and wine bar, while somewhat mind-bending in Waco and Texas in general, is nothing new across the pond. In fact, it was during a trip to France where the idea for Wine Shoppe codified for the Mayfields.
“One specific place that really cemented itself in Abigail’s and my mind was in the Loire—near Saumur—they had retail shelves with two prices on the bottle written in chalk. One price was the bottle to take home and the other was the bottle to enjoy there,” David tells me. “They had this big table in the center of the shop piled with Weck jars of rillettes—rabbit, trout, etc. So you could grab some rillettes, maybe some cheese and a baguette and go sit outside on a patio with a bottle of anything they had inside and have great wine, great food, and a cool atmosphere. I loved that it felt absent of all the usual rules we see here in the States—‘you can’t have this here because we are off-premise only,’ or ‘you can take this bottle with you, but I need to open it first,’ or any number of things that just make wine feel more complicated, more stuffy, more rules.”
Though unable to completely recreate their experience—because again, Texas liquor laws are chock full of 18th-century Bible Belt weirdness—the spirit of that Loire wine shop is very much alive at Wine Shoppe. Inside the aesthetically restrained 700-square-foot space, there aren’t many things to distract from the concept; almost everything that isn’t wine-related exists in monochrome—the walls are white, the exposed ceiling has been painted grey, even the single piece of abstract art hanging up is mostly white.
This pushes the wine itself to the fore. The bar sits against a dark slate backdrop, with the day’s offerings and specials written in chalk. The wall full of retail bottles stand in opposition to the space’s only windows, shimmering pale yellows and pinks and crimsons in flecks of midday sunlight. And what is perhaps the most literal ode to that Loire trip, a big table sits in the center of the shop, but in lieu of rillettes and cheese there are magnums of Sebastien David’s “Kezako” and “Hurluberlu”, Brendan Tracey’s “Wah-Wah,” and Partida Creus‘ “CV Cart Ver.”
In this wine-forward exploratory atmosphere, David tells me his goal isn’t necessarily to promote natural wine, but to bring in a selection of interesting bottles. It just so happens that a majority of their selection have undergone minimal intervention.
“For me diversity is key,” Davis says. “I was so bored with a world full of Cab Sauv, Chard, etc. that all tasted more or less the same. It was later that I found out that they tasted the same because they were using the same strains of yeast and trying to appeal to the same market.” He continues, “So, to me ‘natural wines’ at least have the potential to express the diversity of site specificity that commercial wines fail to express.”
And at Wine Shoppe, there is no shortage of diversity. Of the 200+ offerings, David estimates around 70% meet some definition of “natural”, many of which are acquired through direct relationships with the producers. The availability in Texas of California’s Populis Wines, Spain’s Loxarel, and Domaine A.D. Coutelas in France’s Marne Valley, for instance, are all thanks in large part to the direct connections David and Abigail have forged via Wine Shoppe.
When asked for a few of his current favorites, David proffered Bodegas Ponce’s Bobal grown on 80-year-old vines, a Gamay from La Pause in Loire (of course), and the effervescent Manoir de la Tete Rouge “Tete en l’air” Rosé Brut Zero, perfect for sipping lakeside in the heat of Central Texas summers. But it was the “Cuvée Georges”—a blend of Chardonnay and Savagnin, fermented and aged separately—from Domaine des Ronces that had me agog. Jura wines can be hard to find in Texas (sans an entire Jura fest in Austin that I was left to gawk at from afar), and I couldn’t buy it fast enough.
It makes sense that Waco would be one of the hubs of natural wine in Texas. Not because of the litany of other craft beverage industries that have already found a home in the city limits. And not because of its relative location to the state’s largest cities. It’s because—like coffee, beer, and cocktails before it—in 2017 America, exciting ideas are no longer confined to major metropolitan areas. Cool places, like Wine Shoppe, can exist anywhere and are starting to pop up everywhere. It just so happens that in this instance, anywhere happens to be Waco, Texas.
Zac Cadwalader is the news editor at Sprudge Media Network, and a staff writer based in Dallas. Read more Zac Cadwalader for Sprudge Wine.