Let it flow

East Isles residents build community with a taste of wine

South American wine was the theme one late-December night for the casual members of the East Isles Wine Club. It was 7 p.m. and they gathered at the home of John Farrell and Twyla Fannin with bottles of wine tucked under their arms.

Farrell and Fannin’s 1906 home was festooned with holiday decorations while Christmas songs played in the background. A cozy, yellow light filled the living and dining rooms where bowl-shaped wine glasses, plates of appetizers and a growing wine assortment awaited takers.

It was the third official meeting of the club. Although it is based in East Isles, some people from other neighborhoods also attend. Austin Damiani, 24, a commodities broker in Downtown’s Grain Exchange, founded the club as a way to learn more about wine and become better acquainted with neighbors; he also did it because he has fond childhood memories of small-town living, he said.

He hopes for a similar sense of community in the neighborhood, admitting that it’s challenging to meet people after graduating from college and beginning a new life in a new home. He and his wife, Rachel Winckler, 24, a Realtor, live in a condo in the neighborhood.

The club meets monthly at various members’ homes. The East Isles Residents Association, Lowry Hill Liquor Store and Kowalski’s Markets sponsor the get-togethers.

Damiani is pleased with how the wine club is going so far. Since October, club attendance has increased from six people to 25 partygoers last month (counting the youngest attendee, a 6-week-old baby named Griffin, who abstained from drinking wine, of course, and wore a sleeper proclaiming him to be a “Ladies Man”).

On the club’s website, eastisleswine.wordpress.com, its mission statement is as follows: “The East Isles Wine Club fosters a greater sense of community by providing neighbors an opportunity to get to know one another while indulging and expanding their appreciation of wine in a relaxed and intimate setting!”

Damiani says he’s received e-mails from wine enthusiasts in nearby suburbs, inquiring about how to install a wine club in their hometown.

A taste test

In the East Isles Wine Club, there are no dues to pay or formalities dictating the evening’s flow. Meetings vary from organized and deliberate with tasters trying certain kinds of wine all at once to the informal, where participants sample different styles and mingle freely (as they did at Farrell and Fannin’s home). At a traditional wine tasting, participants try wines in order of strength, from lightest to meatiest.

In the Wine Club, some members carry notebooks, jotting notes about the tastes of various wines. They talk about their opinions and eventually vote on their favorite. Hosts determine what kind of wine attendees should bring to the next gathering.

So far, Spanish wines and varieties from across the Pacific Northwest have been featured. Farrell and Fannin said they chose to spotlight South American flavors because of their affinity for the region to which they frequently travel.

“We believe a strong community starts with relationships,” Farrell said. “It’s a values thing. Plus, it’s fun to have a party building new friendships.”

Also, the couple is simply eager to learn more about wine. (Fannin admits her favorite wine is called “Great with Steak.”)

The wine club attracts a mixed, all-legal-ages crowd of regulars and newcomers. Some are longtime East Isles residents, while many of them have moved into the neighborhood more recently.

Farrell and Fannin settled into their house this past fall with their six children (some of whom could be spotted playing video games or softly descending the staircase near the front door with the family dog during the party).

Sarah Krohn has attended all three meetings so far. She lives just a couple doors down from Damiani and Winckler, though she learned about the club through the online classified ad. The manager of the bed and bath section of the Southdale Mall’s Macy’s store is excited about the club because she’s a novice wine taster.

“When I go to the liquor store, it’s daunting. This is a way to experiment and have fun. It’s laid back, and each meeting has its own energy and atmosphere,” she said.

Marcus Ly, who lives a half-mile away from Farrell and Fannin, belonged to a wine club in Boston, where he’s from originally. Ly owns a technology company that he runs out of his home.

He sipped a glassful of a Mexican Malbec. (A Malbec is a kind of grape often used in Argentine wines.) “I’ve never had a Mexican wine before. It’s mild and fruity, not as full as a Merlot. There’s a little kick, but it’s not as spicy as a Cabernet Sauvignon,” he said. “It sticks to the edge of the glass.”

It goes to show how, he said, “the same grape tastes different all over the world.”

Taking notes

Damiani said his favorite wine that night was from Dona Paula Los Cardos, a popular Argentine winemaker. He said the grape for the wine comes from France, but it “found its expression in Argentina,” which is the fifth-largest wine producer in the world, he said.

Altogether, the brandy-like deep red wine “has a nice up-front fruit flavor and a really nice structure with a clear beginning, middle and end. It’s complex,” he said, using appropriate wine taster’s vernacular.

A bottle costs about $10. “It’s a good all-around kind of drinking wine. The fruit is plum and ripe berry. It has a good body, with a spicy undercurrent and a little vanilla.”

Damiani and Winckler contributed a Cabernet Sauvignon, but most people brought Malbecs. “There was quite a bit of range, mostly in terms of intensity. Some were more light and fruity. Others were more syrupy,” said Damiani.

At a previous meeting, he loved the Cloudline 2005 Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. “It greets the palate with an explosion of raspberries and cherries, but its earthy tannins keep it well grounded and allow it to linger on the back of your tongue for what seems an inappropriate amount of time (even after you’re done drinking it, you can still taste it – like the guilt of a delectable sin),” he wrote on the club’s website.

Martha Webb, who co-wrote a book called “Dress Your House for Success,” is hosting the next wine club meeting on Jan. 29.

“It’s a great idea,” she said of the club. “I’ve met more people I wouldn’t have met. It’s a big area, and you tend to know your neighbors just in the immediate area. There’s a nice age range, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Damiani has high hopes that the wine club will expand maybe into a metro-area club or lead to spin-off wine clubs. At least one wine club member suggested that the group go on a trip to a vineyard soon.

By 9 p.m., each of the wine bottles was empty – marking the first time that the wine club has run out of wine.

Farrell and Fannin happily resorted to bringing out “cheap wine in our basement” that had nothing to do with South America but everything to do with keeping their new friends around a bit longer.


Reach Anna Pratt at 436-4391 or [email protected].

Next meeting: Jan. 29

Theme: Bordeaux

For more information, visit http://eastisleswine.wordpress.com