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  • Writer's pictureSusan Welsh

Little Shop of Terroir

Our family wine shop, like many older establishments that are part of a town’s tapestry, represented the history and stories of its owners and its customers. Unofficially established before prohibition, it was a speakeasy, euphemistically known as the “candy store,” by insiders. In 1933 when prohibition was lifted, it opened legitimately as Welsh’s Wonderful World of Wines and was owned and operated by my grandfather, along with his stepfather and brother. In my early twenties, I was lucky enough to begin working here part-time.

The old mahogany bar counter stood between clerk and customer, with rows of shelves behind it— filled with spirits and elixirs; it felt like equal parts library and old-time saloon with a bit of curiosity shop on the side. Potables ranged from the common to the exotic, a multitude of bottles in varying shapes and sizes. I was enchanted by the kilted Scotsman spinning and dancing to the tune of “Annie Laurie” in a musical decanter and the flecks of real gold suspended in a bottle of Goldschlager. Waves of sunlight filtered through the storefront blinds, creating a kaleidoscope of rainbow colors reflecting off the bottles of fermented and distilled potables that spanned a universe of provenance and a spectrum of taste.

This world of wine and spirits has its own language—arcane names and phrases that intrigued me and felt satisfying rolling off the tongue. The exotic innuendo of Velvet Falernum— a holdover from an era of Polynesian fascination and Tiki cocktails; the chic allure of Italian artichoke-based Cynar; the ruby red Danish liqueur, Cherry Herring, and bottle sizes named for Biblical Kings like Jeroboam and Methuselah. 

I loved to describe our wines to customers with words like jammy and toasty and unctuous, and the prestigious names of French appellations like Corton-Charlemagne and Romanée-Conti greatly appealed to my sense of romance.

When it came to the language of wine, the term “terroir” was— still is, ubiquitous. “Terroir” is a French word that loosely translates to “sense of place,” and refers to the characteristic taste and flavor of wine as shaped by the climate, land, and soil where its grapes are grown. Wine writer Jancis Robinson also believes “culture, history, tradition, and idiosyncrasy play a fundamental role.” 

Like wine, our little shop of “terroirs” reflected the characteristics of our small town—influenced by the beauty of the river, the antiquity of the architecture and the creative spirits of bygone eras. Along with our sister town of New Hope, PA we share a long and impressive heritage of famous artists, poet laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

Some of these artists retired to become restaurateurs, like Broadway musical actress Odette Myril who operated Chez Odette and on the other side of the bridge, Anne Matthews star of the NBC radio soap opera “Stella Dallas” owned The River’s Edge.

Decades later, in the 1970s Alex Wilson and John Gessler were among the pioneers to introduce nouvelle cuisine to Lambertville. My mouth still waters over the memory of Broadmoor’s breaded, sautéed brie and the French Chocolate Silk Pie. The boom of BYOB restaurants in town was a natural complement to our wine shop, and the symbiotic relationship of restaurateur and wine merchant was born.  

 What I loved, still love about the world of food and wine is its ability to unite not only through a common language but also a common utility—celebration, nourishment, and social communion. Our little town wine shop blessed me with an opportunity to learn not only about wine and food but also about family and hometown pride. 

From September issue of Icon Magazine

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