Wine Shop Spotlight: Vita Uva in Seattle, Washington

Frustrated with Seattle's lack of a shop focused on natural wine, Suzi An took matters into her own hands and opened Vita Uva. Now, the 50-bottle shop, in the back of a pho restaurant, features wines from all over the world that mirror An’s energetic and bright personality.

Almost every time someone needs to use the restroom at Phở Bac Súp Shop, a Vietnamese restaurant in Seattle’s Little Saigon, they ask Suzi An for the code. She gives it cheerfully, repeatedly, constantly, despite the fact that her real job at the marble-topped counter in the back of the restaurant is not to guard the bathroom, but to sell natural wine at her 50-bottle shop, Vita Uva.

Taking up less space than a six-top, Vita Uva consists only of a few built-in shelves with a spare collection of bottles, plus some maneki-neko (lucky cats) that wave from the top shelf. Quynh, Khoa and Yenvy Pham, who are An’s roommates, best friends and the restaurant’s owners, were in the process of opening the sprawling eatery during the same time An searched for a spot.

“Why don’t you open something in our restaurant?” asked Yenvy. Quickly, the idea of a natural-wine shop in a pho restaurant was born. It was quirky and bold, descriptors that fit An and her taste in wines as much as the setting.

While the concept seemed a bit far-fetched at the time, An’s ambition overrode any hesitancy. “I just kind of rolled with it,” she says.

Her first business and the first wine store in the neighborhood (likely the first inside a pho restaurant as well), An’s “take it as it comes” attitude has been key.

After learning about natural wines while working at Bar Sajor in Seattle, An began “viewing wine as food,” while connecting with producer stories and winemaking philosophies.

Vita Uva Wines
Vita Uva

Natural progression

An’s drive to create Vita Uva began in late 2016 after she fell in love with natural wines at the RAW Wine Fair in New York City. It was there that she tried Georgian wines for the first time and what she calls a “stunning” Chablis from Château de Béru, which she now carries.

When she returned home, An became frustrated by the lack of a shop focusing on natural wines in Seattle. As director of operations and publicist for restaurants JuneBaby and Salare, she stocked mostly natural wines, but couldn’t direct her customers a place where they could buy the same bottlings. So, she quit her job in the middle of 2017 and set out to create an answer: Vita Uva.

Asked why she should have been the one to open Seattle’s missing natural-wine store, An shrugs, and says, “Nobody else was f@*%ing doing it.”

A large blackboard forms the front of her counter, decorated with words like “biodynamic,” “minimal intervention,” and “sustainable,” but also “#nattywines.” Above, a sign reads, “Slay all day, and then rosé.”

The lighthearted approach fits An’s energetic, bright personality, but it’s also necessary in a space that also hosts a cutting board, a cup full of chopsticks and other miscellaneous restaurant supplies. Most of the people who pass by are more interested in noodle soup than natural wines.

At first, she tried to cater to those customers, offering more conservative choices. “I didn’t want their first exposure to be something esoteric,” she says. But since the shop opened in December 2017, she realized that her customers didn’t crossover much with the pho shop, so she’s since tailored the selection to her own tastes.

With so little space, An curates her inventory carefully. Most bottles cost around $30–$40.

Vita Uva bottles

“There are a lot of good wines in the world, but it’s rare to find something that speaks to you,” she says. Unlike most wine shop owners, she doesn’t consider herself a wine nerd.

“It’s poetic to me,” says An.

She focuses a few distributors who understand what An is looking for, and who work directly with small wineries, especially those run by women and families.

“It’s non-technical,” she says of her selection process. “It’s what I like.”

The wines An leans toward tend to be food-friendly, low in alcohol and with high acidity. She suggests MicroBio Wines Correcaminos rosé from old, never-chemically treated Tempranillo vines; Domaine Thillardon Moulin-à-Vent, which she describes as playful and muscular; Sébastien Riffault Raudonas Sancerre Rouge; and the Centesimino from Ancarani.

The Beginner's Guide to Natural Wine

But as she chooses favorite bottles, her comments on the flavor of a wine, while expressive and descriptive—“It’s like drinking spring flowers!”—tend to be less important to her than the story behind them. An’s specific about how wines are made, talking about skin-contact, native yeasts, the aging process and how long the land has been biodynamically farmed.

She pulls bottles from female winemakers like Kelley Fox and Le Fraghe down to her marble counter and talks about the care and attention to detail devoted to them. She estimates that about 20% of her inventory comes from female winemakers, but with her short list, that changes all the time.

That constant movement and fast pace are all part of the micro-shop that she loves. Her corner might be small, says An, but “it’s the perfect size for me.”

Published on April 30, 2018
Topics: Pacific Northwest



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