Amelia Carver sold her first bottle of wine from her harborside shop on Orcas Island, Washington, while covered in construction dust, power tool in hand.
“People thought we were contractors who knew about wine,” says her fiancé, Brian Crum.
The pair opened their shop, The Bodega at Champagne Champagne, during the summer of 2017 to bring in money as they remodeled an adjacent space into the wine bar Champagne Champagne, which debuted in February 2018.
The shop’s name refers to both the original meaning of bodega, the Spanish word for wine cellar, and its colloquial definition as a corner store. “[It’s a] dive-bar format with a killer selection,” says Carver.
The shop, perched in the window of an old ice cream store, sits a few steps from the island’s only ferry dock. Fifteen minutes up the hill is Eastsound, the population hub for the island of about 5,000 people. That number increases vastly on summer weekends when visitors sweep over Orcas, the largest of the San Juan Islands. It’s a popular destination for city dwellers from Seattle, a trip that encompasses an 80-mile drive north and a one-hour ferry ride.
Behind the bodega’s selection
The remote location, forested landscape and slow pace of life stand in contrast with The Bodega’s exciting bottle list and knowledgeable owners.
Carver says that they try to curate an experience for their customers. They seek to pair their bottles with the adventure customers will go on, whether it’s a picnic of freshly shucked oysters at Buck Bay Shellfish Farm or a “chuggable” bottle of sparkling rosé to take swimming. They also want to give visitors a taste of how the locals live and entertain, says Crum.
“[Our clientele is] a cool cross-section of islanders, neighborhood folks and tons and tons of visitors,” he says. “[We’re] the first stop off the boat, the last stop on the island.”
The pair’s top priority with inventory is that the producer practices sustainable agriculture.
“95% of our winemakers are also farmers, people really attuned to the grape, taking it all the way to the bottle,” says Carver, The next criteria is whether a wine is refreshing. Their biggest category is “Fizzy Lifting Drinks,” which encompasses Crémant de Loire, Basque cider, Txakoli, and everything from “farmer fizz” to grower Champagne.
Recent offerings include bottles like the Catalonian pét-nat Avinyó 2017 Petillant Vi D’Agulla, Catherine & Pierre Breton 2012 Bourgueil Clos Sénéchal and Francesco Cirelli 2017 Rosato.
The couple met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as Carver, an Orcas Island native, attended MIT and Crum, worked in the restaurant industry. After visiting for a summer they committed to move there when she finished school. Plans to get into small-scale agriculture took a back seat when they saw the “for lease” sign on a crumbling building.
“It was an insane fixer-upper,” says Carver, a process that continues as the business evolves. But the shop was their first priority.
“You don’t even walk into it,” says Crum. “The awnings just flip up.”
Customers stand on the street to buy the hundred or so bottles on hand. And yes, locals have walked up in search of ice cream and left with a bottle of Frank Cornelissen Susucaru. Carver believes it’s the smallest wine shop in the world.
A native of the East Coast, Crum started the list with fairly Old World-centric bottlings, but the couple fell in love with producers they hadn’t tasted before, like Belle Pente.
“If someone told me 10 years ago I’d open with a Willamette Valley Chardonnay…” says Crum, as his voice trails off in marvel at the thought.
Their Pacific Northwest location brought them around to West Coast wines, and they’ve opened some eyes as well. “At least 30 customers have told me they’ve never had real Champagne before,” says Carver. “We want people to have exposure to this beautiful thing.”
As the store grew in popularity, a surprising audience began to stop by. A whisper network among skaters who frequent Orcas’ destination skate park spread the word about Fuchs und Hase, a funky Austrian pét-nat that’s apparently perfect for a day of shredding.
“It’s been exciting to turn young beer drinkers into wine drinkers,” says Carver.
The approach is fitting for a young couple who took a chance on a run-down old building on an isolated island. But their deep roots in hospitality show in the way they pick wines—“If you have a bad day,” Carver says they ask each other, and drink a particular wine, “will you feel better?”—and how they approach service, adapting to the needs of the island.
The unwritten addendum to every receipt is Carver’s take on their wine-selling philosophy: “Take this thing. Go have a beautiful experience.”