21 Apr 2010


Capitol Hill Wine Stories: First Vine

Longtime Hill resident Dare Wenzler had always considered herself a bon vivant. So when her close friend, Tom Natan, suggested they launch a wine importing business, she jumped at the opportunity.

When Tom proposed this idea, he had just returned from a trip to France. While there, he met a gentleman that grew grapes in Provence, co-owned the village wine cooperative, led wine tastings for English-speaking tourists, and helped represent a number of small wine producers in France. But most of these wines weren’t available in the United States. So Tom thought he could start a business importing those wines.

He was right.

More than ten years have passed, and today, their business – First Vine – sells about 75 wines from 40 producers. While most of First Vine’s wines continue to come from France, its portfolio also includes wines from Italy, Spain, and even Malta. With most of the producers they represent, First Vine is the only importer in the United States.

Most of First Vine’s wine is sold on their website. But fans of First Vine also follow the company through Tom and Dare’s blog – which is regularly updated with wine advice and recipes – and their Facebook page, which is updated almost daily. This reliance on new media makes sense; Dare spent 12 years at America Online.

First Vine’s latest venture is at the wine bar at ACKC, the chocolate shop and café in Logan Circle. There, customers can select from a menu that offers suggested pairings of wine and chocolate. Dare and Tom wouldn’t have it any other way – they’re passionate about the relationship between food and wine. All the wine sold by First Vine is selected with that relationship in mind. As they explain on their website, “many New World wines are delicious alone, but are difficult to pair with foods.”

Dare has lived in Capitol Hill since she first moved to the District – in fact, her first job in DC was at the Hill Rag. Today, Dare and her family live right by Lincoln Park. From home, Dare also runs Lincoln Park Studio, where she creates mixed-media portraiture from regular photos.

Dare’s vision in creating Lincoln Park Studio was simple. Commissioned paintings cost a fortune, and most “photo to painting” offerings never look right to her. By combining the two, she could tap into an unmet demand and create memorable artwork that families would appreciate. Dare starts with a photograph, and after digitally adjusting it, she transfers it to a stretched canvas and then paints and draws over it by hand, in layers, using acrylic and oil paint, pastels, and pencils. While her clients now come from across the country, Dare’s first clients came through the Moms on the Hill listserv. (If you’re interested in seeing her work, Dare has some paintings hanging in Hill’s Kitchen.)

While ACKC is far from the Hill, it’s not very difficult to taste First Vine’s wines. All the wine is affordable – most bottles range from $10-35 – and delivery is free for orders of six bottles or more. And if you’re looking for an idea for your next party, Dare and Tom can host private wine tastings. First Vine’s wines aren’t yet available in any DC restaurants, but they’re working on it.


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