Wine tasting event goal of local residents

By Clay Wilson

Charles Arnold said he's always been interested in wine. But it was a trip to the Atlanta International Wine Festival (now the Atlanta International Wine Summit) in 1985 – where there were about 200 wines available for public tasting – that really sparked his passion.

Now Arnold, a Stockbridge resident, wants to see regular wine-tastings on the Southside, similar to the ones they have in Atlanta and on the Northside.

"The Southside has reached the point of market maturity that it could really have wine tastings every month, but so far no one has stepped up to put this together on a regular basis," he said.

Arnold said he has tried to persuade local restaurateurs and package store owners that holding such regular wine tastings could be in their interest.

Arnold, a former journalist and public relations specialist, is in charge of publicity for the Atlanta International Wine Summit. The AIWS holds annual competitions and public tastings that feature hundreds of wines.

So far, the Southside hasn't had any tastings or competitions of this scale. But Arnold has attended some of the initial efforts of local wine connoisseurs – such as tastings at the Pinehurst Tea Room and functions of the Eagle's Landing Wine Society, founded by Eagle's Landing Bottle Shoppe owner David Wynne.

According to Arnold, public wine tastings can help consumers sort their way through the tremendous variety of wines produced by what he called a market glut in the last five years.

" – It's extremely intimidating to individuals who are unfamiliar with wines to go into a store and try to find wines that they enjoy," he said.

Wine importer Elizabeth Riadi also said that education is a key purpose of wine-tasting functions.

"Our goal is to have people educated about what they drink," she said.

Riadi owns Il Vino Imports in LaGrange. A native of France, she said she grew up around vineyards and wine. But once she moved to the States, people would always ask her to pick and bring back wines for them from her trips back to Europe.

"I ended up with a long list of wines for my family and friends ?," she said. " – My sister said, ?Why don't you get an importer's license?'"

Riadi did, and has had her import business for a year. While she is based in LaGrange, she said she is trying to expand the market for her French and Italian wines into Henry and Clayton counties. She said she has talked with the owners of area package stores about carrying her selections.

One such store is Highway 138 Package Store in Stockbridge. While the store lies just inside the Henry County line, general manager Jim Burgess estimated that 60 percent of his business comes from Clayton County.

He also said he wants to increase the percentage of business that comes from wine sales.

"It's just something that takes a while to build up a customer base that knows their wines," he said.

In keeping with Arnold's and Riadi's theory that wine tastings help to educate consumers on what types of wine they prefer, Burgess said he hopes to hold wine tastings in the future.

Another Southside group that is planning to hold a local wine tasting is the Lake Dow Homeowners Association.

"They're pushing it around a little bit slowly," said David Humphries, whose wife, J.G. Humphries, is helping to organize the event. David Humphries said the organizers are tentatively planning the tasting in September.

Humphries said he got interested in wine tastings when he and his wife lived in Charlotte, N.C. – which he said had several "very serious" wine tastings each year.

"Hob-nobbing through wine is a good pastime," he said.

Humphries said that while being a wine connoisseur has "some snob value," he's content to simply drink the wines he likes.

"I enjoy just listening to a radio. I don't have to have woofers and tweeters and a wall full of speakers," he said.