Story by Faith Durand l Photos by Jodi Miller
Camelot Cellars has reinvented itself as an urban winery in the heart of the city
Camelot Cellars has occupied its prime Short North spot for years. And yet the winery has felt hidden in plain sight, its worn sign and clustered grape logo lost between the upbeat elegance of its chic neighbors. But a transformation has occurred, virtually overnight.
The sign now bears an impressionistic scarlet C, like a swirl of cabernet, and through the windows you can see framed racks with over 700 bottles of neatly labeled wine.
A sleek, weathered-wood bar invites you in. Warm lights hang from knotted rope chandeliers over a communal table. Candles flicker in the windows. The scent of fresh wood fills the space-I could smell the newness even as I sipped my New Zealand pinot noir, with its notes of soft fruits and strawberry.
Camelot's new owner, Janine Aquino, hopes this dramatic renovation will expose the spot's true identity. "This is a real winery," she said. "People don't realize that."
Indeed, there's a winemaking lab in the center of Camelot, framed by a huge window that looks onto steel tanks and glass carboys.
Camelot has long been in the business of helping people create custom wines for weddings, anniversaries and other events. The lab also turns out bottles of locally crafted wine, sold by the bottle and by the glass.
This locally made wine isn't Ohio wine, Aquino is quick to point out.
"While there are some good Ohio wines, we don't produce Ohio wine," she said. "We source juices and skins from all the over the world and then produce it locally."
Aquino is a wine professional with a brisk and no-nonsense manner that gives way to an all-encompassing smile as she talks about being raised in New York's wine business. "All I've done is be around wineries my whole life," she said.
She was working in Columbus as a wine consultant before she bought Camelot Cellars last winter from its previous owner, a Canadian company.
"I really liked that it's in the Short North," Aquino said. "It has the ability to be a great wine bar."
In this Aquino hopes to emulate wineries from all over the world that invite guests in to see how they make their wine, and to taste it right where it's made.
But Aquino knew the existing space didn't have the right character for the Short North.
She engaged Scott Hanratty, then of Collier West, and Kathleen Day of Katalina's Cafe Corner to help her realize a new vision, taking cues from French and Tuscan wineries but with clean urban lines.
After a flurry of paper sketches, custom furniture and vintage items carefully placed, Camelot Cellars feels new and old at the same time, a chic bar with a patina of precisely calculated vintage touches.
Despite this transformation, Camelot does have its challenges. Aquino is still working towards a food license, so wine must be sipped alone, for now. Also, the bar only sells and serves its own wines, which can feel strange to a wine-lover accustomed to a more diverse array of labels.
And yet wine produced on-site means a stunningly large array of wines by the glass-a rarity for such a small wine bar.
Camelot produces over 70 types of wine-from Napa cabernet to German gewurztraminer-and every one is available by the glass, with prices ranging from $5 to $7.
Aquino plans to introduce classes and tastings so people can learn what they enjoy. She will emphasize varietals-how do different chardonnays taste? A zinfandel?-and hopes her guests leave knowing something new.
"I don't like anything pompous or pretentious," she said. "I want this to be a welcoming place for people with no wine knowledge whatsoever."
Faith Durand is the managing editor of thekitchn.com
958 N. High St., Short North
3-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday,
2-11 p.m. Friday,
12-11 p.m. Saturday