Drink: House Wine feels like home

Erin Edwards
House Wine

Donnie Austin is having neighbors over for wine, and everyone is invited.

When House Wine opened in November 2007, owner Donnie Austin thought he was opening a retail wine shop in Old Worthington. Nine years later, House Wine has become a hybrid wine shop and wine bar with "a coffee shop feel," says Austin, who now has his sights set on expansion.

The idea for House Wine sprouted during a 2003 grad-school class on entrepreneurship at Ohio State University. Austin had just started drinking wine, but it was quickly becoming his passion (he's now a certified sommelier).

"I had my experiences going to buy wine … and I had an idea for a more friendly, relaxed approach to selling wine, and that was my class project," Austin says. "When we started working on the idea of a shop, it was always taste before you buy."

House Wine seems made for an iPhone world: It's user-friendly and intuitive. To the left of the entrance is an easy-to-read explanation of Austin's wine classification system. It categorizes wines by food pairings and uses words like "finesse, silky and robust" to differentiate between red wines.

On our August afternoon visit, there's a buzz of activity. Teachers sit at a table doing classroom planning over white wine and cheese. Customers look at columns of wines along the wall (the shop stocks more than 500 labels). Others chat with the staff at the bar while tasting wine or craft beer (there are 12 on tap). And do-it-yourselfers taste wines from the 24-bottle Enomatic machine–just load your card with funds, put your glass under the spout and start tasting.

"When we opened, nobody had seen the Enomatic machines before. We had a lot of resistance at first," Austin says. "Now it's no big deal."

House Wine holds weekly wine tastings every Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. ($15). They are friendly affairs with a different theme each week (one Thursday it was "Other Great Whites," aka Shark Week). Find a wine you like and you can drink the bottle in house for a reasonable $5 corkage fee.

After nine years, Austin has learned a lot about the neighborhood's buying habits and just how fitting the name House Wine has become.

"Whether it's casually coming in on a Tuesday night or coming in for our events, we ended up becoming like a neighborhood hangout."