High on the Vine: The Inside Story on Canoe’s Wine Shop

The restaurant’s wine director, Matt Bradford, spearheads the project

With the October departure of Carvel Grant Gould, who had helmed its kitchen for sixteen years, and with the opening of its own wine shop earlier this week, Canoe is entering a new chapter of its history.

Matt Bradford, an advanced level sommelier and wine director for Canoe, is the force behind Cellar Door, which is located in the same shopping center as the restaurant. Bradford spoke with us about its opening, his selection, and how he plans to differentiate himself from other wine shops.

Was opening the wine shop a difficult process or has it been pretty smooth?
The construction and licensing took some time, but as far as getting in and opening, it hasn’t been that bad. I gave myself three weeks to purchase the wine, and I’ve been buying wine for eight years so those decisions were built on relationships that were already there.

How long has this wine shop been in the works?
I never really knew what I was going to do next with wine. Canoe’s owners presented the project to me as a way to stay as wine director and sommelier and have a whole new hands-on avenue with retail. It allows me to see more wine, meet more people, and improve the level of service at Canoe. We have three sommeliers working between the wine shop and the restaurant. I’m moving back and forth between both places to make sure everything is on track.

Can you tell me about your selection?
I didn’t know what was going to happen in the beginning. I started buying wine that I liked and that the clientele liked. It ended up being evenly split between Old World and New World. There’s a heavy hand towards Italian, and an excellent representation from France, and some classics from the United States, in addition to a treasure of new wines that I’m just now enjoying or am excited about. They tend to be more esoteric—there’s a white Pinot Noir from [Oregon’s] Willamette Valley, and there’s an obscure French grape called Tibouren from Clos Cibonne.

What bottles in your shop are most exciting you right now?
There’s a Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine Galevan, a 2009 Chianti Classico from Selvapiana that’s drinking beautifully right now. And these aren’t incredibly expensive wines—$30 to $40—but they’re something you can splurge on when friends are coming over or on a date night. I’ve got some of the big guys too, like Chateau Palmer, and wines that are ten times the price I just mentioned.

How do you plan on differentiating yourself from other wine shops?
Bringing that restaurant level of customer service into the wine shop will be significant. Wine shops tend to be run by grumpy individuals who are a little haughty or unapproachable. I purposely made this wine shop as open and as relaxing as I could, with as few barriers between someone coming in selecting wine and the person assisting them.

Given Canoe’s location, who is going to be your main demographic?
Our main demographic will be the Paces Ferry neighborhood down into West Buckhead and into the Smyrna/Vinings area. It’s a good-sized residential area that’s under-served by a wine shop of this style. And then there are the Canoe guests who get our email lists, have a great dinner, and are excited about what we have to offer.

If you have dinner at Canoe and have a great bottle of wine, is it likely that you can go to the shop to find that exact bottle?
There are maybe ten wines in the state that I can’t have in both locations. There are a few that the winery doesn’t want to have in a wine shop and are exclusively at restaurants. If I don’t have it on the shelf at Cellar Door, I’ll have it in the next day. All it takes is a phone call.