The Food Biz: Sip and shop

The Whole Foods Market in Franklin has a new wine bar offering libations and light meals

The new Whole Foods Market on McEwen Drive in Franklin, open since May, quietly launched a new feature this fall, something unprecedented in the Nashville-area food scene: a wine bar inside the grocery store. And starting today that bar, called 1799 & Vine, is expanding its menu of wine-friendly snacks, adding daily pasta and pizza specials.

The name 1799 & Vine sounds a bit like a road intersection, but the ampersand actually links the year of Franklin’s founding with the noble plant from which all wines spring.

Austin-based Whole Foods has been experimenting with putting cafes that serve adult beverages inside their stores, but this is the first wine bar in the company’s Southern region, which comprises Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia. Yep, looks like we beat Atlanta to this particular innovation.

The wine bar carves out a pleasant little corner of the store’s floor plan, with a line of stools on which customers can perch and sip a glass (or bottle) of wine or a pint of high-alcohol beer while nibbling on snacks like olives, house-made dip, a cheese plate or a charcuterie sampler (prosciutto, salami, etc.) curated from the store’s retail offerings. (If you’re wondering why the beer selection is high-alcohol, it’s a legal thing. More on that later.)

Alison Dunn, who heads the store’s specialty foods team, oversees 1799 & Vine. Starting today, she said, the menu will include three daily dishes crafted by the store’s prepared-foods kitchen: a baked pasta, a salad, and a flatbread pizza, each designed to complement the wines.

If caffeine’s more your thing, 1799 & Vine does a special coffee and tea service on Saturday and Sunday mornings, brewing gourmet coffees by the cup using the Chemex pour-over method. (One weekend a month they showcase beans from Nashville roaster Roast Inc. The other three weekends they use Whole Foods’ Allegra line of beans.)

As for the wine list, it continues to evolve, Dunn said. Currently it features a number of picks from a wine dinner the store held a couple weeks ago, featuring the selections of importer Jon-David Headrick, who specializes in wines from France’s Loire Valley. Dunn and team member Neil Winter are working to fine-tune and augment the list.

“We’re working on a mix of some familiar wines plus some more eclectic things, so we can educate the customer and let them taste something new,” Dunn said.

Dunn’s a Whole Foods veteran; she’s been with the company since 1999 and in Nashville for five years. She earned some of her wine knowledge working in Whole Foods stores in the Atlanta area, where unlike Tennessee, grocery stores are permitted to sell wine by the bottle.

Which brings us to some quirks of Tennessee law that apply to Whole Foods’ wine bar: It is emphatically not a retail wine store. That would be illegal.

You can’t walk up to the counter and purchase a bottle of wine. However, if you sit down, order some food and a bottle of wine, which the staff opens and serves to you with your meal, and then ultimately you don’t finish that bottle, legally you can have it recorked and take it home.

The wine bar is licensed as a restaurant, even though it is attached to a grocery store. And under state law, that license applies to wine and high-alcohol beer. It does not permit the serving of regular beer (5 percent alcohol or less), which is licensed on the municipal level.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the store, a wide selection of regular beer is sold in bottles in cans. There are even beer taps where you can fill up a half-gallon bottle, called a growler, with draft beer to take home.

These retail beer taps are completely different, legally speaking, from the taps at the wine bar, which dispense high-alcohol brews like Yazoo’s Sue or Old Rasputin Imperial Stout. Those beers must be consumed on premises, in the wine bar. Keep your growlers far away from those taps. Got it?

Anyway, as curious as the legal details might be, it’s nice to be able to stop for a glass of wine before or after you tackle your grocery shopping.

Dunn and Michael Martin, who is the marketing team leader at the store (longtime restaurant fans will remember him as a chef at various locales including Cakewalk Cafe and Sunset Grill) promise many events in the coming year at 1799 & Vine, including wine dinners and tastings. Follow the store on Facebook and Twitter for updates.