Michael Herndon
Proprietor, City Cellars, 1710 N 45th St (Wallingford), 632-7238.

If you want to broaden your wine knowledge and appreciation without encountering daunting terminology or hefty price tags, I highly recommend regular visits to City Cellars wine shop in Wallingford. Owner Michael Herndon emphasizes friendly education over elitist attitude, encouraging customers to explore his excellent selection of wines for $10 or less. He also offers informal drop-in tastings each Friday from 5-7 pm, which feature samples of up to three wines for a mere $3-$5.

So what's kept you passionate about wine over the years?

"The excitement of it, and the romance, I suppose. When I entered the wine business [20 years ago], it was all French and Californian--now there are all these emerging regions like Australia, Argentina, and Chile. It's an evolving business that's always changing, and [the changes] keep you interested."

What's your clientele like?

"You can kind of divide wine drinkers into two different categories--drinkers and collectors. We cater to drinkers. Most people who buy wine here consume it within a few months. We consider wine a beverage to be enjoyed with food, not a work of art to be shoved away somewhere and occasionally admired."

Is it difficult to convince folks that wine shops aren't just for the rich or supremely educated?

"It's frustrating because that's why people buy wine in grocery stores. They think wine shops are going to be overwhelming or intimidating. We're not a cult here [laughs]. We try to make it easy, and the last thing we want to do is intimidate people. We use simple terms to describe wine. The whole thing that bugs me about the wine business is this snobbishness. It shouldn't be that way--it's a beverage, for chrissakes!"

So I'm guessing the $10-or-less rack is reflective of that philosophy....

"It's extremely popular. People come in and put together mixed cases--and we give a discount for that. It's by far the most work of anything here in the shop. It's pretty easy to evaluate the quality of a $50 bottle, but it's a lot harder to find a quality bottle for $7. And we try and make it different than what you'd find at the grocery store: Most of them are domain bottles, meaning the same guy who grows the grapes bottles the wine. It's hard work, but it's pretty rewarding to break down the barriers to wine."

Interview by Hannah Levin