It might sound crazy, but it’s absolutely worked: Two people who didn’t know much about wine – didn’t even drink it before embarking on the journey to open a wine bar in Tumwater last year – have created an inviting, charming spot, perfectly dubbed Uncork and Unwind, that’s ideal for enjoying the best wines Washington State has to offer.
Oron Jacobs first dreamed of a place akin to Starbucks, “but with wine instead of coffee,” he explains. He also envisioned simple appetizers to enhance the wines yet not overpower them.
Michelle Pierce, who worked with Oron’s wife, Alice, for 11 years, got wind of his plan. She was also ready for something new. The two tweaked Oron’s original idea a bit, and began moving toward opening a proper wine bar, with table service.
Yet neither had ever been a wine drinker. What to do? Hit the books. Oron and Michelle began researching and tasting wines.
“I’ve really learned to like it over the last two years,” says Oron, who couldn’t have alcohol until a couple years ago, due to a medication he’d long taken. “I got off the medication after some surgery and some friends took us to Westport Winery. That’s where I got hooked.”
Syrah is his favorite varietal, but after frequent tastings in wineries for his new line of work, he says he’s learned to like them all.
Michelle rarely drinks. “I’m not supposed to because I’m allergic to grapes and yeast – that’s the irony in all of this,” she says. “I’m not the type that would want to just sit and have a glass of wine, but I do think tasting is fun.”
The couple continued the research phase, and soon it was time to move forward with their plan.
“We met with banks to find out what we needed to get the business loan,” says Michelle, “and then we started looking for the location.” They got to work on their business plan in 2009 and eventually found the perfect spot in January 2010. “We found the location and went back to the bank – but nobody would loan to us.”
“A lot had happened, financially, to the whole country,” says Oron.
Set close to Custer Way, the diminutive dark green cottage is hugged on one side by tall trees that loom high above the spectacular Tumwater Falls Park. The space between these trees and the bungalow is now a welcoming outdoor seating area for patrons.
Oron and Alice had driven by the charming house more than two years ago, before Michelle even knew about the wine bar dream. “Alice said to me, ‘You know, if a place like that ever came open, I’d be all for this.’ Be careful what you wish for,” Oron jokes.
For seven years, the building housed a vintage garden shop. Then an interior designer came in and redesigned the entire space, changing finishes and giving it a gorgeous polish. “She had a shop for about six months, but it didn’t do very well,” says Michelle. “We’re reaping her rewards.”
The interior design couldn’t have been more perfectly suited for Oron and Michelle’s vision of Uncork and Unwind.
“I think the building was waiting for us as much as we were waiting for it,” says Michelle.
Warm wood touches abound inside, from the planked ceilings to the tables and chairs tucked in among the three main floor rooms. Warm earthy colors punctuate cream walls, a dark wood mantel surrounds a flickering gas fireplace, and soft fabrics and checkered floors complete the comfy look and feel. Uncork and Unwind truly beckons customers to sit down and relax.
“We literally brought in the furniture – we didn’t have to paint or anything like that,” Michelle says. With help from Oron’s father, who lives in Montana, the couple added a kitchen, modified the bathroom a bit, and refinished the bar floor.
In fact, friends and family were instrumental in bringing it all together. “It was 100 percent a family affair and wouldn’t have been possible without them,” says Michelle.
Oron and Michelle stock a wide variety of Washington wines, encouraging folks to try new things. They carry red, white, fruit, dessert, and port wines aplenty, plus beer, appetizers, and desserts.
“We’ve tried to bring in wines that most people haven’t heard of,” says Michelle. A complete list is available at the Uncork and Unwind website.
Having said that, “We’re not the snooty wine people that most expect when they come to a place like this,” Michelle explains. “We try very hard to make it so it’s not intimidating.”
“I don’t charge double if you pronounce it wrong,” Oron jokes.
“We might make fun of you,” Michelle shoots back, with a smile, “but it’s done out of love.”
“And we’re still learning, too,” says Oron.
Wines are ordered by the glass, the bottle, or in flights – three 2-ounce pours of your choice.
Oron and Michelle strive to keep everything they serve simple, of high quality, and local whenever possible. They only stock wines from small- to mid-sized Washington wineries.
The food is also sourced locally, as much as possible – cheeses, meats, and desserts. Their menu includes beer from three area breweries.
You’ll find reasonable prices at Uncork and Unwind – often enjoying the exact same bottle of wine in their Tumwater wine bar that you’d find downtown at a much higher price. “We don’t have them marked up ridiculously like some places do,” Oron says.
“I like going to restaurants now and looking at wine lists to see if we carry the same wines and how much more they charge than us,” Michelle says, laughing. “I think we have more people tell us that we need to increase our prices rather than decrease them.”
The bottom line is that Oron and Michelle want people to come back; they want Uncork & Unwind to be a regular spot, not a special-occasion-only place.
A sit-down type of place, Uncork and Unwind has seating for 60 to 70, including outdoors and in The Cellar, its private basement room, which can be reserved free of charge for any special occasion or even a simple book club meeting.
Sometimes they bring in live music and things can be on the noisier side, other times it’s quiet. “It just depends on the night,” says Michelle.
And you’ll also get the occasional mom who’s stolen an hour away to enjoy a good book and glass of wine.
Now well into the second year of operation, the business has exceeded expectations. “We have quite a following amongst our customers,” Michelle says. “I’d even consider some of them close as family.”
“There’s a quote above our French doors that really says who we are,” she continues. “It says, ‘May all those who enter as guests leave as friends,’ and that’s become our motto.”
324 Custer Way SW
Tumwater, WA 98501