Vine Line: Refined Tastes

Wine at the Champaign Bar.

Wine at the Champaign Bar.

When my wife and I were enjoying the salad years of our marriage, we fantasized about opening a business that would satisfy both of our interests, a combination bookstore and wine shop. People could sit in nice chairs and sofas among the stacks and sip nice wines. But by the time we reached a point that we could imagine even taking the plunge, we were too tired and not prone to take risks.

Thomas Wright has done it to a “T” in downtown Asheville. The Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar has been open for about six months, and from my visit, I could tell that it’s catching on. The 1926 vintage Battery Park Hotel near the Grove Arcade is the perfect space for Thomas. Thousands of books populate the basement space and thousands more rest in the open first floor.

Thomas’ wife owns and operates the Jazzy Giraffe women’s clothing store in Biltmore Village. Since Thomas already owned a popular used bookstore in Little Switzerland, it made sense to pair books and wine rather than women’s wear and wine.

The Champagne bar is far more than just a sparkling wine joint. The extensive wine list in a three ring binder presents 19 sparkling wines, 23 reds and 17 whites available by the glass from a tapped preservation system that keeps them fresh. One hundred and thirty-seven wines are available by the bottle. Cheese plates, caviar and trout dip are also offered.

The future holds promise of evenings with authors and wine tasting events. The place is attractive, beautifully arranged with first-rate wines and first-rate conversation with Thomas. If you have a passion for books and wine, you’ll find an oasis in the old Battery Park Hotel. You could even go on a book and wine crawl from Battery Park to Captain’s Bookshelf, Santé Wine Bar and end up at Malaprops Bookstore for coffee and books, all within a quarter mile.

Thomas has as high a reverence for collecting books as he does for reading them. Being a collector since his early childhood, he says that for him, “books are shrines.” Having owned and operated a couple of popular restaurants in Wilmington, NC, he gained a knowledge and reverence for wine as well. The idea of combining Champagne and books gives his business a reason to exist in his adopted city — he loves Wilmington but is really excited about the culture and atmosphere of Asheville and hopes that it can become a Southern center for the literary arts.

The business is just a few steps from arguably the best collectible and antiquarian bookstore between Atlanta and Philadelphia, The Captain’s Bookshelf and another fine wine bar, Santé. Snugging up to the competition does not daunt Thomas. In fact, he embraces the differences. The complimentary bookmark for the business even lists the names and addresses of five major downtown bookstores. Synergy and collaboration seems to be a big part of his business model.

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