Billings couple opens wine store that favors regional products

2012-10-07T00:10:00Z 2012-10-08T09:32:07Z Billings couple opens wine store that favors regional productsBy JAN FALSTAD jfalstad@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Renowned quilter Dolores Terpstra doesn’t usually drink wine.

But on the last Friday in September, she was buying lunch at Billings’ newest wine shop. That lunch included a bright blue, Eiffel Tower-shaped bottle of Pinot Grigio to complement slices of Genoa salami, Provolone cheese and crackers.

“I like the bottle’s shape, and I just have to support these people,” she said of her friends Bill and Mary Kennedy, who opened The Wine Market and Deli at 1942 Grand Ave. last month.

Bill Kennedy, whose day job is working as a Yellowstone County commissioner, focuses on promoting their wine business. But The Wine Market is really Mary Kennedy’s deal.

After three decades of processing medical bills, she decided to escape the office.

“I’m really enjoying this. The days fly by, it’s dark outside, and I don’t feel like I’ve been here all day,” she said.

The business idea started fermenting last year during talks with some friends in Great Falls, who started a wine shop and a franchise called WinesbyWednesday.com

After that franchise idea fell through, the Kennedys kept going.

“Let’s just do it,” Mary said.

The shop also offers local craft beers, soup and deli sandwiches made with imported meats and cheeses.

While touring Switzerland with a leadership group two decades ago, Kennedy wasn’t a wine drinker, until a guide set him straight.

“Bill, they are putting out some of their best wine and you’re not drinking it,” the guide said. “You’re insulting them.”

Today, he favors robust reds, while Mary’s tastes lean to the lighter white wines.

Like some other locally owned wine stores, including City Vineyard and Simply Wine, The Wine Market and Deli is opening without a tasting room, which their current off-premise liquor license doesn’t permit. But Mary is talking with other area businesses about hosting tasting parties.

City Vineyard and Simply Wine later added tasting rooms, and Simply Wine recently opened a bistro.

The Kennedys are relying on three things to lure customers to their shop: Internet shopping, an emphasis on Montana-made wines and a catering business.

At age 16, Bill Kennedy met his future wife while working for her mother, Ann Zeeck, who ran the cafeteria at what is now called St. Vincent Healthcare. For more than two decades until the 1970s, Bill’s Italian uncle, John Grano, ran a truck farm and produce stand on Bench Boulevard when that area was still farmland.

Cooking for family get-togethers of 25 still is common.

“It’s all just part of what we’ve done forever,” Mary said.

The Kennedys have hired one employee, a Billings native.

Chris Dobson picked up his taste for wine during his recent five-year U.S. Navy career, followed by a year of college. After his uncle kindled his interest in wine, every Navy payday Dobson bought a different wine to start refining his tastes.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to know I’m working with food and wine,” he said. “This is fun. This isn’t work, right, Mary?”

The affable Dobson plans to return to the University of Montana to finish his degree and may someday open a Missoula microbrewery or wine shop with a friend.

With an inventory of 462 wines, Mary has focused on stocking labels that are popular in Billings, while featuring Montana wines. Shelves include selections from Yellowstone Cellars in Billings and Mission Mountain wines from Western Montana. Other regional products for sale include Montana homebrewed beers and Mystic Monk Coffee from the Carmelite Monks monastery in Clark, Wyo.

Building up a catering clientele for weddings and other celebrations is Bill’s focus.

“We’ll make sure the wines are there and the beers are there and the meats and cheeses are ready,” he said. “It’s a one-stop shop and we’re local.”

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