In many ways, Melissa Winkler’s wine boutique, Winkler & Samuels, seems like fate. Opened in August at 500 Seneca downtown, the shop is only two blocks from the former site of F. X. Winkler & Sons, the grocery business that was founded in 1857 by her great-great-great-great-grandfather and operated by her family for 111 years.
Growing up, Winkler was surrounded by wine and her grandmother’s homemade pastries, jams and pies. “From a very young age, she showed me that good-quality food is important,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be fancy; it can be simple and rustic.”
From this upbringing sprang her passion for wine. A certified sommelier, Winkler studied at the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust in London, and the Court of Master Sommeliers in Toronto. She’s also traveled extensively through Italy, Germany, and France, tasting and learning at every stop.
“The first winery I went to was in Champagne, France,” she said. “I was just so blown away. It’s one thing to read about it, but to have that experience after learning about it for so long was amazing.”
With Winkler & Samuels, she’s hoping to pass those experiences and her appreciation for terroir-driven wines along to her customers.
“Terroir is an all-encompassing definition of what a wine can be: the soil it’s grown on, the region it’s from, the people who produced it, the climate, the angle of the slope of the vineyard,” she explained.
“All of our wines have a personality, a sense of place,” she continued. “We don’t have any commercially made wine. Every wine we sell, it’s someone’s family you’re supporting — not some big corporation.”
With about 1,000 square feet of space, the shop carries more than 600 wines. Along the walls, bottles are divided by country, with maps indicating the region in which it was made. In a fun twist, the shop also sells wine in cans; a best seller, Ramona, is an organic, sparkling Sicilian wine mixed with grapefruit.
“Some people can get overwhelmed or intimidated by wine,” Winkler said. “Wine in a can is really approachable, and you can get some really great quality wines.”
Below the store is a wine cellar, with 1,400 square feet of humidity- and climate-controlled space, along with courtyard access and a stunning dinner space with a long wooden table and stone walls. (An event space is also slated to open this winter.) With a cellar membership, customers receive a locker to age their vino, discounts on purchases, personal sommelier services and free home delivery.
The boutique also offers wine classes, ranging from “Wine 101” to classes themed by region, holidays or season. It’s during those classes, and conversations with customers throughout the day, when Winkler gets to share her knowledge and recommendations.
“I love wine because it makes you stop and think,” she said. “Really great wines tell you who they are. They have a soul, and they tell you about this one specific time and place. We put wine with a soul on a pedestal.”