In a town obsessed with coffee and wine, it was only a matter of time before the two beloved beverages started shacking up. Cafes in Europe have long kept both on the menu, and now a host of local java joints and new establishments are following suit.
“I think most people love cafes, even if they don’t know it, and creating a comfortable space where you can get great coffee, great and quick bites to eat, and some wine when ready has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while,” says Andy McClure, who opened Belle Coffee & Wine last spring in the former La Taza space in Belmont. “Having a 2-year-old certainly helps with opening early, too!” (McClure owns The Virginian Restaurant Company, which is best known for Citizen Burger on the Downtown Mall.)
In uniting coffee and wine under one roof, Belle joins local stalwart C’ville Coffee & Wine; Crozet’s Rocket Coffee, which recently added a tasting room for offerings from nearby Lovingston Winery; Charlottesville’s Smallest Wine Shop, whose modest by-the-glass selection enhances the ever-eclectic offerings at Milli Coffee Roasters; and local chain Grit Coffee, which has served wine alongside its house-roasted coffee at its Stonefield location since 2017.
“We’ve been interested in the relationship between coffee and wine for a number of years,” says Grit co-owner Brandon Wooten. “Both coffee and wine can easily be enjoyed by novices but also can be explored in a way that brings other levels of enjoyment.” But Wooten says it’s been tough to add wine to an existing cafe: Once customers think of a place as a coffee shop, “it’s a challenge for them also to view that as a place to drink wine or beer.”
To rectify that, Wooten and partners Brad Uhl and Dan FitzHenry will be combining coffee and wine from the start at The Workshop—part of The Wool Factory, the food-and-drink conglomerate opening later this year in the Woolen Mills development. “The Workshop will primarily be a bottle shop focused on selling interesting small-batch wines,” Wooten says. Those offerings will include international vintages alongside passion projects from area winemakers. As for coffee, “this space will be different from a normal Grit Coffee location in that there will be a much bigger focus on coffee tasting and telling the story about the factors that go into delivering really great coffee,” Wooten says.
McClure also champions a more thoughtful approach to these often-gulped offerings. “I think the European style of coffee drinking is something we can all appreciate,” he says. “Less rushing and more a fundamental part of the eating or drinking part of the day.”
Since Belle opened in late April, McClure and his team have been busy tweaking the menu of locally roasted Trager Brothers coffee, wine by the glass and bottle, light breakfast and lunch items, and happy hour snacks. “I am still not done messing around with the offerings,” McClure says, “but I do see a finish line at this point.” It’s easy for McClure to stay hands-on; he lives two blocks away. “This was designed for Belmont specifically. I am hoping it’s a great fit for years to come.”
For Rocket Coffee’s Scott Link, adding wines was a practical proposition. He’s already brought in pastries, sandwiches, and barbecue to help draw a more varied audience to his converted gas station near downtown Crozet. “Things have been going well for the coffee shop in the mornings,” Link says, “but we were not hitting our daily traffic targets and needed to help stimulate traffic in the afternoons.”
Link had space free to rent and had already been considering adding beer and wine, and Lovingston Winery wanted to open a tasting room in the area. It’s too early to tell how the new offerings will work out, Link says, but “the place feels better, and initial response has been positive.”
Matching coffee, a stimulant, with alcohol, a depressant, might seem odd. But Belle’s McClure says there’s a good reason for this unusual combination. “Every drink should be delicious, but it also serves a purpose. We love wine, and when you love it too much at one time, that’s when it may be time for an espresso.”