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Washington’s Vineyard: Downtown specialty store opens Monday

Mike Grayson is no wine snob.

He doesn’t sniff corks. He’s never terrorized a wine steward. He appreciates a robust muscadine wine bottled two months ago as much as a stuffy cabernet sauvignon bottled 10 years ago.

Wine, he’ll tell you, is meant to be enjoyed, not employed as an arbiter of one’s social standing.

So it makes perfect sense that Grayson and his wife, Susan, should open their own wine store – which is exactly what they’ve done.

The Vine and Hoof officially opens Monday, provided the telephone guy gets the phones hooked up and the rest of the stock arrives and the Graysons finish in time with all the last-minute details that attend such an enterprise.

The Graysons will be familiar to Demopolis residents as proprietors of the Foscue House, one of the area’s finer dining establishments. It was their experience with running the Foscue House that convinced the Graysons to test the waters for a store offering wine and specialty foods.

“We had been selling wine, of course, and we determined there was an opportunity and a need to offer our customers something more,” Grayson explains.

In addition to wine, the Vine and Hoof will offer wine accessories, imported and micro-brewery beers, gift baskets, gourmet foods, and custom-cut beef.

“All our beef will be certified Angus beef,” Grayson notes.

They’ll also offer “exotics,” such as lamb, buffalo, rabbit and alligator meat. And for those who don’t fancy cooking at home after a hard day at the office, the Vine and Hoof will sell casseroles and salads to go. “We’ll even deliver,” says Susan.

The Graysons are hoping that the opening of the Vine and Hoof will get a boost from what they perceive as an increased interest in wine among an American public that has long preferred the fruit of the hops to the fruit of the vine.

“Wine can be so interesting,” Grayson suggests. “A lot of wines even tell a story. For instance, wine is usually reflective of a certain region. Most wine is named after either a certain type of grape or the region where the wine is made.”

In addition to a healthy line of domestic wines, the Vine and Hoof will offer wines literally from around the world – including New Zealand, Spain, Argentina, South Africa and, of course, France. The prices will range from a modest $4.99 a bottle to $80 and up for those with more discerning palettes and the wherewithal to satisfy them.

But please, Grayson hastens to add, check any outdated notions you might have about wine at the door. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find a wine you like. You don’t even have to be able to know the difference between a merlot and a pinot noire to enjoy wine.

And not to worry about making a faux pas when ordering wine. “The old stereotypes of red wine with meat and white wine for fish and chicken don’t hold true anymore,” Grayson insists. “It all goes back to individual taste. If you find a wine you like, drink it.”

Wine has long been held to contain certain medicinal properties. But cautions Grayson, “We should probably qualify that by saying a ‘glass’ of wine, not a ‘case’ of wine, at a sitting.”

The Graysons have been renovating the building at 111 W. Washington St. in preparation for opening day.

“We’ve given it a little bit of a facelift,” Grayson says. “We’ve gone back to the original wood in a couple of places.”

The decision to locate the Vine and Hoof in the historic downtown district was a deliberate one for the Graysons – even though Susan’s optical dispensary office Spec-Tacular is “out on the highway.” Plans are for Mike eventually to move his insurance business into the back rooms at West Washington.

It’s sort of an atmosphere thing.

“Back in the ’90s you heard a lot about the management term ‘in pursuit of quality’ floated around,” Grayson says. “The idea is that people will spend, they will drive in pursuit of quality. It’s a takeoff on the old adage, ‘If you build it they will come.’ We’ve found that to be true for the most part.”