For Kathleen and Matt Haws, their shared journey to become wine professionals has always been an affair of the heart.
“I used to cringe when asked, ‘What are your hobbies?’” Kathleen explains. “I was not a collector of anything. I didn’t play sports. I was not crafty. But I had an interest, greater than most, to splurge on a great meal and an expensive glass of wine. Ten years ago, though, I was embarrassed to admit that eating and drinking were what I considered to be my hobbies. Lucky for me, when I met Matt, he liked my answer.”
Matt, it turned out, possessed a long history with quality dining himself, working in food and drink establishments since the age of 15, including a stint as food and beverage director at The Cincinnatian Hotel. The couple began studying up on wine to better understand their other passion, purposefully choosing bottles and grape varietals they didn’t fully understand to research and ask questions to widen their knowledge. The two grew their relationship, too, taking their wine-loving selves to have and to hold in matrimony.
Eventually, the Hawses decided to combine their personal and professional experiences (Kathleen’s background is in event planning and management) to bring an informed, but accessible, wine experience to Northern Kentucky. They enrolled in a formal study program with Wine & Spirits Education Trust, each earning a Level II diploma in wine and spirits. And, in April 2019, they opened Ripple Wine Bar at 4 W. Pike Street in Covington’s Central Business District.
Ripple was a quick success, attracting a diverse array of drinkers to what Kathleen calls their “urban juice joint.” But then, just 11 short months later, COVID pumped the brakes on their dream ride.
“Everything about Ripple was designed to be experienced in person,” she says. “That all changed when Gov. Beshear announced that restaurants and bars would close to slow the spread of the coronavirus in March of 2020. We had to rethink how to stay connected, keep our patrons engaged, and live out our mission at the same time. We offered wine at retail prices while we were shut down, and we saw no reason to stop.”
This led to the birth of The Bottle Shop, a wine and sundries retail space opened in late July, just two doors down from Ripple. Kathleen describes the 350-square-foot space as “small but mighty,” a challenge that the couple sees as holding certain advantages.
“It is important to us that the size of the shop and the wine selection are not too intimidating, and that the vibe is friendly and relaxed, so the bottle selection rotates by season and we’re bringing in new bottles to taste all the time,” she notes. “We only sell items we’ve tried and that we would proudly serve to our family and friends, and the bottles are a good expression of the grape and the region.”
Currently, patrons will find 150 bottles on the walls, as well as charcuterie boards, coasters, wine keys, and Ripple memorabilia. In the future, Kathleen says The Bottle Shop will stock artisan meats and cheeses, jams/jellies, olives, nuts, and olive oil. But the focus, of course, will always be wine—and the customers.
“We love a bottle with a great story behind it and if you are interested, we’ll take the time to tell you what we know,” Kathleen says. “Our goal is to discover a fantastic bottle or two—or 12!—with you.”
She notes that The Bottle Shop’s assistant manager/wine curator, Gabriella DiVincenzo, has earned a WSET Level III award in wines and is “a wine geek, and proud of it.”
With things at Ripple back in swing, the Hawses are excited to watch both of their businesses serve wine lovers at all stages of their beverage journeys. And they’re already thinking of ways to reach even more people.
“We hope to grow our business into much more than a retail wine shop,” she says. “We offer additional services related to those rare collector wines that you won’t typically see on our shelf, such as bottle sourcing and cellar stocking/management. Additionally, The Bottle Shop hopes to start hosting weekly tastings and educational classes by the end of the year.”
They’ve started up a subscription-based wine club and are even looking ahead to launching an app by the end of the year. And while the entrepreneurs’ gusto for grapes is undeniable, Kathleen insists that the mission of both Ripple and The Bottle Shop will always remain a simple one.
“The overarching goal was and remains to make wine approachable and fun,” she says.