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If you’ve ever dreamt of demurely sipping bubbly from a Champagne coupe while sitting on a late 19th century fainting couch in a turn of the century library, you’ll take particular joy in a visit to Thelma Carol Wine Merchants, the new boutique wine shop at 605 W. Virginia St. in Walker’s Point.
The new wine and spirits shop opened softly this week, greeting its first customers with an abundance of early 20th century charm.
Behind the business are industry veterans Rebecca Button and her husband Jerel Hall. A certified sommelier, Hall earned his master’s degree in library science, but has spent the past 15 years working in liquor retail, distribution and various positions in local restaurants and bars.
Meanwhile, Button, who currently works as the marketing and events director for Milwaukee Downtown, comes to the table with years of events experience, along with industry acumen from work at bars and restaurants including Odd Duck, Bavette La Boucherie and At Random.
The shop is named in homage to Hall’s grandmother, Thelma June, and Button’s grandmother, Carol, both strong women who both spent their careers working as librarians. And you’ll find portraits of both hanging astride the shop’s selection of Italian reds not far from the shop’s entrance.
From there, you can mosey through the shop’s collection of wines, organized by region on hand-built wooden shelves in the center of the shop. You’ll find bottles from Italy, France, Spain and Portugal and the U.S., including selections from Mineral Point’s American Wine Project, a woman-owned winery which focuses on wines made with lesser-known Midwest hybrid varietals like Frontenac and LaCrescent.
“We want to support people that are doing great work in the industry,” notes Hall, whose work in the wine industry combined with his congenial personality make him an excellent guide to the wealth of wines waiting to be discovered at the newly minted shop.
Additional shelving on the eastern side of the shop harbors an eclectic collection of world whites and reds, as well as natural wines from regions in Croatia, Georgia, Uruguay and Argentina.
Continue your journey around the shop and you’ll find tomes tucked between the bottles of wine, velveteen draperies, antique furniture and a variety of places to settle in and enjoy a glass of wine (including a lovely fainting couch where you can bask in the glow from the shop’s eastern exposure).
Circle toward the western wall and you’ll also run into a selection of sparkling wines, champagne and dessert wines along with a modest but well curated selection of beer, including a robust collection of Belgian brews, and mixers.
Guests can also peruse a cabinet filled with a collection of high quality pipes for purchase, with pipe tobacco and cigars available behind the bar.
The long hardwood bar is not only beautiful, it showcases the shop’s collection of spirits, which includes a few standards, but largely more boutique brands. The collection favors more unusual rums and single malt Scotch, along with a beautiful selection of vermouths, categories for which Hall possesses a fervent interest.
“There’s so much great stuff out there, things that are interesting and worthy of note,” says Hall. "So we just basically took all the other stuff off of the shelves and focused on those things that really stand out."
In an effort to introduce some of the more interesting selections to guests, Hall says they will eventually introduce spirits flights, as well as a wine club featuring access to special releases on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.
Both Button and Hall note how grateful they are to have found a location in a neighborhood that’s hungry for the products they offer and where they are surrounded by welcoming neighbors like Great Lakes Distillery.
“We’ve felt so wonderfully welcomed here, from folks walking past with their dogs to the reception we’ve received from other local businesses,” says Button. “We’re just so grateful to be here.”
Thelma Carol Wine Merchants is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The shop also accepts reservations for private tastings and events. Interested parties should inquire by email at email@example.com
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.