Culinary corner: Route 28’s quiet gourmet getaway

           They’re linked by Route 28 in the Town of Kingston – as well as their individual commitments to their community and one another.

           Still, there’s nothing really notable about this four-lane stretch of highway, other than that it takes a concentrated effort to maintain the 45-mph speed limit.

           But upon closer inspection coming from the Thruway, there’s a group of shops on the right, a little more than four miles from the traffic circle. They’re set back a bit and easy to miss. However, thanks in large part to those who travel north from Manhattan to an Ulster County respite, this group of retailers is being coined as Gourmand Alley, offering epicurean delights to weekenders as well as pantry staples to full-timers who have a palate for good things, including supporting local businesses.

           Here’s a gustatory glimpse of what’s available en route from the city or just a stone’s throw from where you might be in Ulster County:

           The Wine Hutch

           It takes a little more than a dollar and a dream, as Ursula Woinoski found out.

           But the time was right.

           She was a baker, and had gained much experience in customer service and management, too. But after 25 years, there was also a sense of restlessness, a need to have something of her own.

           Her parents had owned a wine shop, so there had been exposure to the business and a cultivation of an interest in luscious wines. Her upbringing also helped cultivate a sense of community-mindedness; her family doesn’t even exchange Christmas gifts anymore, opting instead to donate the money, she says. The Kingston native knew she wanted to stay put.

           A wine-and-spirits shop on Route 28 came up for sale almost eight years ago. She had gone to high school with the owner, whose time had come to open a restaurant in North Carolina.

           “I think I can do this,” she recalls thinking. “No, I was confident I could do this.”

           There is no way, however, to totally prepare for all that comes with being a business owner.

           “You’re responsible for everything,” she says.

           The flip side, though, is that all the decisions are your own.

           “I have a love and passion for the winemakers and vineyard owners,” Woinoski says. “If a brand tastes the same year in and year out, then it’s being manipulated too much.”

           So one decision that sets her apart is to work with 39 or 40 different purveyors, which is not only time-consuming, but generates a blizzard of invoices.

           “I’m always looking for the best value in that bottle – beautiful wines at reasonable prices. I have a tempranillo (a red grape from Spain) that’s $9.95. But it should be at least $19; yeah, it’s that good,” says Woinoski, who’s often pleasantly surprised by the offerings found in smaller portfolios, although she also works with larger companies that carry lines from multiple larger vineyards.

           “Before I opened the shop, I had the chance to visit the wine countries in Argentina and Italy,” she says, her eyes reverting back momentarily to that peace and relaxation found in a vineyard. “And I’m having a ‘big’ birthday in April that will be spent in California with tastings in Sonoma Valley.”

           And tastings are as integral to what she does as weather is to a successful harvest. At 4:30 p.m. Fridays, a couple of bottles will be selected and customers are welcome to sample for free. Not only is it a way to highlight something different, but it allows Woinoski and her staff to reconnect with an old favorite that might have become overshadowed by the inventory of some 15,300 bottles in her unique, eclectic collection.

           “I love everything in my store,” she says of the space that doubled in January of 2013 when she took over the tanning salon next door that was going out of business. “My staff also knows the wines… Michael Rozman, the assistant manager, is my right hand guy and a former chef. He brings in a younger dynamic.”

           Fueled by another business decision that makes customer service paramount, Woinoski and her staff of two attempt to learn their customer’s names. They also try to become familiar with their tastes – as best they can while selling upward of 100 bottles of wine on weekdays and hundreds during the weekend.

           “I often will ask if they’re looking for something with a particular food or just to drink,” she says. “If I make a recommendation and they return saying, ‘It was too strong,’ then I go from there.”

           Moscato, a sweet white wine, is popular now, and because of the shop’s expansion, she is able to donate a section to this trend.

           “It’s an introduction for people who might not have cultivated a taste for the reds,” she says. “I encourage people to drink what they like, and forget the ‘rules.’”

           Woinoski also has a “rosé roundabout” that features this category of blush wines, which are not sweet. However, because of limited contact with the grape skins during the winemaking process, a rosé is lighter in color.

           Given all the vineyards and influences that determine the taste of a particular vintage, Woinoski’s favorites change regularly, as well as her displays.

           “Although my first love is Italian wines because that’s where I first traveled to – and they have gorgeous bottles – I’m also gravitating toward Spain and the fuller-body wines from Southern France such as Grenache and Syrah. But I change with the season, and love whites as well.”

           The Wine Hutch also has been discovered by weekenders, which is why Woinoski made the decision to stay open until 11 p.m. on Fridays.

           “There’s a place to park – without the danger of a $100 parking ticket – to easily pick up a case of beautiful wine for the weekend,” she says.

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