Anfora Wine Merchants, a retail shop and wine education center, officially opened for curbside service at 128 S. Marion St. on May 22. An Italian word with Greek origins, Anfora, refers to a two-handled terracotta vessel used in Ancient Rome to store or transport wine.
Currently the young business is offering wine packages in groups of three, six and 12 bottles for pickup at price points that appeal to budget conscious wine-lovers and wine collectors alike. Rather than order from a list of available bottles, Adrian Weisell, co-owner, sommelier and River Forest resident, asks for preference notes and selects wines for customers. Orders are placed through Anfora’s website.
“I am looking to build relationships with my customers,” said Weisell. “Ultimately we’re asking that you trust me. Let go a little and let me pick the wine for you. Anfora will give people a chance to try wines they wouldn’t normally try.”
Weisell’s parents hailed from Indianapolis where his father worked for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Weisell was born in Italy after his father was stationed as a nutritionist in Rome. Weisell’s elementary school was housed in a working vineyard. He remembers the school library was housed in an old barrel house and toy bins were made from repurposed animal troughs.
After attending the College of Wooster in Ohio, Weisell returned to Rome and began working in his friend’s restaurant. Graduate school brought Weisell back to New York where he worked in the notable Italian restaurant, Il Buco, while studying international affairs.
Il Buco, was (and remains) a notable wine destination in the city and carried a great selection of Italian wines. Through mentorship, exposure, and education Weisell was ultimately promoted to sommelier.
“My approach to wine is not how a standard sommelier would approach it,” said Weisell. “Wine is about more than taste to me. I look at wine drinking through a cultural and historical lens.”
The Marion Street space still requires finishing touches, but Weisell is hoping the shop recaptures the feeling of his childhood and honors old world traditions.
A welcoming retail space engages customers upon entry, floral murals cover walls and terracotta pendant fixtures hang from the ceiling. Wooden shelves house bottles of wine and a set of double doors give way to a tasting room with a counter suitable for hosting small classes.
The shop does not have a kitchen, but he is laying the ground work to partner with Carnivore, located just around the corner, in an effort to provide charcuterie boards, oysters and other small bites to the enoteca — a regional wine shop that originated in Italy.
As for opening during a pandemic, Weisell remains optimistic.
“It is a very interesting time to open, but my concept very much caters to these sorts of limitations,” said Weisell. “This is a great business to be opening now. That said, we are scrambling to adapt because there is still a lot of uncertainty and a lot to figure out.”
Socially conscious and well-travelled guests will appreciate the thoughtful approach Weisell takes to curate a wine tasting experience. In the future he envisions Anfora Wine Merchants to be a social destination where people can try wines by the glass or by the bottle.