WINDHAM — A Windham business doesn’t have much to “wine” about after being highly ranked online.
Ze Windham Wine Bar, located off Main Street in Windham, behind the town’s post office, was ranked No. 20 in Travel & Leisure’s top 25 wine bars in the country this past winter and was recently named the best bar in upstate New York, based on Yelp reviews, one of the bar’s owners, Cordelia Schreiber, said.
“It takes from Yelp and it kind of filters the algorithm to [the] number of 5-star reviews and how long you’ve been opened,” she said. “There’s other people that have far more reviews, but I guess we had a better standing, so we’re very lucky for that.”
The business opened in September 2015 after two years of renovations and applying for a liquor license, Schreiber said, but the house where the wine bar is located has a history attached with it.
Schreiber’s father, Peter Schreiber, was sent to Windham to buy milk in 1982 by his wife Jessika, but instead came back to the family home in Jewett announcing he had purchased the Main Street house, she said.
“He made the lady an offer, she agreed, he came home, no milk, Mom was pretty mad,” Cordelia Schreiber said. “Mom was making dinner by the time he came back around.”
The home needed to be renovated after Hurricane Irene because 12 feet of water filled the home from the basement up, Schreiber said. Opening up the business cost $250,000, including the immediate renovations following the storm.
“My parents rebuilt the building thereafter, and many hiccups along the way, trying to find funding and FEMA,” she said. “Everything had to be gutted because it was all just mush.”
The wine bar building is the second oldest home in Windham, having been built in 1824, and has had many uses including as apartments, a boutique and a spa run by Jessika Schreiber’s other daughter, Antonia.
“Then came Hurricane Irene and almost washed the house away, and then Cordelia decided to move home from California and said ‘Let’s do a wine bar,’” Jessika Schreiber said.
Cordelia Schreiber, who has worked in restaurants and other hospitality ventures since she was 14, noticed the area already had many restaurants and wanted to offer something different than their competitors. The restaurant offers roughly 45 wines by the glass, beer and small bites.
“We wanted to do that right in between — not a bar bar, but not a restaurant,” she said. “We have a pre-dinner rush and then we have a post-dinner rush, just for how our menu is made.”
The wine bar offers a more relaxed setting to savor a glass of wine as opposed to other restaurants where they want to turn tables quickly, Cordelia Schreiber said, adding she welcomes diners who want to come in solely for dessert.
“Most restaurants just roll their eyes when you say ‘Oh, is it OK if we just have dessert?’” Cordelia Schreiber said. “That’s wrong. If someone chooses to spend money in your place you should welcome them with open arms.”
Jessika Schreiber credits the wine bar’s success to enjoying what she and Cordelia do and satisfying their customers’ needs, including making cappuccino for guests who don’t drink alcohol and offering items upon customer request, she said.
“We do cherish all our guests and most of them have become very good friends,” she said. “The success is in part to paying attention to every little detail and making every single guest feel special.”
Cordelia Schreiber is a sommelier, or wine aficionado, who is certified in explaining to diners how a certain wine is made and what foods it pairs well with, she said, adding she recommends sweet wines for customers who aren’t wine drinkers.
“Wine is a bug, you catch it or you don’t, and that’s the best way I look at it,” she said. “Working with people is really my passion and wine is just kind of how I get their attention.”
German sweet or dry riesling is Cordelia Schreiber’s favorite white wine, while the French Cru Beaujolais is her favorite red. Jessika Schreiber favors any wine with bubbles.
“It can be cheap, it can be expensive, I like it all,” Jessika Schreiber said.
Most wine should be consumed immediately, breaking a common misconception about wine needing to be aged many years before opening, Cordelia Schreiber said, adding less than 5 percent of the wine produced around the world should be aged three to five years.
“I always say to people, would you rather hang onto it for 30 years and risk it being vinegar or would you like to enjoy it at its best?” she said.
The bar runs a wine school every Tuesday where diners try six wines paired with gourmet foods with different themes, which have included the wines of South Africa, poetry and most recently “Grease.” The wine school has served 1,700 customers and over 370 wines have been tasted with no repeats.
“Our premise is you can pair wine with anything,” she said with a laugh. “We just had our 65th sold-out week.”
To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.