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Let's drink to that

Maybe it is the way that Kelli Rizzo holds a bottle of wine — like a mother holding a baby — that convinces you she is in love with the stuff squeezed from grapes.

Maybe it is the way she speaks about it — with plenty of eyebrow raises and oohs and yeahs.

“This is a good one,” she says, plucking up a bottle of cabernet, twisting it until the label catches the light.

Rizzo’s love of wine inspired her to open her own shop last month nestled right next to the Manette Café on Scott Avenue.

It is the only wine shop in Bremerton.

“I was literally sitting around drinking wine with a bunch of friends one night,” Rizzo explained. “Four days later I was signing a lease before I had realized what I had done.”

Spur of the moment? Maybe. But Rizzo’s love of the liquid developed long ago, when she was kicking it in The Windy City.

Rizzo, barely 21 then, made her daily wage in a fine French restaurant in Chicago called The Chardonnay. One day her boss asked her to help host wine tastings, and that’s when the barrel started rolling.

Back then, Rizzo regularly got together with a bunch of friends, and the rule was, if you didn’t cook, you brought wine. Most of her friends were in the restaurant business, so they all brought over some pretty fancy bottles to try.

The wine made the atmosphere more intimate.

“Wine is a very social thing. It has a certain romance to it. It’s a warm way to meet people,” Rizzo said. “It makes people feel a little more intimate than beer.”

Rizzo has since hopped on a plane to trace her family roots to Italy (where she says the wine is heaven-sent) and she has tipped her glass back in fine cafés in Venice and Paris.

“Wine is at every table in Europe; lunch or dinner, every table,” she said. “The Europeans take off two hours for lunch every day. They drink wine, make love and go back to work.”

Until Rizzo started the Manette Wine Shop, she ferried over to Seattle everyday from her Manette house to her job at a restaurant. Now her commute is four blocks.

She loves the neighborhood, and the neighborhood is taking kindly to her. Most every person that has walked in has bought a bottle of wine. A lot of customers have come back for more advice. Her store isn’t a quick stop and go, it’s a place to linger.

“Most people that come in stay about 10 minutes,” Rizzo said. “They know my name and we’ll sit and talk. We’ll talk about wine, we’ll talk about the neighborhood.”

The walls inside Rizzo’s store are the color of a musky red merlot. The whole place smells fresh like pine, thanks to friends who constructed shelves out of the material to hold Rizzo’s extensive selection of over 200 bottles.

The varieties are endless — from Northwest specialities like Oregon and California varieties to those from Italy, Spain, Chile, Australia, France, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa — and Rizzo has tasted them all.

She knows her wine just as much as she loves it.

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