By Maddy Vitale
Wine connoisseurs and even the occasional libation lover, can pretty much find something for all tastes at Passion Vines Wine & Spirit Company in Somers Point and Egg Harbor Township.
From California, France and Italy, to South African, Australia and New Zealand, there aren’t too many fine wines in the world that Michael Bray, 38, founder and director of operations at Passion Vines, hasn’t offered his loyal and growing customer base.
“We believe every wine tells a story, predicated on where the grapes are grown. It’s all grape juice, but what we love is the story,” Bray remarked, from his Egg Harbor Township business, Dec. 13. “The French word for it is terroir, which means the sanctity of a place.”
What’s hot now that it’s cold?
“With temperatures getting colder, red is the category getting a lot of play and white wine and lighter beers go down,” Bray said.
But fuller bodied white Chardonnays, replace their lighter counterparts, and for beers the same holds true: stouts and porters are popular now, with more complex tastes, Bray explained. Craft beers are also popular.
The age-old spirit that takes the top for younger people is whiskey, specifically bourbons over scotches, primarily because they blend well in a cocktail, Bray said. “The bourbons are more palatable. They have caramel and vanilla flavors to them,” Bray said.
The price point for whiskey is also a bit lower than the scotches, starting at about $29 as opposed to the $50 or $60 average starting price for the single-malts.
Two weeks before Christmas shoppers at both Passion Vines locations who purchase cases of wine, receive complimentary gift wrapped individual bottles.
“You could put them in your trunk and you always have a gift for someone,” Bray said.
A popular gift which makes a great stocking stuffer is a $20 certificate to a wine tasting at the Somers Point Passion Vines location. “All you have to do is call and make a reservation,” Bray said.
Included in the tasting is, for example, six types of beer, cheese, chocolate and crackers and a 60-minute question and answer period to discuss the different tasting wines or spirits.
Gift Baskets are big sellers…
Holiday gift baskets are great for corporate events and are welcomed gifts for friends and family. Passion Vines puts some clever spins on the baskets.
“This one is like a dinner in a basket,” Bray said, of an Italian-inspired themed gift basket, with red wine, pasta shells and marinara sauce, all wrapped up in a pretty cellophane and elegant basket with a bow. Then there is one for the beer lovers. It comes with chocolate pretzels, different flavored stouts and other goodies.
And the prices range from the very affordable – $29.99 to the $500 range.
Then there are the old-fashioned “hat boxes” that come with enough room to stuff cheeses, wines and all other holiday goodies in. There are also more moderately-priced “boxes” with room for two bottles of fine wine.
“This time of year, our gift basket business is booming. We literally bring on employees to create the baskets over the holidays,” Bray said. “Whether a family wants one to five gift baskets, or a company is providing 100 gift baskets, we make them, and we ship them everywhere permissible.”
Gift baskets make great presents for business associates to family and friends.
Bray opened his Somers Point location, which also has a bar, in 2004, and the Egg Harbor Township distribution center, warehouse and store in 2011. He said he is also looking to expand.
His entrepreneurial spirit, he said, comes from his love for his mom, Jayne Bray, 68, of Somers Point, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1990. She is confined to a wheelchair.
“She is a fighter and really inspired me to find meaningful ways to sell with a mission,” Bray said.
Five years ago, he created a fundraiser called The Right Notes with the South Jersey Jazz Society of Somers Point. Each year they hold a fundraiser with wine tastings and music to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. To date, The Right Notes has raised $300,000 to fight MS. Throughout the journey and growth of Passion Vines, Bray said his mom and her strength continue to guide him to be a good business partner and friend to the community.
Bray and his wife Kimberly live in Somers Point with their children Dylan, 8, and Jocelyn, 5.
Passion Vines is located at 265 New Rd, Somers Point. For more information call (609) 601-8463. The Egg Harbor Township store is at 3013 Ocean Heights Avenue. For more information call (609) 653-8463 or visit https://www.passionvines.com/