As I contemplated the list of nearly 30 glass-pour wines, I felt like I was standing at the edge of a vast and largely unexplored continent. Not the world of wine, but Seattle’s possibilities as a wine city. Witnessing the success of Walden, a brand-new wine pop-up housed in the hip and stylized Little Uncle space in Pioneer Square, all I could think about was what lay in the future for Puget Sound oenophiles.
That Luke Wohlers, his wife Trinie Thai-Parker, and their friend Emily Smith could have success with such an ambitious idea pleases me no end. The list is short on familiar wines, long on obscure, unique, and challenging ones. They spared no expense on the glasses, supplying hand-blown Zaltos from Austria for each pour. Despite their seeming fragility, Wohlers assured me they’re actually quite a bit more durable than most other high-end stemware.
The selection skews heavily toward the kind of esoteric wines that wine geeks like me thrill to. Small-production European wines? Check. Funky, oxidized whites from a fringe California producer? Check. Grand cru Alsatian riesling? Check! Seeing all those on the same list was exciting, even if the general population might still gravitate to chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Granted, those grapes did make an appearance, though in styles that might not be as familiar to most drinkers.
Luke Wohlers and his wife Trinie Thai-Parker are confident their pop-up model will work. Photo By Ben Gamble
Wohlers, though, seems confident his efforts will find an audience. Of course, the pop-up model removes some of the danger: He’s not betting a lease, merely whatever rent he pays for the two nights per week he takes over Little Uncle. It’s a venue particularly well-suited to being a wine bar: The subterranean setting seems fitting, and the larger space seems to shrink at night, focusing attention on the bar. But even with that aesthetic appeal, it’s an ambitious concept: no beverages besides wine; minimal food beyond Thai-Parker’s excellent pies; and, in some cases, a price point that most Seattleites don’t associate with glass-pour wine. While I think Wohlers has the chops and the product to pull it off, I think it’d be wise to minimize the risk for the time being.
What remains to be seen is whether Walden forms part of a new generation of Seattle wine bars. There’s certainly a hope within the wine community here that as Seattle continues to grow and create plenty of high-paying jobs, the city can support more adventurous (and expensive) wine programs—an ephemeral pop-up, a restaurant devoted solely to Portuguese or Greek wines, or something else altogether. It’ll be yet another step along the road toward Seattle becoming a true world-class wine city, and I for one can hardly wait.