County Wine and Spirits
178 New Milford Tpke. (Route 202)
New Preston, CT
Square footage: 1,350
Years in operation: 10 years (under current ownership)
By Savannah Mul
The sign reads “County Wine and Spirits: Cheese, Hip Hops, Spiritual Advice.” Inside the store, “Beyond the Sea,” by Frank Sinatra was playing softly and wooden wine racks with handwritten price tags and tasting notes sat on top of old wooden floorboards and small decorative cherubs hung from the ceiling.
When owner Bill Fore first purchased the building nearly 10 years ago, he thought about replacing the wooden shelves and floors, but, “we have this funky old building and it’s warm,” he said. “Part of what makes us what we are is our substantial selection in a small amount of space. It feels jolly; it’s all visible.”
To earn a spot on the shelves, Fore and his three other employees evaluate each beer, wine and spirit on certain criteria: price point, quality, interesting story and good packaging. Fore said he believes his curated collection reflects the lifestyle of the community: well-traveled, interesting and witty. “Twenty percent of what you see in the shop is what people know and ask for,” Fore said. “The other eighty percent of the collection is what we choose from tastings.”
“We think of individual customers when we taste,” he said. “It’s really a gratifying and an intellectual process to put a collection together. We can talk a lot about it and listen to our customers. It’s a luxury of having a small shop. We know our customers, and it’s personal.”
Fore has been in the beverage and hospitality industry for decades. He has taught at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and also at the Swiss Hospitality Institute in Washington, Conn. In the early 1980s, he came to Connecticut to build and operate restaurants.
During the mid-1990s, Fore took a job with Connecticut distributor Eder Bros, Inc., where during his nine-year tenure he created and held the position of Director of Education. He then bought County Wine and Spirits in New Preston, making it his first retail endeavor.
Fore has seen many shifts in trends of beer, wine and spirits. “There is an explosion in artisanal craft beer and it’s just all over the place,” he said. “The vocabulary used in the wine world is now being reflected in the beer trade; people are talking about beer with the same degree of connoisseurship.”
Fore reflects that in the last 20 years the cocktail culture was all about taking an “old drink” and making it new again. “What we are seeing now is innovative products, rather than remodeling an old thing,” he said, and specified spirits that are distilled from honey as an example in his store.
Fore said the store gives back to local nonprofits and organizations, which ties it to its community. County Wine and Spirits is also seen as a local depot for cork recycling. Every couple of weeks, the staff collects about 60 lbs. of corks brought in from customers and ships them to a recycling center, where they are repurposed into cork products.