Middlebury Fine Wine & Spirits
1255 Middlebury Road #5
Square footage: 1,500
Years in operation: 9
By Sara Capozzi
Ironically, Middlebury Fine Wine & Spirits Owner Bob Heusted wasn’t always a fan of wine. But when his wife read that enjoying a glass could offer health benefits, the former software engineer joined her, begrudgingly at first. “I was a person that did not like wine,” Heusted said. “My wine knowledge was so limited because I had tried red, I had tried white. I didn’t like either so I thought that was the extent of the wine world for me.”
Later during a trip to Italy, which included a stay at a villa and winery, Heusted tried the local varietals and something clicked. He brought a few bottles back home to the U.S. and started chatting with friends who had a passion for wine, and as his knowledge grew, wine became his new hobby.
To learn more, Heusted began working part time at NeJaime’s Wine & Spirits in Watertown. After six years of working at the store, Heusted felt he had the knowledge he needed to open his own shop. When his day job in IT at IBM was outsourced, Heusted consulted for a year, but when a liquor license became available in the town of Middlebury, he grabbed it, formally leaving his old profession and opening Middlebury Fine Wine & Spirits in 2011.
Heusted stocked the store with some items he liked, but for the most part, the beer, wine and spirits that line the shelves of Middlebury Fine Wine & Spirits are curated through customer requests.
“Ultimately, the consumer decides what stays in here,” he said. “Starting a store from scratch with no existing customers, I didn’t want to fill it up with just things I liked. A lot of the inventory was built up through customer requests or through sampling. Over time, I learned what [wine] categories sell better than others … I have some esoteric wines for a few customers, just to have that diversity, but I don’t want to be overflooded with too many things that are low volume.”
Consumer trends have ebbed and flowed over the years, but Heusted said he has noticed that Middlebury shoppers have a lot of loyalty for local brands. In wines, the rosé category has become more of a year-round seller. For beer, IPAs and sour beers are top sellers, especially from local breweries. In spirits, the whiskey category is the most in-demand, especially rare well-known bourbons and ryes, and in flavored, peanut butter whiskeys and Fireball.
Heusted has always prioritized his relationship with customers over the years, and while it’s taken some time in such a “tight-knit” community like Middlebury, he has grown his customer base. While the base is mostly locals, it also includes commuters who pass the shop on their way home from work off I-84.
The pandemic also continues to influence customer behavior, with more shoppers buying the components they need to make their own cocktails at home. Customers will often head to the shop wanting to make a cocktail they saw a celebrity drink on Instagram, such as an Aperol Spritz, according to Store Clerk Andrea Buono. “When corona[virus] hit, everyone decided they wanted margaritas,” Heusted said. “Now, there’s more focus with people making cocktails themselves, so they seem to be getting into that.”