Jeff Hock is not your typical Terre Haute small business owner.
He loves to surf, is over age 50 yet has two preschool-age kids, and only recently moved here from New York City, where he owned and operated two highly successful New York City wine shops. He also launched a profitable Internet wine business in 2000 — when most dot.com businesses were operating at a loss.
Oh, and he knows wine, inside and out.
“It’s a passion,” says Hock, who is as energetic as some of the wine labels are colorful in his shop on U.S. 41 South at Ellis Plaza.
When you enter “Bottle,” Hock’s latest business venture, you see a simple, clean, linear layout with about 50 white wines on a single metal shelf along one wall, mirroring a like-numbered display of reds on the opposite side. Displayed on a table in between are colorful blends of non-alcoholic lemonades, waters, oils and vinegar.
In the back are microbrew beers, cheeses and specialty crackers.
Showcased at the entrance to the shop is an antique wooden wine press, something Hock just happened to find at a Terre Haute antique shop. He also has an impressive collection of wine labels dating back more than a century and old-fashioned cork screws. Bottle also features, for display only, antique wine barrels and all-glass wine barrel plugs.
“I’ve been collecting this stuff for years,” he said. “I love this stuff.”
But the wine is the main attraction. Above each standing wine bottle is a framed card bearing a description of the beverage below. The information provided includes the type of grape, the region of the world where the wine was crafted, good food pairings and the cost.
The wines range in price from about $7.99 to $39.99.
The simplicity of the store layout is purposeful: “Wine, for most people, is intimidating,” Hock said. “I try to take that away. … Wine is really simple, once you know what you like.”
Hock is an experienced wine maker, having created his own wine on five different continents. He is not making wine now, but he still sells his own organic brand of coffee, “Crossroads,” at his store. It’s roasted in Brooklyn.
There are no Indiana wines for sale at Bottle, but the store does offer a small selection of Hoosier-brewed micro-beers, including Mad Anthony and People’s.
Hock and his wife, Amy, came to Terre Haute recently to raise their kids, ages 1 and 3. The decision to move was spurred by a nighttime burglar, who broke into their Fifth Avenue house through a window. That was it. Amy and the family decided to move soon after, Hock said.
The couple considered relocating to cities in other states, California and North Carolina among them, but the Hocks chose Terre Haute, Amy’s family home. So far, Jeff seems sold on the idea and has opened his new business just a few minutes from his southside home.
“We moved here to raise our kids,” he said. “We need family.”
Hock has factored-in family in setting his shop’s hours; Bottle is open 2 to 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. He does, though, remain flexible when it comes to his customers. Shortly after his “soft” opening March 15, Hock stayed late to chat with a customer interested in learning more about wine.
Indiana law does not allow specialty shops — as opposed to liquor stores — to host indoor wine tastings, but Hock plans to host tasting events around other products, such as the specialty cheeses and olive oils.
“You can’t get these anywhere,” Hock says of his specialty vinegar and oils. One product, called Madonna Dell Olivo, is the top-rated olive oil in the world, he said.
Hock does host wine tasting events in private homes and businesses for groups of 20 or more, he said. In New York, he frequently hosted tastings for law firms, and he once provided the service for the crew of MTV. His pouring and pontificating services are free, but the wine must be purchased in advance from his store.
Hock’s business persona is more enthusiastic hobbyist than hard-headed businessman; he seems to truly love what he does. But he also has a well-tested knack for figuring out better ways to serve customers in practical, no-frills ways. His successful Internet business in New York, according to U.S. News and World Report, guaranteed deliveries within 90 minutes. He also designed his own website for that business and for Bottle, believing it’s not essential to spend a fortune on a flashy Internet presence. “People are here to shop, not to be turned on by a cork spinning,” he told U.S. News and World Report in 2001.
Hock’s businesses have drawn their share of attention, including from articles in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine and Wine Spectator.
His appreciation for wine extends to educating others about wine making and preferences in taste. Hoosiers, in general, favor sweet wines, Hock said.
“Indiana has the sweetest pallet in the country,” he said. On the other hand, people living on the East Coast tend to favor dry wines, and Californians prefer California wines. Old world wines from France and Spain, for example, tend to be dry, while “new world” wines from countries such as Chile and Australia are often fruity and ensconced in bottles sporting flashy labels.
A good dry wine, said the connoisseur, allows you to “taste the elements of the earth,” the soil, rocks or mushrooms found in the vineyards.
A formal grand opening of Bottle is planned for Saturday. For more information on the business, visit www.bottle41.com.
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or email@example.com.