All photos: Farrah Skeiky
“Oh, that’s right – you’re the bloggers,” wine maker Todd Hamina blurts out as another glass of his Pinot Noir is poured. “You’re just waiting for me to drop something or say something stupid.” That he momentarily forgot why we are here is no surprise. He is talking nearly as animatedly and in as much depth with everyone who comes in the door to sample his Biggo Hamina wines as he does to the press, and, besides, he has been traveling around the country to promote the brand so much one assumes it all blends together as it does for any musician on a long tour. “Where am I tomorrow?” he asks the woman pouring the wine, who has set up this event. “Richmond,” she answers with a smile and a sigh. “It’s still Richmond.”
We are standing on the black and white tile floor of The Butcher’s Block Market in Old Town Alexandria. The small shop, connected to renowned chef Robert Wiedmaier’s BRABO restaurant, stocks a well-curated selection of products designed to fill the poshest of picnic hampers. There are tiny, lovely vials of saffron strands and elegant tins of special salts, and cheeses from around the world.
Several cheeses are laid out to nibble with the wines at this tasting, each paired by the enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff to a particular glass we are trying. They bring in wine makers and experts regularly to offer samples to the public to promote selections from the long wall of bottles the shop sells, many of which are area-exclusives. Mr. Hamina is here to talk up his Oregon wines, and several enthusiasts – as well as an old skateboarding buddy from his youth in Mexico City – have come specifically to learn from him about biodynamic viticulture while enjoying an after-work drink. Should they find something they like, they can buy bottles to take home, along with their custom-butchered meats and other dinner supplies picked up at the shop – or order a glass to drink at the small bar.
The customers are mostly on the older, professional-looking side, though at one point a group of younger, more casually dressed folks come in. They are here to pick up sandwiches and snacks to take to watch an outdoor movie and the shop is just a block from the Metro. All four order the roast beef (which one of them insists to the others is a “life-changing” sandwich) and they take them to go.
An elegant woman raises an eyebrow as I talk with Mr. Hamina about the 2009 Pinot Noir – the one he calls his “sluttiest.” Irreverent wine chat, perhaps, but Butcher Block is all about keeping things casual, while still being very gourmet. There are sandwiches and beers and cookies to grab – they just happen to be cookies made with chocolate the pastry chef custom blends or craft beers hand-selected by the staff and, of course, that “life-changing” roast beef. If you suspected an Old Town, Alexandria fancy food shop to drip with pretension Butcher Block will come as a refreshing surprise. Instead it is cheery, laid back, and all about helping you have the greatest meal possible – be it by selling the perfect finishing touch, getting a whole pig or turkey for you (from a local farm partner, of course), or helping you pick your favorite slutty new wine.