Wine Republic seems like any other wine shop. It’s small and quaint, located right in the heart of downtown Excelsior. Inside, the walls are lined with bottles, primarily wine, with a couple of shelves stocked with spirits, plus a small cooler for beer.
It may take a conversation with one of the owners, husband and wife Patti and RJ Judalena, before you realize what makes the store special: Every item on the shelf is sustainable, organic or biodynamic.
“Wine is food,” Patti says. Having adopted an organic diet since their 7-year-old daughter was born, the two vino experts wanted to bring their food philosophy to the wine industry.
Wine has always been a passion for Patti. Although a graphic designer by trade, she always dreamed of owning her own wine shop.
Ten years ago, Patti enrolled in a sommelier class through the International Sommelier Guild. The class met for eight hours every week for about three months. Patti completed the first two levels of classes, excited to bring a new level of wine knowledge to her customers.
Following her education, Patti became manager of a wine shop in Mendota Heights. Although years away, it was the first step toward opening Wine Republic.
At the previous store, she noticed people coming in asking for organic wine options. Inspired by the demand and their own organic philosophy, Patti and RJ began planning a store that focused on 100 percent organic options. “I asked a couple vendors what they thought about a store that has only organic wines and they said, ‘I don’t know, Patti, I wouldn’t do it,’ ” Patti says.
She ignored the critics. With Patti’s formal wine training, and RJ’s passion for wine and beer (an outgoing personality, RJ will gladly spend all day chatting) the two opened Wine Republic this past fall.
To choose what would be put on the shelves, they first asked whether a drink fits into one of the three main criteria: Is it sustainable, organic or biodynamic? Then the Judalenas taste the wine, with Patti and her formal training getting the final say. “We whittle it down and are about quality, not quantity,” RJ says. It must fit their criteria, but taste great as well.
Designating wine as organic, sustainable or biodynamic happens through a similar process to the food industry. There are standards companies must meet through their farming and winemaking processes to be granted the designation, and a third party must verify that farms aren’t using pesticides or other chemicals in their operations.
What makes the wine industry tricky is that wineries are located all over the world, with different countries recognizing different organic standards. The Judalenas carefully research the background of wineries to make sure their practices match the couple’s philosophy.
The same process goes for beer and spirits. Most beers are gluten-free (ditto for wine and spirits), all are organic, and if the producing company is local, that’s even better.
“We want to work with the smaller companies,” RJ says, especially longtime family businesses. “We get excited about those types of wine.”
Talking to the Judalenas, their passion is evident. Even an avid wine-lover is sure to learn a thing or two from the owners. And connoisseur or not, the Judalenas will make sure you leave their shop with a great bottle of wine.
287 Water St., Suite 110, Excelsior