Felix Sanchez, Wine Manager at the Hazlet Wine Academy Superstore has a goal: uncomplicate wine.
"Wine is not complicated," he said. "You pour it and you drink it."
The Wine Academy is a comprehensive wine and spirits store on Rt. 34 in Hazlet, and they are expanding to Marlboro in February. At first glance, the store is a large-scale liquor store. Travel further, and customers will notice detailed explanations of imported and domestic wines, and knowledgeable staff for those that may not know what they are looking for.
"Everyone knows something about wine," Sanchez said. "Certainly, everyone at least knows what they like."
There is something for the average buyer, and something for the wine collector, with prices ranging from less than $10, to almost $1,000.
Sanchez said he has regular customers, who come in requesting brands and specific wine makers from the store's temperatre controlled room. But, the most common customer, is someone just looking for a bottle of wine that tastes good.
For the average customer, staff recommendations can be found sprinkled at the ends of aisles. Sanchez said when displays are made in the store, not only is taste a factor, but price as well. It is part of the store's goal, to make wine accessible.
And to help, Wine Academy offers several ways for customers to come in and taste different wine, pressure free. Customers can pick up a Wine Academy card, which acts like a debit card for wine tasting machines. NJ law allows the store to have four bottles of wine for pouring open at a time, so the Wine Academy has set up tasting machines.
Customers can pick up a glass, choose four wines, swipe their free cards, taste, and walk away.
Perhaps the most fun part of Wine Academy is the free, weekly class. Every week, a different region or type of wine is featured. Customers can visit the "grotto" in the back of the store, taste several different types of wine, learn about how it is made, and walk away with new knowledge.
Sanchez said the friendly atmosphere of the classes takes off the pressure. It is less of a class, and more of a gathering of friends, discussing their tastes. And no, there is no spit bucket for the wine; customers can actually drink it.
When Patch visited, we learned what makes wine different. Really, why is one Pinot Noir so different from another?
Sanchez told us it is a combination of weather, soil, climate and location. That, he said, is why different regions create such different wines. It is these little nuggets of knowledge that anyone can learn by stopping and talking to the Wine Academy staff.
"We want to make it friendly," Sanchez said, adding that the point of the classes is not to create experts, but to simply help people realize what they like, what they don't like, and why.
The Wine Academy also offers free weekly classes about beer. Beer classes are offered on Tuesdays from 5 to 8 p.m. and wine classes are offered Thursday from 5-8 p.m. The tastings repeat every hour in that time frame, and a weekly schedule can be find at the Wine Academy website.
The Marlboro store will open on Rt. 9 South in the Diamond Plaza. The store will have a soft opening in mid-February, meaning it may not be fully stocked, but will be ready to sell. It will even stock Warrior Wine, created by Marlboro Councilman Jeff Cantor, with proceeds benefiting Wounded Warriors.
The official grand opening of the store will most likely be held in March.