Do you ever go on a wine-buying mission and find yourself standing in front of the shelves, frozen with indecision? In these moments, the options are usually to phone a friend, decide based on the appeal of the label, or just turn around, defeated by the despair of indecision. Note: The Austinot does not recommend this last approach.
There’s a solution for those of you facing wine indecision: Utopian Shift on Rutland Drive in north Austin. We stopped by for a visit on your behalf and were met by dedicated proprietors with a background in technology and a desire to change the world.
What Is This New Experience?
Utopian Shift offers a new way to buy wine. Rather than waiting for a three-dimensional image to appear by staring at a shelf of wine bottles, you can go to Utopian Shift and try wines before you purchase.
When you walk in, there are tables lined with wine bottles. Options may be selected based on the theme of the day, such as “Rosés” or “Party Pleasers.”
A visit to the “Events” section of the website will inform you about what is being featured. But rest assured there is always a broad selection on hand. This is intentional, so a broad range of preferences can be met.
In addition to the long wine-tasting tables, there are round tables available for more private (maybe heated?) negotiations regarding your wine inventory.
Once you’ve selected your seat, you’ll receive a tasting sheet much like what you’d expect at a winery. As you receive pours, you can make notes about the wines and select the quantity you want to purchase.
Because you will taste several wines, the pours are kept to a modest size (less than 2 ounces). There are snacks to help you test pairings, or to simply enjoy with your pours.
Keeping It Local at Utopian Shift
There are several small details that stand out at Utopian Shift. The store is owned by married couple Erika Obenar and David Huth, who add several personal touches to the store.
First, nearly everything in the store is re- or up-cycled, a nice touch and nod to Austin’s concern for the environment. As I walked around, I smiled to see the cheese being served that day was presented on a neighboring company’s tile sample. “Need tile?” an accompanying card asked.
Glasses (not paper cups) were provided for the water, as well as wine, and decorations were made from empty bottles. Touches this environmentally-concerned crafter can relate to.
After You Select Your Wine
Once you’ve made your informed selection, the experience is just about done. Unlike a tasting room, TABC laws prevent you from lingering with your purchased wine. But you can always linger with Obenar and Huth, who will answer any questions and happily tell you how they choose wines for their inventory.
It is during such a conversation that we learn the concept for the experience came from another project: a wine recommendation software. In the launch of their wine recommendation software, the couple realized there was still a barrier to use: people wanted a quicker way to get to the recommended wine. The software was too much to process when wine was on the mind.
Now the entrepreneurs use their algorithm to select the wines for Utopian Shift. The tasting sheet denotes “party pleasers” with a heart inside a wine glass shape. This designation indicates a statistically significant percentage of people will like the wine. In other words, a wine you would want to serve at a party.
We discuss our favorite choices and learn more about some of the trends Obenar and Huth have seen from the software, and tasting room. Our group makes its purchase, and we’re pleasantly surprised to find one choice is on sale. With all wines priced at $15 or less, we feel some confidence that our taste buds do have our wallet in mind.
Visit Utopian Shift
Utopian Shift, named so because of the desire to shift to a more utopian state of the world, is open Monday through Friday from 4-7 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. You can check out the company events on the website events page.
2521 Rutland Dr. #600
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