Freeland wine shop owners celebrate ten years

FREELAND — Walk into Vino Amore wine shop and expect a warm hello from Koa.

Brian Plebanek and Gail Liston

FREELAND — Walk into Vino Amore wine shop and expect a warm hello from Koa. All 91 pounds of the 3-year-old Golden Retriever is there behind the counter to greet the customers of Brian Plebanek and Gail Liston, who celebrate their 10th anniversary as local wine sellers on Thursday, along with Koa’s third birthday.

“A lot has changed since we first opened,” Liston said. And that includes the address of the shop, which has been newly ensconced at its current location at 5575 S. Harbor Ave. #102 for one year.

“We have tasted thousands of wines and discovered regions and varietals we didn’t know existed 10 years ago,” Liston added.  “Now, it takes much more to impress us. When a rep brings in something we have never tasted, it is quite rare and exciting. The world of wine is constantly changing, and keeping up definitely keeps us on our toes,” she said.

When the husband and wife team first got into the business of selling wine, they were green.

“Someone told us that we would come to a point when we were dumping wine down the drain,” Plebanek said.

They didn’t believe it.

“Now we routinely dump old wine down the drain,” he said.  “We simply cannot drink everything that comes our way.  Reps are constantly bringing us samples, and we have leftovers from tastings most weekends. Yes, there really is such a thing as too much wine,” he added.

Koa is not the only new addition to the shop in recent years. The shop now sells an impressive selection of specialty beers and ales, besides the 1,300 bottles of wine from around the world.

“The ales are unique and not available at the local groceries or liquor stores,” Plebanek said.

Also on tap is a new growlers license, which will allow the shop to set up beer on tap. Customers can fill up a 64 ounce jug, or growler, of a favorite tap beer. Growlers will be available to buy and bring back to refill at the shop’s “kegerator,” or beer cooler.

Vino Amore managed to survive the downturn in the economy over the past few years and its owners are optimistic, since the first four months of 2012 have been better for sales than those of 2011.

“This is not a business that will make you rich,” Plebanek said, “but we have had some fun perks over the years.”

The couple has ventured out to wine country more than once, visiting wineries where they almost always get the royal treatment.

“A couple of years ago on an Oregon trip we were able to stay at Ken Wright’s lovely guest accommodations, free of charge. The place was stocked with all comforts, including gourmet goodies and, of course, wonderful wine. We got a tour of the winery, which is usually closed to the public, as well as lunch with the staff, a barrel tasting, and a visit to the vineyards with our gracious and expert host,” Plebanek said.

It’s that same kind of graciousness that Vino Amore likes to pay forward to its customers, including Koa who is, by the way, the shop’s official greeter.

“Many of our customers remember when he was a seven-week-old baby, in his little puppy pen behind our old shop,” Liston said.  “They have seen him grow from a babe-in-arms to 91 pounds of love,” Plebanek added.

Koa is part of the Vino Amore team and goes to work everyday with his owners.

“He pops up on the bar to greet customers. He excels at customer relations,” he said.

Vino Amore will bring out some special anniversary and Koa birthday deals during its regular weekend “Flight of Five” wine tastings, which are held from noon to 6 p.m. every Saturday and from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday. The $5 tastings include five wines from around the world. The tastings focus on bottles that range in price from $8 to $18.

For more information, call 331-7661 or visit