Everyone has detailed flashes of random memory that, for no reason, stick to the mind like some sort of mental Gorilla Glue. One of mine is the first time I walked past Mayhew Wine Shop, on Melcher St. in Fort Point. It was May 2017, it was dusk, and I remember noticing a warm glow of light spilling onto the sidewalk where once there had been a dark space. I remember a feeling of surprise at this sudden appearance of a storefront on an otherwise retail-less street, and I remember thinking, I need to check this place out.
When Priscilla Mayhew Murphy decided to open the Mayhew Wine Shop, alongside her two siblings, it was more than just a family business venture. It was the realization of a dream to own a store that celebrated a lifelong passion for wine and the earth that it comes from.
“Our father was a huge wine connoisseur and would teach us about wines from all over the world from when we were very young,” says Murphy. “Whenever he would travel to he would sink his teeth into the culture and whatever the wines or beers and foods of those cultures were, and then he would come home and share those stories with us.”
Now, Murphy and her team look to share their passion for wine with their customers, through the personalized experience that consumers are now looking for in many aspects of their lives, from dining to shopping. Mayhew offers a wine club, which is still in the process of finding its legs, and weekly or twice-monthly tastings of wine and beer, respectively. The store’s point of sale system also tracks a customer’s previous purchases, eventually creating a profile of a frequent shopper’s likes and dislikes, or simply recalling the forgotten name of a bottle bought last week.
“I started building this dream business plan of a wine shop that really shows appreciation for the earth, where the vines come from, who are the people behind it, and how to get other folks excited about these wines,” says Murphy. “More interactive than your everyday retail store.”
Murphy, a former landscape architect and retail manager, has a deep understanding of how an environment translates to an exceptional experience, from the terroir of a particular varietal to the interior of the shop itself. Mayhew Wine Shop, for lack of a better phrase, is stylish as hell. A far cry from your usual neon-lit corner package store, Mayhew is kind of like fresh air for the eyes. Designed and built by South Boston’s Stack + Co., the space is open, bright, and meticulously merchandised. Like many other buildings in Fort Point, Mayhew’s bones harken back to the days when the neighborhood was an industrial hub, and still retain the history and rustic features of mills and factories gone by.
“It’s a really interesting area,” says Murphy of Fort Point. “There’s an artist community, a real appreciation for the old but there’s a lot of new things going on, so we kind of set of our hearts on that from the beginning. It was the perfect model and place or people who appreciate the more experiential shopping opportunity, so we didn’t even pursue other areas. We know it was Fort Point, and then it was just a matter of finding out what the space would be.”
Tonight, in a rear room designed specifically for tastings and private events, I’m sampling wines from Spain and Portugal, regions that are rather terra incognita for me when it comes to wine. Michael O’Day, a sales representative from Oz Wine Company out of Haverill, is my guide through the varietals of the Iberian Peninsula.
O’Day is a stunning wealth of historic and geographical information as it relates to wine. Beginning with Quinta de Raza, a Portuguese vinho verde (read: “white”), O’Day expands on the vineyard’s location, necessitating an organic operation due to its proximity to the Basto, a national park in northern Portugal.
We move on to a second white wine from Portugal, A Coroa, from a winery in the Valdeorras, which translates to “Valley of Gold.”
“This is [made from a] transition grape for Chardonnay drinkers who want to try something from the Iberian Peninsula,” says O’Day. “You’re not going to get a heavy nuance of butteriness or any new oak, but you’re going to get all that round weight. I’d say it almost goes in the direction of a pithy white fruit, and for me, sometimes on the nose, has a little bit of crushed oyster shell.”
In addition to selections from Spain and Portugal, Mayhew offers a variety of wines from all over the world, from Oregonian Gewürtzraminers to Italian Barolos to South African Shirazes, as well as an impressive array of craft beers and ciders. The focus of the shop is classic, comparing Old World-Styles from France and Italy with New World-styles from the U.S., Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, and beyond. Murphy and her team are dedicated to choosing the best of the best from up-and-coming producers of wine around the world, and they carefully taste every product before it gets the go-ahead to sit on a shelf. Their motto is, “If we wouldn’t drink it, we won’t sell it.”
“I think that every area can produce great wine and just wildly different styles based on the territories, the temperatures, the altitude, the wine-making methods,” says Murphy. “Certain varietals are so much more suited to certain climates. So we very carefully select the wines based on that, what we think is the best varietal from Chile, what is the greatest representation of that.”
The shop also carries a small but curated selection of snacks and accoutrements to enhance the sipping experience. Provençal olives. Croation fig spread. Vermont preserves. Spanish honey. Australian cheese. Most of Mayhew’s gourmet offerings are made or sourced locally, and Murphy has plans to diversify the product by bringing a few more food companies on board.
Michael O’Day pours a sample of a Portuguese vinho tinto into my glass, a 2010 vintage Porta dos Cavaleiros from the Caves São João in northwestern Portugal. The deep red wine is my favorite by far, redolent of lush berry flavor.
“This is a kind of offering in Portugal that you don’t see to much of elsewhere, where you get stuff that has some age to it,” says O’Day. “It overpowers on the palette with earthiness, leatheriness.”
“I can taste the leather!” I say. And I really can.
Mayhew Wine offers weekly tastings on Thursday 5pm-7pm.