“I feel like this space was just begging for people,” says Jardin owner Donnie Glass. “Baja was here forever, it was legendary.”
Glass and business partner Andy McClure decided to pull the trigger on the space at 1520 W. Main St., including the pricey patio, in 2021. “It was the expensive part of the lease,” admits Glass. “But being able sit in the sun in February? It was worth it to us.”
Since opening on New Year’s Eve, Jardin’s patio has been packed—be it sunny and 70 or cold and overcast—with folks enjoying damn good $7 glasses of wine alongside well-priced bottles from small producers around the world.
Glass—who also owns cozy Church Hill bouchon, Grisette—is a certified sommelier, though he doesn’t let that official designation dilute the sheer joy of sipping a bold, extra dry Champagne.
“It’s pretty straightforward,” says Glass. “I mean the subject of wine is as limitless as you want it to be, but the act of opening a bottle and drinking wine? That’s pretty simple.”
We sat down with Glass to discuss—and drink—the wines he believes are harbingers of spring, with a little heft.
Style Weekly: Wine spots seem to be on a rise in the city. What distinguishes Jardin?
Donnie Glass: I think healthy competition makes everyone better, steel sharpens steel. People would ask me before we opened, “How will it be with a wine shop opening two blocks away?” I said, “It will be great!” We welcome camaraderie with wine here.
At Jardin we’re designed not to be a place to worship wine, but to drink wine. I feel like a lot of wine shops and bars fetishize wine. And I think a lot of the time, consuming wine becomes a dogmatic exercise, where people like what they’re ‘supposed to like.’ We just shun that entire approach. We all have different preferences and different tastes; at the end of the day, we try to find a middle ground of what we like as well as give the people what they want.
What happens when someone wants to come enjoy a glass (or bottle) of wine on the patio, but they have no clue what they’re in the mood for?
We always ask customers when they come in, “Do you want to drink something you’re familiar with, or do you want to try something new?” If you want to try something new, then let’s do it. We know which bottles are easy bridges and which are challenging, and a lot will depend on the price point. Some people are willing to take a chance on $60, some would rather take a chance on $28. The more you taste and try, the better you can articulate your wine likes and dislikes. “Do you have any strong aversions?” has been one of our most useful sentences. Of course, one of the downsides of working with small suppliers is they run out of wine. When it’s gone, it’s gone until the next vintage rolls around.
A lot of these small producers have a fair amount of variation from vintage to vintage depending on if it’s a hot or cold year, whether it rains a lot in June or August; that can be a deal braker for a vintage. On the sales floor we sell wine in the moment, we don’t hold on to stuff for people who deserve it or anything like that. Eventually it will run out and when it’s gone, it’s gone, and that’s okay. We’ll see how it tastes next year.
Is there a gateway white wine that can carry its weight in the early spring chill?
Le Marie ‘Blanc de Lissart’ Bianco ($20 a bottle) is a super special, fun wine, and it’s something other than the three top grapes: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay. This is an Italian wine, it smells like Hawaii, like sunblock almost. Your brain will think it’s sweet just from that smell but then you taste it. It’s dry and aromatic and super engaging—it’s unlike any wine I’ve ever had before. It tastes like I want spring to taste, this is something you drink with a simple asparagus and goat cheese salad. It’s a bitching $20 bottle of wine.
When is it appropriate to pour the bubbly?
I feel like I have a glass of Champagne every day at this point—I’m alright with it. Pouring Champagne by the glass was a sticking point for me and Jake [Skayhan, Jardin’s wine buyer/analyzer/taster]. It’s hard to find a glass of Champagne in Richmond, period. There are plenty of places with bottles of Champagne, but to pour this by the glass for $15, well, sound restaurant economics would say this should be $25 a glass. We aren’t giving it away…but it feels like it sometimes. That’s okay, for us it’s an accessibility thing.
The R. Dumont & Fils Intense Extra-Brut Champagne ($50 a bottle) is very char-heavy on the oak barrels it’s aged in, so it has notes of butterscotch, almost cheese, it’s a savory, heavy, full-ass bodied Champagne. And yet it still has wonderful acidity and is a balanced wine. This is what I want when it’s cold or getting cold, it’s something that sits with you.
Most wine drinkers are red wine drinkers. What bottle are you grabbing during this still chilly early spring weather?
Red wine is king—and that’s okay. This is a pinot noir from producer Tenuta Mazzolino ($35 a bottle) in Lombardy, Italy near the Swiss border. All these wines take on an amount of intensity and verve due to the higher elevation, with hot days and cold nights. This diurnal shift in temperature does wonderful things for the ripening of grapes, but still lets them retain their acidity. For a pinot noir, this really has some umph to it. It’s full-bodied, sexy, a little spicy, sultry. It makes a good red sauce pinot noir. Pinots can have trouble holding up to red meat, but this would do a fine job.
Want the Jardin crew to stock your pantry with killer wine each month? Check out their free-to-join wine club. As a bonus, members get access to tasting tickets two days in advance of public sales.