Bartlett is a tiny street off of cacophonous Kirby Drive, and French Country Wines is tucked into the middle of the block, up past the Goode's Armadillo Palace parking lot, past the Abrahams Oriental rugs, a little white building squished up against a big brick and black-windowed building with no name on the front.
If you aren’t looking for it, you might not notice it. And that would be very sad, for inside is an escape from Houston. It’s a bit like your own personal Tardis (it really is bigger on the inside) or stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia. Because, when you walk through the door, the bright, whitewashed walls and blonde floors are a respite from the crush of traffic outside—and are guaranteed to transport you straight to France.
French Country Wines, as the name implies, is a retailer specializing in the fermented flavors of France. From the lavender-strewn fields and fishing villages of Provence to the meandering river valley of the Loire, through the rich soil of Bordeaux and the ancient grapevines of Burgundy, French Country Wines owners Phyllis Adatto and Tim Smith bring the very best of France’s small-vineyard wines to Houston.
“Phyllis and I went to France and fell in love with the wines there,” said Smith, who was working as a litigation consultant at the time. “And we came home to Houston and we couldn’t find the appellations or the kinds of wines we’d loved in our travels.”
The frustration grew to such andextent, Smith told his wife, “I’m going to import French wines.”
“I’ll keep my day job,” Adatto said sardonically.
But Smith was onto something. After 30 years with Lehman Brothers, including stints in both London and Paris, he decided it was just time to take the plunge. French Country Wines was born. The operation is characterized as a winey, and it offers retail and whole sale imported wines from all over France. Smith and Adatto took their first shipment in 2007, about 8 different vineyards, and 30-odd wines. Today, their tasting room and retail shop boasts more than 130 wines from 42 French grower-producers.
“These are all from family-owned vines,” says Adatto. “We know the stories of our wines and the people who make them.”
She and Tim and their tasting room staff are passionate about sharing those details. Every Saturday, French Country Wines offers free tastings from noon to 6 p.m., where you can check out new arrivals, find a new favorite for a weekend party, or just learn more about the Old World styles on hand.
“There’s no typical tasting,” says Adatto. “We get everyone in here from people who are wine experts, to people don’t know a thing about wine. We always tell them, ‘You’re in the right place.’”
Every one of the wines Adatto and Smith import is certified organic, and produced using sustainable agricultural methods and no pesticides. The pair pride themselves on offering high-quality wines at reasonable prices.
Saturday tastings typically include half a dozen or so wines, a combination of sparkling wines and Champagnes, rosés, reds and whites. They can range from the driest of Provençale rosés to the sweetest of dessert wines. All of the wines are available by the bottle, and you can rest assured knowing each one was selected with care, and is likely unique to the Houston scene. And Adatto and Smith want their guests to enjoy the exploration of flavors—just like they did when they traveled through France.
“It’s been such a great journey,” Smith says of the venture. “We’ve made friends on both sides of the Atlantic, and many of our customers have become good friends.”