Cork and Cow is one of my favorite places to go in Burlington! It is great for a casual date night, a glass of wine with friends or really any occasion! I love to go there for a glass of wine almost anytime of the day! Sometimes if things have been really hectic, I will just go in in the middle of the afternoon and have a glass of wine and a bite of cheese. What really makes Cork and Cow such a wonderful place is Michelle Gibson and her mother, Peggy. I love to sit and enjoy my wine while I talk with them about most anything. I have had really joyous times and some really good cries in Cork and Cow. It truly has at times felt like home because it is such a welcoming and warm place. I hope you enjoy getting to know Michelle through this interview and I hope if live in Burlington and have never been that you will stop in and see what all the fuss is about. If you don't live in Burlington but are visiting, I hope you will stop by also!
When did you open Cork and Cow?
We opened 3 years ago as of Thanksgiving weekend. Black Friday was our opening weekend! We decided it would be too difficult to plan a special event because the mall is so crazy and it would be too hard. I anticipates being busy so I am going to offer my new brunch menu on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I usually only offer brunch on Sunday. I think that after several hours of shopping that everyone will be ready for a break and a mimosa. We have great Mimosas! They are made with 6 ounces Prosecco, and 2 ounces of orange juice! We also have a Bloody Maki which is made with saki because we cannot serve liquor. Bloody Mary's that are made with saki are generally better than with vodka because normally in a Bloody Mary the Vodka isn't the best quality and so it isn't smooth, but when they're made with a very drinkable Saki they are smooth and easy to drink.
What was vision when you opened?
My vision was to have a wine bar that served great wine and gourmet cheeses. I did not plan on having a TV or soups and salads, just wine in crystal glasses and great cheese. People started requesting things other than cheese, because some people can't eat cheese or don't like it, so I started adding to the menu to please customers that were already loyal and to draw others in. I don't have the space to store large quantities of food so I keep the menu simple. I have had to be very resourceful because I only have a microwave and a toaster oven. Also, I don't have a dishwasher for plates which is why I use paper plates. I never wanted to be a chef, but I do want to serve food that I like and enjoy eating. I also try to use as much organic and local food as possible.
Part of reason I opened was because I wanted to appeal to people and make them feel comfortable with wine. I came up with the name Cork and Cow because it really is a very simple name to indicate that we're not pretentious. You don't need to know anything about wine to come into Cork and Cow. I also want women to feel comfortable coming in either by themselves or with a friend and not feel like they're going into a meet market. I wanted people to learn about wine and enjoy drinking it in a comfortable atmosphere. That's why we have couches, chairs and tables because people like to sit in different places! My bar stools don't have backs because I want people to socialize with people that they know and maybe some that they don't know!
Tell me about your Beer?
I started out selling only craft brewed bottled beer but it has evolved because people started asking for beer on draft. My first major investments I after opened was a keg box. I have so many people come in to try draft beer that would not have come in otherwise.
What kind of wine do people drink more of?
I have more red wine drinkers, especially in the winter. Cabernet is still our most popular red wine, with Chardonnay and Riesling as far as whites go. We sell about 40% white wine and 60% red. Lot's of women don't drink red wine, amazingly because it might stain teeth.
Tell me about your wine tastings?
Wine tastings have involved as a great way to stock our shelves. I tell the vendors for example that "right now we're selling a lot of chardonnay" and so I want chardonnays in the tasting to let customers taste and tell me what they like. It's a great venue for testing out wines and getting feedback and seeing what will sell and what people like. It's important to me for to be able to pick wines that people are going to buy and enjoy.
How often do people say I don't know what I want - "surprise me"!?
Regular customers are easy and I remember what people have liked in the past. The problem comes when it's a persons first time in so I'm not familiar with their taste in wine. I do have regular customers that let me choose more often than not.
How did you decide to open a wine bar given that you were a Communications and Public Relations Major?
I have a passion for wine and at some point in my life I know I would do something with wine.
I like my bar to feel like this was like second home.
What region do you sell the most wine from?
Definitely California. I do try to show people that they can try wines from other regions and enjoy them. I learn what California wines people like and then I suggests wines that are similar from other countries. For example if you like an un-oaked Chardonnay then I might suggest a French Chardonnay.
What are the best wine recommendations for Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving is a really fun holiday because you have everything from A - Z on the table. You are going to have every kind of flavor and a lot of heavy and rich foods. What you need is a really versatile wine. I recommended juicy whites such as Gewurztraminers, Rieslings and juicier Sauvignon Blancs Juicier means not bone dry and minerally but more fruity. When you are matching so many different flavors you want wine to not compete with it. No oak, whites need to be un-oaked, easy and accessible. Roses are great for Thanksgiving because they match all the food profiles. Most people think of Rose and a summer wine but I believe that they should be sold through the holidays.
For reds I recommend the same kind of thing, a lighter fruity red such as a Pinot Noir or Zinfandal. Not a heavy oaked Cabernet.
How do you feel about Beaujolais Nouveau?
It is a fruity drinkable wine. that is perfect for thanksgiving. Beaujolais Nouveau is released on the third Thursday in November every year. In honor of that we are having a wine tasting on November 19th, which is the third Thursday in November.
What about Thanksgiving dessert wine?
I also recommend fruity reds and whites with dessert. If you are trying to pair a specific wine I would choose a tawny port. It should work with sweet pumpkin and pecan pies as well as custards and cakes.
Most people don't drink Champagne and I think that a proper French Champagne is too dry for desserts, but would be awesome with green bean and onion casserole. I recommend that everyone drink a bottle of dry champagne while cooking the turkey. Helps to deal with family!!
One of the best things about Michelle is her sense of humor. If you're ever having a bad day, this is the place to go!
Cork and Cow is holding a special wine tasting Thursday November 19 from 5 - 7 pm. The wines featured will be Beaujolais Nouveau Red 2015, Beaujolais Nouveau Rose 2015, Beaujolais Blanc (Chardonnay) 2014, Morgon Les Charmes 2014, Champagne Phillipe Fontaine, Brut Tradition, and Cuvee des Lys 2010. Come out tomorrow evening and taste these fabulous wines and buy your Thanksgiving wine!!!