Liquid assets: Motor City Wine brings taste and value to downtown retail

The good buzz has been building for nearly a year and -- yes, Detroit, finally! -- Motor City Wine is officially open for business.  

In mid-July, Motor City Wine celebrated its actual opening after nearly 11 months of practicing the age-old art of sit-and-wait. Not to mention several soft, unofficial openings (that drew standing room only crowds, by the way).

Owners David Armin-Parcells and Mark Szymanski have waited patiently for the city to extend Foran's Grand Trunk Pub's shared liquor license to include the additional bar permit enabling MCW to sell wine as well as serve it, but those "in the know" are already familiar with their monthly tastings/parties. "We kept doing events once a month to keep things fresh and keep people talking about us," says Armin-Parcells. Word of mouth is make-or-break in this city, but the problem was that word of mouth was so strong for MCW "it was confusing for people."

But now, this will likely turn into MCW's greatest advantage. Being in a narrow space on the second floor of Foran's Deluxe Diner, you kind of have to be in the know to even find the place. "We have a small sign out front to let people know we're here, but you really don't need a sign," Armin-Parcells says. Lack of foot traffic to this upstairs location is also not a concern: "Detroit is a city full of places that you just sort of know about," he says."We want to be that kind of place."

Armin-Parcells, a certified sommelier, has been working in the wine industry for 15 years, most significantly as a Team Leader at Whole Foods for almost 10 years. "I just really love wine -- it's the only industry that incorporates science, agriculture and business," he says.

Prior to MCW, Armin-Parcells was the general manager and sommelier at the now-defunct Zacarro's Market in Midtown. Despite the many woes the market faced, the wine department was the best-selling department and was also the most profitable. "I wanted to take a chance and support a cool business idea in the city; sometimes you just need to make the switch," he says. "It wasn't successful but I don't regret it because I ended up here."

After seeing the strong wine and beer sales at Zaccaro's, Armin-Parcells saw the potential in owning a wine shop in Detroit, a severely underserved market. "There's only one other wine shop in Detroit and it closes at 5 p.m.," Armin-Parcells says. If you're a wine enthusiast, the bottles of Fetzer that CVS carries just won't cut it, and your only other option is to drive out to the 'burbs. For oenophiles, MCW is a little slice of liquid heaven.

MCW is a bold, warmly textured space with lots of natural light, one long stretch of wall covered in warm wood panel, another drenched in deep red stucco. The cocktail tables are draped in black, the wooden chairs have brilliant red seats that match the wall, the wines by the glass are written on a large mirror and the artisan cheese, olives, and cured meats selection are on a chalkboard. The wines themselves are on display in stacked wine crates, adding to the vibe of a funky Euro-style café, more like something you might find in Armin-Parcells's birth city of Montreal than you'd expect to see in Detroit.  

The plan for MCW was to be a good value boutique wine shop. The business executes the concept perfectly. It carries wines from all over the world and tries to fill every category while keeping the selection small. When selecting wines to carry, the first thing Armin-Parcells asks is if it over-delivers for its price range. The average price range in the shop runs around $15 or less (at least 80 percent of the inventory), with the least expensive starting at $6 and capping out around $50 (which are as good as most $100 bottles). "Spending more does not make a wine better," Armin-Parcells says. "There are people who think that quality can't be inexpensive; you have to look a little harder."

They don't carry any big brand names. You will never find Kendall Jackson here; instead they focus on small individual and family-owned wineries, not giant conglomerates. For people who buy all their wine in a grocery store it might comes as a shock. "Some people say, 'Wow I've never seen any of these wines before,'" he says, "and I just say, 'Wow that's brilliant, come on in!'"

It was almost important to them that they have the ability to taste wines too, so they have a selection of about 10 different wines by the glass, and you can also buy a bottle and enjoy it there for only a $5 corkage fee. "We really wanted it to be a place that we would like to come and hang out," Armin-Parcells says. "I definitely have a problem playing regular restaurant prices for wine with the 200-percent markup."

Motor City Wine also hosts monthly wine tastings where you can sample about 17-20 different wines and also enjoy some artisanal cheeses and gourmet appetizers (think: cider-braised pork tacos) for only $20. The tastings always turn into a party, with DJs spinning late into the night as a second wave of late-night friends arrive after the tasting. For Armin-Parcells this is a perfect marriage of his passions -- he also organizes and spins for Hot Pot Thursdays at Pulse Lounge. "I've always been a music lover," he says. "I started DJing at age 10 with cassettes and a reel-to-reel." Expect an eclectic range of music, from house to disco to funk to soul to jazz. While he's tried to keep the two separate, being a wine bar with bands and DJs "is certainly a part of it now," Armin-Parcells says.

In the coming months, look for an early-week movie night, where you can buy a bottle and watch a movie on the big screen for free. They're also working out a delivery system which will be free for anyone in the Central Business District and might even extend out to the suburbs. Also don't miss the next wine tasting this Friday, Sept. 24. Follow Motor City Wine on Twitter and Facebook and also sign up for MCW's mailing list here so you can keep up with all their events and be one of those who "just know."

Motor City Wine is at 608 Woodward Ave. Hours are Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. and Saturday 12-5 p.m.

Nicole Rupersburg is a freelance writer whose primary mission is to find good times and cool people in Detroit. She's in the right place at the right time.

All photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here


An evening at Motor City Wine

MCW owner, David Armin-Parcells

Wall of varietals

Open for lunch


Kung Fu Girl, one of many funky labels at MCW

A room with a view; second floor dining room at MCW

Read more articles by Nicole Rupersburg.

Nicole Rupersburg is a former Detroiter now in Las Vegas who regularly writes about food, drink, and urban innovators. You can follow her on Instagram @eatsdrinksandleaves and Twitter @ruperstarski.