One of the last things you might expect to hear from someone like Paula de Pano, with 14 years in the wine world and an Advanced Sommelier certification to her name, is, “I’m so against the wine bro.”
For de Pano, the very idea of the “wine bro”, that self-important oenophile who trades tasting notes on premier crus like they’re mint-condition Pokemon cards and name drops high-end, collector wineries as if he just casually bumps into Beyonce every Tuesday at lunch, is the antithesis of how she approaches wine.
“The wine bro mentality perpetuates the idea that wine is inaccessible and cliquish,” she says, “and it shouldn’t be.”
Next spring de Pano gets the chance to put that philosophy into action, with the opening of Rocks & Acid, her new wine shop and bar in Chapel Hill’s Southern Village. The shop is the culmination of a career in wine that has included stints at Asheville’s the Corner Kitchen, senior sommelier at Eleven Madison Park, and, for the past five years, Fearrington Village, where she succeeded Max Kast as the beverage and service director for the Fearrington House and Fearrington Village’s various dining options.
Rocks & Acid will combine de Pano’s love for unique, terroir-driven wines with her passion for wine education — classes will be a regular, and integral, part of the shop’s ethos. “We want to be accessible, fun, and relevant,” de Pano says.
She plans on sourcing wines from wineries and winemakers that adhere to the same values she holds, namely sustainability, integrity, and, especially given today’s social climate, a commitment to diversity and equity.
“Basically I do a background check on the wine,” she laughs. “This is something that someone has purchased and I don’t want to put it into their conscience that they’ve perpetuated something they don’t believe in.”
Accessibility is also something that is important to de Pano. Customers can expect a wide variety of wines at Rocks & Acid that are value priced, and giving affordable alternatives to higher end wines will be a focus of the shop. For example, de Pano plans on stocking wine from Robert Perroud, which for around $22 a bottle offers customers the chance to experience a Cru Beaujolais at decidedly un-Cru prices.
Another focus of de Pano’s (as well as an additional pushback against that hard-partying wine bro mentality) will be an emphasis on responsible enjoyment of wine. By offering unique selections at affordable prices, and pushing the educational component of wine, de Pano hopes to demonstrate that one can enjoy and learn from a bottle of wine without feeling the need to get plastered.
“There’s a lot more to wine than just getting yourself drunk,” she says. “I’m not bashing the community, I love the community I’m in. I just don’t want people to be drinking for the sake of getting drunk,” she continues, a nod to the growing movement in the drinks world towards moderation and acknowledgement of very real issues surrounding drinking culture and addiction.
At the end of the day de Pano hopes that Rocks & Acid will be a place where customers can not only stop by for a glass of wine or to pick up a bottle for dinner, but really a space where people can be in continual conversation around wine, learning and growing through tasting. “My tastes aren’t your tastes — you need to discover what you like,” she says.
With plans to offer nibbles like cheese and charcuterie plates and a smattering of bistro tables for people to gather with friends, de Pano is looking to build a community space for her customers, where one needn’t feel embarrassed about asking questions. Look out wine bros, Rocks & Acid aims to make wine accessible for the masses, not the precious few.
Right now plans are for a spring 2022 opening, although de Pano acknowledges that she’s at the mercy of the permitting and building process. In the meantime Rocks & Acid can be found on Instagram at @rocksandacidwineshop and de Pano is @sommgirl.