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Erin Lyman is a case study in adaptation. Like most small businesses, her Champion Wine Cellars at 8503 Greenwood Avenue N. has been thrown for a loop due to the pandemic. “It’s been a rollercoaster!” she says. But people have responded as she’s remade a high-contact shop into mostly touch-free.

“Go Greenwood!” she says, with enthusiastic appreciation for her customers, many of whom are helping her business remain viable through word-of-mouth.

But: no more wine tastings. No more casual browsing the colorful shelves of the tiny, windowless shop (unless you make a private, scheduled appointment). Mostly, she doesn’t allow shoppers past the improvised front door that’s been turned into a “wine window.”

Instead, she’s added free, same-day delivery within Seattle (six bottle minimum), curated wine packages based on popular price points, collaborations with pasta and dessert artisans, and even gift-wrapping with a notecard. And as the 30-something owner of Seattle’s oldest wine shop—begun in 1969 at 1st and Denny by Emile Ninaud—she offers an extensive website, email newsletter, virtual wine tastings and Instagram flashiness.

Barring the Door

She stepped onto the roller coaster a week before the mandatory shutdown when she voluntarily closed the store and moved a portable bar in front of the door to create a window where people could pick up their orders from a distance.

That barrier was the polar opposite of her business model to “bring people into the store to taste wine,” she says. Tastings “would make it easier for me to make suggestions based on their preferences.” Erin, a former wine director at Café Campagne, brings the restaurant approach.

Rolling that bar into place also went against her goal of making people “a little more comfortable about wine.” She wants to banish the ideas that a wine shop would be too expensive or they would feel a little put off if they didn’t know a lot about wine. Hence, “no judging” and an entire wall in her shop with wines $15 or less.

More Than ‘White’ Wine

“Wine shops tend to not be the most welcoming place for a wide variety of people,” she says. That includes people of color, which especially concerns her, as both she and her partner are in that demographic. She is Asian-Hawaiian (and grew up in Hawaii) and her partner Suthap Manivong is from Bellevue but his heritage is Lao.

“The wine industry is really white,” she says, catering especially to men 40 to 60 years old. Women are also often made to feel unwelcome or ignored, as she herself has felt “until I got to the register.”

So she wants her shop to be “a place where people can come in and get good wines and good service and be a welcoming spot to whoever.” Hers is “a quiet fight,” she says, “one of bringing access to people.” She hopes society changes for the better “as a result of all the attention that has been brought to inequality.”

Erin and Suthap

Testing Your Taste Buds

If you’re used to supermarket wine choices, Erin’s small-producer selections will be a delight. And if you’re environmentally conscious, you’ll appreciate her focus on organic and sustainable wineries.

But it’s the sleuthing of your tastes that Erin finds most rewarding.

“I call it decoding,” she says.

“I’ll usually ask them the last glass of red wine that they had that they really enjoyed, and if they can tell me what grape it was based on, or what restaurant they were at when they had it, or even a photo of the bottle, I can often find wines of a similar style or texture.”

Tasting is the key, she says, so she’ll send a new customer off with one bottle, then adjust her approach when they return. It’s the same for six-bottle packages. “I track what people order and when they come back I can change it up based on their preferences.”

She thinks mood has a big effect on a person’s tastes, and that is especially significant in these times. “If you’re feeling anxious, you want something that will make you feel good. And if you’re feeling happy, that’s when you want to celebrate or venture out into something totally unique. When you’re feeling tired or exhausted, that’s when you want a wine that will pick you up, give you a little more energy.”

Through wine, you can take the temperature of the town. Right now, she says “people need something bright and bubbly,” so sparkling wine is in.

Seeking comfort also dictates taste. “When people find a wine they like, they’ve really been stocking up on that wine, rather than being more experimental,” which resonates with her.

She expects more comfort will be needed this fall. “I feel like people waffle between optimism and despair pretty quickly,” she says. “It’s so gorgeous outside right now and it’s sunny and the minute you turn on the news or look at a New York Times article, you’re like, ‘oh my goodness’.” 

Food Pairing for Home Chefs

More home cooking also has driven wine choices, and Erin’s restaurant experience—plus Suthap’s prowess in the kitchen and her collaboration with artisan producers—has added a great food-pairing dimension to her offerings.

Don’t want to cook on a warm summer night? Try a cold vermicelli bowl, maybe with a red wine that can be briefly chilled due to its flavor notes and tannin levels.

Or try a seasonal pasta or a special dessert, each with appropriate wines. You can get Megan Barone’s pastas at Champion on Saturdays, of course with a wine suggestion. Once a month, order a dessert box from Fremont pastry chef Jasmin Bell Smith and pick it up at Champion with a paired wine.

These offerings just started during the pandemic and “we would love to continue doing collaborations with other small businesses, people who make food,” Erin says. Chefs, are you listening?

Eventually, Seattle will be post-pandemic, and Erin dreams about resuming tastings, and allowing 83-year-old Emile to again make guest appearances. Perhaps even open a wine bar or do private food and wine pairings. Meanwhile, she’s at the other end of the line, waiting to sleuth out your wine preferences.

Northwest Girlchoir announced that it has openings in music programs for girls entering grades 2-12. To join their virtual programming in September, enroll (grades 2-5) or virtually audition (grades 5-12) by August 31st. Learn musicianship, vocal technique, and more.  

Grades 2-5: Easy online registration is now open for girls entering grades 2-5 – no audition needed. Members will participate in two virtual voice lessons per week, with the opportunity to transition to an in-person music class at a later date, once Washington enters Phase 3*. Sign up today at www.northwestgirlchoir.org/joinfresca  

Grades 5-12: Virtual auditions are happening now to join one of Northwest Girlchoir’s four progressive choir levels! Choristers will participate in two virtual voice lessons per week, with the opportunity to transition to an in-person music class at a later date, once Washington enters Phase 3*. Learn more and sign up to audition at www.northwestgirlchoir.org/audition 

Scholarships: Scholarships are available for every choir level and we encourage families to apply. Contact info@northwestgirlchoir.org for more information. 

*To learn more about how Northwest Girlchoir is prioritizing the health and safety of their choristers, read their COVID-19 Safety Plan at www.northwestgirlchoir.org/virtual 

In an announcement on Monday, the Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA) communicated it will be retiring its holiday monkey project. The metal LED-lit monkeys have decorated local businesses during the winter season for the past five years.

The decision stemmed from the recognition that use of monkeys in this way may be harmful to Black community members and visitors because the monkey has been used as a racist symbol, with Black people being derogatorily referred to as monkeys symbolically and in language.

The PNA states that this is one step in its work to dismantle systemic racism.  The PNA Business Advisory Group will be working to establish a new winter tradition for the community and will seek local business and community feedback during the planning process.

Read the PNA’s full statement here.

Phinney Books, which arose from the ashes of Santoro’s in 2014, quietly celebrated their 6th Anniversary earlier this month.

“Like many people this year, we celebrated a birthday recently that was somewhat muffled by ongoing events. But it’s true: on June 20 Phinney Books turned six years old. It’s been quite a six years, in which we’ve loved becoming a part of our neighborhood and our city. And never have we felt that love returned more than in the last few months, as we’ve been so well supported through all the vicissitudes of virus precautions. Thank you for all your support through the past six years, and especially the last six months!

We traditionally mark our anniversary by tallying up our bestselling books for the previous twelve months, and you can find our sixth-year top 100 bestsellers listed our our website, and our top 50 displayed in our front window.”

Under King County’s Phase 1.5 policy for retail stores, Phinney Books is currently open for limited in-store browsing from 10 am to 5 pm Monday to Saturday. They are also continuing doorway pickup, if you prefer to order your books ahead of time by phone or email.

Whole Life Yoga, a community-focused studio located at 8551 Greenwood Ave N for almost two decades, has announced it will not be reopening once the pandemic has subsided.

Owner Kim Tull-Esterbrook posted the following thoughts on their webpage:

“It is with a heart full of gratitude, hope and sadness that I announce to the Whole Life Yoga Community that we will not be reopening in our Greenwood home. The studio has been in that space for nearly 2 decades. I have personally been practicing and teaching there for over 10 years. During that time, the space, the community, the teachings have held me during many life transitions- both joyful and painful ones.”

The world is changing. We must change right along with it. It is my deepest hope that the struggles and pain happening in our world right now are in some ways a sign that we are collectively beginning to wake up. As we wake up to the wounds of our culture, the institutional as well as the personal, there will inevitably be pain and loss but the gifts on the other side will be worth the difficult transition through.

Whole Life Yoga will continue. We will continue to offer live online classes and work at building community and practice in this new format. While I do not know how everything will unfold, I plan to hold in person events and retreats once it is safe to do so.

I hope with all my heart that you continue to practice with us. I am working on some recorded content and have lots of ideas and inspirations that I hope can be a part of our new future together.

I hope to broadcast a closing ceremony, so we can honor the space together. Stay tuned for details.”

King County’s primary ballots have been mailed to all eligible voters, and must be filled out and mailed or dropped in a ballot drop box by 8pm on August 4. For a full run down of ballot measures, candidates, and FAQs you can go the County website here.

As the recently passed great Rep. John Lewis told us, “Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.” If you need more information on how to register to vote in Washington State, you can find everything here.

Boy scout troup on porch

It’s hard for us all to keep up with everything going on these days. PhinneyWood is here to help you stay up to date on some of the latest happenings around the neighborhood.

City Cycle classes will start back up on August 3rd. They will be following the latest guidelines of only 5 riders per class until they can include more, so be sure to reserve your spot well in advance. Schedules will be released one week at a time with booking starting at 12pm on Sundays. The first booking opportunity will go live on August 2nd for the following week, so set your reminders!

A big shout out to a couple of local boy scout troops! Troop 121 (pictured) and Troop 100 recently partnered with the PNA Village to help some of our neighborhood elders. Each troop is helping a local senior take care of their yard and garden. Great work scouts!

The Woodland Park Zoo’s red panda naming poll results are in! The name chosen for one of the cubs is Tián (TEA-en), meaning “sweet” in Mandarin. His twin brother is named Zan (rhymes with van), meaning help and support. Both names are Mandarin, a nod to the species’ native land in China. Red pandas are found in the southern Himalayan foothills, from India to China and as far south as Myanmar. The cubs were born May 25 to mom Hazel and dad Yukiko.

Have some news that you need to share with the community? Feel free to reach out so we can spread the word! There is an easy online submission form here.

"Green Lake Community Center and Evans Pool: Help Design your new Facility"

Seattle Parks and Recreation invites the community to provide input on three site concepts and programming preferences for a new Green Lake Community Center and Pool.

They are hosting an Online Open House now through August 20 at glcc.infocommunity.org and a live online public meeting on Wednesday, July 29, at noon. Register for the meeting at bit.ly/greenlakejulymtg.

At the public meeting, the community will hear from the design team, provide input on the facility location and design of building spaces, and learn about the next steps for the future Green Lake Community Center and Pool. This is also an opportunity for the design team and Seattle Parks and Recreation to hear from the community and get input on the site and community programming desires for the new facility.

Read more about the project.

Panda Poll: Name the Babies

Baby red panda

Woodland Park Zoo’s Red Pandas Hazel and Yukiko gave birth to twins on May 25. Now, they need the community’s help deciding on names.

They have narrowed it down to three: Tián (TEA-en): Sweet Ning (NEENG): Calm, and peaceful An (AHN): Tranquil. Vote for your favorite by July 23.

Vote for your favorite name >>