Tim Gardner had all but given up on his dream of becoming a bar owner. After being on the other side of the business for years as a sommelier – blending wines in Spain and California – he had always had his hands in the grapes, so to speak, but owning a wine bar was something he felt passionate about.
After moving to Columbia to be closer to family, he found the desire still there, but the location and partners never lined up – until March 2015. That’s when Martha Fowler, owner of the 1635 Main St. building, came calling.
Backed by his two brothers and his passion for wine, Lula Drake Wine Parlour became Gardner’s reality and Main Street’s latest stop for Columbia wine enthusiasts.
“I wanted a place that felt like a throwback in Europe,” Gardner said of the location’s decor. “I wanted it to feel like if you were in Paris, Barcelona or anywhere in Italy, that you would feel at home. And at night, when the lights are dim, it’s super cozy.”
Gardner refers to the wine bar’s menu as his “manifesto.” Each sip has been carefully selected by Gardner and his brother Stan, a former bartender at Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Ale House.
You’re not going to find most of these wines anywhere else in Columbia.
Lula Drake owner Tim Gardner
“This menu explains everything that I’m trying to do,” he said. “The reason I’m focusing only on either organic, biodynamic or sustainable wines is because I blended wines and I know what goes in them. You can pay $1,000 for a bottle of wine that has been chaptalized, acidified and colored.”
From wines that are mass-produced to those sold in limited quantities, Gardner only plans to carry those tastemakers that believe in quality and not necessarily quantity. In the three months Lula Drake has been open, he’s had to change the menu three times because of limited-run selections.
“This matters to me,” he said. “These wines are a principled stand. You’re not going to find most of these wines anywhere else in Columbia.”
Gardner said with certainty that while the wines on the menu may change, the movement of biodynamic wines will continue to gain momentum.
“It’s not a fad,” he said. “It’s something that if you’re into it, you’ve got a place to come now. And if you’re not into (it) and you want to try it, people can come in, and we’ll taste them on every single wine that we have by the glass.”
By the end of this month, Gardner said about 150 wines sold just by the bottle will be added, and “they are absolutely stellar. It’s something I’ve been working on for a long, long time.”
When you go, try the Cedric Garreau’s Garo’Vin Lulu Berlue 2014. According to Gardner, Lula Drake is the only place in the United States serving it by the glass.