As Wilmington-area bars and restaurants hosted numerous Mardi Gras celebrations recently, a new family run operation in Brunswick County joined in, hosting its first such event and drawing a fun crowd of wine enthusiasts from Leland and across the region.
Bridgewater Wines is one of the newest additions to the Cape Fear region’s food and drink scene. Husband and wife Doug and Susan Zucker opened the combination wine bar/ retail shop in the wake of Hurricane Florence, just before Thanksgiving.
Since then, oenophiles and other “cork dorks” as well as locals in general have embraced the Zucker’s operation as a must-visit destination for spending time with friends and family and, well, drinking some really good wine.
“We pride ourselves on good value wines, the $12 bottle that drinks like a $25,” Doug Zucker said.
Overall, the shop’s wines range in price from $8 to $400, with the bulk of them in the $12 to $20 category.
A team of 10 employees – which includes Susan, Doug and two of their children who are in their 20s – helps visitors navigate the 500-600 different labels Bridgewater Wines carries. Those who may not be able to tell a chardonnay from a cabernet can tap Doug and Susan’s extensive wine and culinary knowledge to find just the right bottle.
Experience in the Biz
Before moving to North Carolina almost two years ago, Doug Zucker was finishing up 15 years directing operations of the wine and spirits business of Stew Leonard’s, a supermarket chain in the northeast. Priding itself on discovering gems from small family-owned vineyards around the world, Stew Leonard’s gave Doug the opportunity to form relationships with wineries that he carried from New York to North Carolina.
Furthering the Bridgewater Wines motto to “Explore the World One Wine at a Time,” the Zuckers recently launched the Explorers Club, which gives members two bottles of wine, selected by the Bridgewater team, each month along with other benefits such as a 15 percent discount.
“We don’t wear the same clothes every day; let’s not drink the same wine,” Doug explained.
The husband-and-wife team benefits from having different personalities – Doug, the analytical one, and Susan, the creative force.
“We’re fortunate in that we complement each other well in our relationship; his wine experience with my food experience really works for us,” Susan said.
Susan’s culinary background comes into play introducing topnotch breads, cheeses and meats to her customers to take home and pair with a particular wine. She shares many of these items during weekly wine tastings, as well as at the wine bar, where customers can enjoy small plates and charcuterie featuring prosciutto, chorizo, epicurean hummus, duck salami, artisan tapenade and Montgomery’s Cheddar from Somerset, England, along with a glass of white or red wine or pint of craft beer.
Bridgewater draws a lot of customers from the nearby developments of Waterford, Brunswick Forest, Compass Pointe and Magnolia Greens. The Zuckers see a mix of young and old, with clientele trending younger on the weekends.
The business hosts free wine tastings throughout the year each Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and has free live music on “Wine Down” Wednesdays from 4-7 p.m. In addition to their recent Mardi Gras celebration, the Zuckers have more special events planned in the near future, including a saki tasting in late March; a spring grand tasting April 12-13 with 16 wines poured each day; a grand rosé tasting right before Mother’s Day in May; and something special for Father’s Day in June. They also offer in-home private wine tastings and host private events at the shop.
“We’re giving our guests what they’re missing from home,” Susan Zucker said.
Customers at events or just shopping are meeting at Bridgewater Wines by chance and finding out they hail from the same states up north.
“They’re exchanging business cards, going out to dinner. We’re making new friends every night,” said Susan Zucker.
Similar to their fellow Northern U.S. transplants, the Zuckers moved to Wilmington (from Huntington, New York, on Long Island) to escape higher taxes, traffic and weather. They actually began exploring North Carolina as a potential relocation destination while one of their daughters attended High Point University in the Triad. Drawn to the beaches, they settled on Wilmington in part because it offered many of the amenities they were used to.
“We fell in love with vibe of downtown Wilmington, the historic district,” Doug Zucker said. “With the food and restaurant scene, it seems more experimental down here, people are willing to try new things.”
Researching their options, the Zuckers saw that Brunswick County and Leland were both growing incredibly fast – the latter being one of the top 10 fastest-growing cities in North Carolina – while at the same time being underserved from a wine store and wine bar perspective. They looked to fill that void with their operation, which is just five minutes from downtown.
Susan Zucker said, “We hear multiple times a day it’s so great you are here; we don’t have to cross the bridge anymore.”