The Wine Goddess just west of the Metra station on Main, with its polished wood floor, tall shelves of bottles from all over the world, diminutive bar and tasteful decorations has the feel of an elegant drawing room. Its proprietor is longtime Evanston resident Diana Hamman, who enjoys being able to share the nuances of wine with her neighbors in an atmosphere where patrons are encouraged to linger.
Ms. Hamman, an expert who has taught at the University of Chicago and been wine director at the Chopping Block Cooking School, loves to explain the different flavors and pairings, and insists she has tasted every brand she sells. She said she enjoyed this area because people tended to be “adventurous” in their choices, willing to experiment with products from vineyards they had never heard of.
She particularly likes catering to the “mommy circuit,” mothers known from encounters at the local school and elsewhere around the community. These associations have also led to occasional concerts, with nationally known performers such as Nora O’Connor and Jason Narducy performing solo in the intimate setting of the shop. She discovered that for some reason the space has wonderful acoustics, perhaps partially due to some effect of all that glass along the walls.
The wines are arranged into European and “new world” sections, with an emphasis on small, boutique wineries whose vintages are often not carried in other stores. “We prefer the little guy, partly because they tend to have better quality control,” she said. Among the pinot noirs and cabernets can be found unusual varieties of grapes like refosco (Italy) or mencia and bobal (Spain).
It seems telling that Ms. Hamman’s business card contains a quote from Rabelais and the website includes an excerpt from Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” on the multi-faceted joys of wine. The site goes on to promise to offer a “fresh, felicitous take on the grape and its noblest derivative.”
Such attention to language is apparently a remnant of her interest in literature at the University of California at Berkeley. When she was unable to get into her preferred Ph.D. program, she found herself looking for a new direction. She said that in contrast to the many programs offered today, when she was getting her start, the business was filled with “failed liberal arts majors.”
Lest people think that the place is only a refuge for connoisseurs, Ms. Hamman said her emphasis was on providing great wine at moderate prices. Most offerings are in the $15 to $25 range and there is also a corner reserved for twelve bottles under twelve dollars.
The Wine Goddess offers classes which involve a presentation and really delve into the details, and wine “tastings” which are much more informal gatherings where people are able to sample types from different regions. The bar is a great spot to hang out after a day shepherding children or grinding at the office. Also offered is a “Wine Club” membership where one gets two selected bottles and a continuing 10% discount on all merchandise.
When asked about the name of the store, Ms. Hamman said that going all the way back to the days when butlers were the wine stewards, the merchants tended to be men, and she wanted to bring a distinctly feminine influence. This seemed in order especially since statistics show women make 80 percent of American wine choices.
All in all, the Wine Goddess seems to echo Hemingway’s thoughts on the subject when he said, “drinking was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication or a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.”