Domestique opened two months ago at 10 Florida Avenue NW in Bloomingdale. Since then, hard-to-source bottles from the shop have popped up at some of D.C.’s best restaurants.
Bad Saint is currently filling glasses with Domestique’s 2017 Marie Thibault Chenin Blanc Pet Nat. It first appeared at the critically acclaimed Filipino destination as part of a pairing for the Pagdiriwang holiday prix fixe in December.
“We loved it so much with chef [Tom Cunanan’s] food that I decided to keep it on our wine list,” Amanda Carpenter, service and beverage director of Bad Saint, tells Eater.
Natural wines are exclusively made with organic or biodynamic grapes, fermented with native yeast, then finished off with little to no sulfur. France is a hot bed for such wines, especially in the Loire Valley, and more than half of Domestique’s 400 selections hail from the country. The rest come from Italy, Germany, Austria, and the U.S.
“Every chance I get, I travel to visit these small producers — but it hasn’t always been easy to get their products into the city,” says Kyle Wilson, wine director of Michelin-starred Komi and sister spot Little Serow.
He’s pouring Domestique’s German Spätburgunder by Holger Koch out of Baden — a “killer pairing” with its fermented pork ragu, he says.
“Holger is making these beautiful, aromatic wines that a classic Burgundy-lover could fall in love with — from a region nobody has heard of,” he says.
The store’s supplier is partner Selection Massale, a growing natural wines importer that also connects high-end eateries like Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, NYC’s Le Bernadin, and Philly’s Zahav to their bottles. Domestique’s D.C. partner is Potomac, Maryland, native Jeff Segal, who first bought wines from Selection Massale a decade ago for Heart, his San Francisco wine bar.
Back then, Selection Massale was just getting started; Segal recalls getting deliveries out of the cars of founders Cory Cartwright and Guilhaume Gerard.
Domestique also stocks beers, ciders, and spirits from like-minded producers. Wilson has been “scheming for years” to get Normandy cider maker Cyril Zangs into chef Johnny Monis’ spots. “His off-dry, slightly funky ciders are a surprisingly perfect match for the spicy Thai meal,” he says.
One bottle has a timely name: “Fuck Trump and His Stupid Fucking Wall” — a barley and habanero spirit from Empirical Spirits out of Copenhagen. It’s sold out online but stocked at the store, says Segal. Neversink Spirits (New York), High Wire Distilling (Charleston), and Brasserie des Voirons (Haute-Savoie) also round out the spirits and beer selection.
Some inventory doesn’t clock as many miles to get to Domestique. Old Westminster’s 2018 Pét-Nat Piquette, served cold, has lower alcohol like a Lambrusco and was originally created to rehydrate vineyard workers.
“It’s one of our best sellers so far — that’s a surprise in a way because it’s from Maryland,” says Segal, whose diverse resume includes being a tech journalist and sommelier at Del Posto.
Any of Domestique’s products can be ordered online and delivered door to door in D.C. Orders over $100 come with no delivery charge, and a $10 fee is charged for anything under that. Domestique also ships to 14 states.
One of the most popular sellers is the Martin Texier La Boutanche Rouge 2017 ($18), billed as an ideal intro to natural wine. Segal is a big fan of Georges Laval, an in-demand producer of rose Champagne. For a while, chemical processes were tied to Champagne production, but biodynamic varieties are now becoming trendy, he reports.
The 2,500-square-foot store can ultimately hold 5,000 bottles, but Segal reserves some shelf space for plant life and books on natural wines. The modern shop also features prints of top natural winemakers at work.
Once weather warms up, Segal plans to host small dinner parties in an attached outdoor patio strung with lights. Domestique is already teaming up with visiting winemakers for hosted events.
“I think it’s more important than ever to support producers who are trying to heal the earth with careful farming practices,” says Wilson, the Komi wine director. “People sometimes forget that winemakers are farmers first. Natural wine isn’t something new … it’s just the original way of making wine.”