A veteran of Ames’ food-and-beverage trade is banking on the city’s thirst for two things: wine and elegance. As owner and manager of Della Viti, a wine bar set to open this month at 323 Main St., Gerald Caligiuri will aim to offer both.
Caligiuri, whose previous employers include Olde Main Brewing Company, Summerfields and The Corner Pocket, expects his new venture to fulfill demands unmet by Ames’ current nightlife offerings.
“There’s kind of a niche for something other than a Campustown-style bar,” Caligiuri said.
More than just the location of Della Viti — which takes its name from the Italian phrase meaning “of the vine” — will set it apart from the bars that line Welch Avenue and Lincoln Way. He plans to furnish the bar comfortably, favoring leather-upholstered couches, love seats and coffee tables over bar stools and fixed booths. He also plans to serve traditional wine complements like cheese, fruit platters and crackers, as well as premium beer and spirits.
“It’s like a coffee shop with wine,” he said. “It’s very relaxed.”
Della Viti will further distinguish itself by being the first Iowa business to use a computerized vending system called a WineStation, which automates some stages of wine service.
Caligiuri said customers, upon presenting IDs to a Della Viti employee, would be issued WineStation cards that they could program with an amount of their choice and use to dispense any of the wines available.
The WineStation at Della Viti will have 12 units, each accommodating four different bottles. At these units, patrons will be able to fill their glasses with amounts ranging from a mouthful to a full glass.
“In many ways, it’s a self-serve wine bar,” Caligiuri said.
Jayne Portnoy, vice president of marketing and brand strategy for WineStation manfacturer Napa Technology, said the machines allow vendors to hold off good wine's greatest foes — excessive oxidation and drastic temperature change.
Portnoy also said the technology freed them to sell "higher-priced, finer wines by the glass and be able to preserve them and temperature control them for 60 days."
"As an operator, you're going to pour every last drop of that bottle of wine," she added.
Blair Brewer, owner and namesake of the Ames bar Brewer’s, said he was curious to see how customers would feel about machines vending wine by the glass.
“There’s a lot of romance to serving wine, and tableside service of specifically a bottle,” Brewer said. “Definitely that’s taken out of the picture.”
Brewer questioned the appeal of such an approach to older drinkers but said it might attract the business of younger ones.
"In a younger demographic — say a 21- to 28-year-old consumer — it may be OK,” he said. “For me it’s a little impersonal, but I can see the niche.”
Caligiuri plans to reserve one WineStation unit for a continually changing selection of Iowa-grown-and-bottled wines. Matt Nissen, manager and winemaker at Prairie Moon Winery in Ames, sees this as a potential boon to vintners in the state.
“It could be a good way to get people to try Iowa wines that usually don’t,” Nissen said.
Chris Hudnall, co-owner of Snus Hill Winery in Madrid, Iowa, said he would welcome the success of a bar like Della Viti but did not quite see the advantage of leaving so many facets of wine service to machines.
“You have to have staff there anyway to monitor consumption,” Hudnall said. “I guess I just don’t see the need in a machine to dispense the wines.”
Though they’d made no arrangements to supply Della Viti, both Nissen and Hudnall said they’d happily do so.
“It seems like an interesting concept, and I’d love to participate,” Hudnall said.
Caligiuri expects his bar to do more than just interest customers. He said it would offer them an unprecedented range of wine choices.
"The machines allow us the flexibility, at a moment's notice, to change what's on the system," he said. "There really are none that are going to be like this in Ames."