late harvest,Wine merchant enjoys successful second career
The Forecaster, Jan. 2006
Late harvest: Wine merchant enjoys successful second career
By Lori Eschholz
After a successful career as an airline navigator, John VerPlanck is enjoying a second career as operator of The Black Sheep Wine Shop in Harpswell.
HARPSWELL – John VerPlanck’s love of wine blossomed many years ago, when a fraternity brother with an attraction to wine and airplanes turned him on to both.
The two would fly a private plane to Napa Valley, land on a dirt runway, and while away the day sampling the wines in the area’s wineries before sometimes sleeping it off under the plane.
VerPlanck went on to make a career of flying. He spent 32 years as a navigation instructor before retiring. But his vacations were mostly dedicated to wine. He took most of them in wine country, sampling wines and taking classes and seminars while his family perused the tourist attractions of the area.
Now his love of wine has ripened as the owner, along with his wife Jennifer Laskey, of The Black Sheep Wine Shop on Mountain Road.
The VerPlancks were married in Maine two years ago, on the Bailey Island Cribstone Bridge, after a wedding in Paris six months earlier . A few months later they opened the wine shop in a small building next door to their home. Last week, VerPlanck pointed to footsteps in the snow leading away from the shop’s door, saying it was his morning commute.
Jennifer had formerly used the building for her candy store, the Chocolate Deli, which she ran for about seven years. A sink next to a selection of Spanish wines is the last remnant of the candy store’s kitchen.
VerPlanck said they discussed opening the shop for about a half hour before deciding to do it. Then they spent a lot of time discussing how to do it and taking some business classes before taking the plunge 16 months ago. As far as he’s concerned, the shop, which is the only one of its kind in Harpswell, has been a success. There are only a few bottles left that were there a year ago.
“We’re still here after one year,” VerPlanck said, “so I feel we’re doing well.”
Besides that, running the shop has been fun. The customers are all local people who the couple either knew before or know now. They know most of them by name and what type of wine they like.
“Personal service is the only way we’ll survive. We don’t have anything else to offer but good personal service,” VerPlanck said. He also wants to build trust with his customers and doesn’t offer anything for sale that he hasn’t tried.
Working with seven distributors, The Black Sheep Wine Shop offers about 600 wines ranging in price from $4.98 to $498.00. They’re all arranged by region, except for a selection of high-end wines that is displayed in a glass case, and a selection of wines under $12.
In the Italian section, there’s also a selection of VerPlanck’s favorite wines set aside. His favorites include Tuscan reds and French whites from the Cote d’Or. He said that he’ll look for those to sell, but is careful to stock a wide variety of wines to appeal to all tastes. And though he’s learned a lot about wine, he said there are no “wine snobs” at the shop.
The store also stocks imported and domestic beer, cheese, specialty foods, chocolates with a focus on Maine made foods ,wine and beer.Maine made gourmet gift baskets are popular. A free monthly wine tasting and wine seminars are offered. More information is posted on the shop’s Web site, www.blacksheepwine.com. The next wine tasting is Jan. 21.
Edited for content.