Strolling from the back of the store, from her “Reserve Room,” she glides past the racks of carefully selected wines that she has personally chosen and greets a regular customer along the way.
“Hi Sam,” said Margaux Singleton, proprietor of Enoteca Wine Shop on Lincoln Avenue on a recent weekend day.
Sam Spencer, with his two young sons, Dodge and Oliver in tow, tells Singleton he is looking for rosés. She points to where he can find more than what he is already looking at.
Spencer asks, “What’s good?” and Singleton doesn’t hear him as she is moving about, but no matter, he answers the question himself.
“You tasted it. You picked it out, so it’s all good,” he said, grabbing two or three bottles of each as he moves through the racks.
That may pretty much sum up why Singleton is celebrating her 20th year in business as a wine shop owner – she knows her stuff.
And she has “a good sniffer,” she said, one that is accompanied by the palate that is behind all the wines in her small shop that feels like a wine cave thanks to the interior painting commissioned by world-renowned trompe l’oeil painter, and Calistoga resident, Carlo Marchiori, whose work she insisted he sign – both inside and out.
And please, keep the warm Calistoga air outside, her signs beg, because this is someone who babies her wine bottles. The temperature inside the shop is always just a bit chilly, rather cave-like as it should be, and you can always find Singleton wearing multiple layers of clothing, usually a long-sleeve shirt, maybe a turtleneck, and an outdoor vest.
It can be 95 degrees outside, but inside it’s between 55 and 58 degrees.
Singleton’s passion for wine began long before she was a shop owner, which began in 1997 in a small space across the street from her current store, and long before she managed someone else’s fine wine store both here and in Santa Fe, New Mexico. An ardent wine collector for more than three decades, over the years she sought out personal experiences at storied wineries in France – where she lived and studied wine for a year — Italy and other wine growing regions in Europe.
So deep was her thirst for knowledge that before she lived in Napa Valley – she’s now a St. Helena resident – she was willing to sleep in her car or in a vineyard to make sure she didn’t miss an appointment with a winemaker in the mornings when she was on a month-long excursion in the region that would one day be her home.
In fact, she was not even looking for a job when a server at Catahoula – a restaurant that closed more than a decade ago – recognized her from when they knew one another in Santa Fe and told her about the wine shop at All Seasons Bistro needing a new manager.
Singleton explained she was not on the trip to look for a job, she was exploring wine.
The server persisted. Singleton pushed back saying she didn’t have a resume with her.
The server grabbed a pad of yellow legal-size paper and insisted Singleton write out her qualifications.
Barely able to clean her hands of hamburger juice, she obliged.
By the time she got back to Santa Fe, which was home for about four years, there was a message from Gayle Dierkhising, co-owner of All Seasons, saying that she was interested in talking to Singleton about managing the wine shop that has since closed.
That led to Singleton opening Enoteca in the space 27 steps up from the sidewalk on Lincoln Avenue now occupied by Domaine Somm, and above Blackbird. Six years later she moved to the current location at 1348-B Lincoln Ave., a store that has been written about by Lettie Teague in late 2015 for the Wall Street Journal, and is listed on the website of Travel and Leisure.
She rubs shoulders with some of the finest winemakers in Napa Valley, including one whose winery – Chateau Montelena – brought worldwide attention to the region when its chardonnay bested French wines in the famed Judgment of Paris in 1976.
On an average sunny day when Singleton stepped outside her store for a moment, Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena strolled past on his way to meet his wife, Heidi Barrett, at Calistoga Roastery.
Singleton mentioned she needed more of his wine because she’d sold the last bottle just the day before. Great, he said, that’s always good to hear. But he couldn’t stop to chat just then because Heidi was waiting, but he’d get more wine to Enoteca right away.
That type of relationship is a way of life for Singleton. She’s been working at it for years and has connections in the wine industry all over the world giving her access to extremely hard-to-find wines.
When she first moved to Santa Fe she started working at a hotel, and then impressed the owner of a newly opening wine shop adjacent to a high-end restaurant with her knowledge gaining the role of manager of La Casa Sena Wine Shop. The restaurant had a 50-page wine list. A study manual of sorts for Singleton.
She was part of three tasting groups in Santa Fe, including an exclusive invitation-only group that included brainiacs who worked at Los Alamos National Labs and were geeky about wine, too. Among the nuclear chemists with whom she enjoyed wine was John Balagna, who created a wine in 1993 called La Bomba Grande to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Manhattan Project, to which he was a contributing chemist.
“They were a high-powered group of collectors,” she said, from whom she learned a lot.
Another tasting group was for women in the wine business that included restaurant owners, chefs, retailers, wholesale reps, and the like.
“It was really a fun group, a geeky wine group,” she said.
During her years of experiencing and tasting wine she said she learned that wine could “ascend to heights and reach to great art.”
Enoteca would never have happened though without the financial and moral support of her family, she said.
A loan from her cousin and parents, with whom she insisted on drawing up a contract and paying them back with interest, and did so within two years, gave her the start for which she is still grateful.
Singleton recalls a touching moment when a customer stopped in to the store one rainy day and insisted she step outside with him. No, she said, it’s raining, “I don’t want to get wet.” But if he hadn’t persisted, and she hadn’t acquiesced she might have missed the double rainbow that ended seemingly on top of her store. Later she would learn it was at the same day her cousin died.
Singleton also ventured into making her own wine under the MX label, which is available at her store. She makes a cabernet sauvignon from Beckstoffer To Kalon (120 cases of the 2009 vintage) vineyard in Oakville, and a zinfandel (78 cases in 2010) from H and L Vineyard in St. Helena.
A quote on her website reflects well her philosophy: “Dedicated to ferreting out and offering the finest savory wines in the world by small artisanal producers.”