Local sommelier Kevin Hart, proprietor of the boutique wine shop Hart & Cru in Pendleton, has built a solid reputation for himself in the city as a friendly, inviting authority on old world wines.
Before opening the shop in November, Hart’s career in the industry yielded wineCRAFT, a local wine importer and distributor which provides some of the most highly allocated wines in the city. Local celebrity chefs Jean-Robert de Cavel (The Maisonette, Jean-Robert’s Table, Le Bar a Boeuf and French Crust Café and Bistro) and David Falk (Sotto, Boca, Nada and Domo) have called upon Hart to find the perfect pairings for their refined cuisine, and Hart’s list of clients whose cellars he stocks is longer than any saber used to lop champagne corks off the bottle.
The most recent culmination of Hart’s journey with wine, Hart & Cru is a welcoming room for patrons to not only peruse the shelves, but also to sample light bites and different vintages and varieties while enjoying the full range of sensory pleasures afforded by good wine and conversation in a beautiful space.
When posed with the fact that he’s made such a good impression on Cincinnati’s wine industry, Hart doesn’t miss a beat.
“Alcohol does that,” he says. “I make friends quickly.”
Hart’s appreciation for wine comes in part from a deeply personal space he discovered during childhood, where his grandparents grew fruit and vegetables among larger fields of corn and soy outside rural Bluffton in northwest Ohio. There, he began to learn the importance of soil composition, its minerality and other components essential to understanding what exactly makes good wine.
“When I was younger I couldn’t wait to get away from it, get into the city life and so forth,” Hart says. “But the older I become, I think a major part of where my palate is and where it’s developed is due to my grandma teaching me when a plum is right to pick off of a tree, what’s an underripe raspberry, what corn on the cob is actually supposed to taste like.”
This earthy knowledge helps someone like Hart form their own opinion on wines, leading to Hart & Cru’s stellar selection of offerings. When you buy a bottle or sip something new, know that they’re offering wines based on the quality of the bottle’s contents and not the prestige of the name on the label. Hart describes his brand – his mission – as discovering and curating passionate farmers who make world-class wine.
“I’ve made a massive focus to make wine accessible without downgrading it,” Hart says. “Sometimes people want to talk about wine and, you know, taking the pretentiousness away — which I definitely want to do as well and I really make that a major focus — but I think sometimes when you do that without understanding the back end of the wine, actually, you discredit the wine of what it is. I mean, it’s an incredible, beautiful agricultural product, and I don’t ever want to lose that.”
There’s a prevailing philosophy that wine is a cultural asset and is not supposed to be a luxury beverage enjoyed only by affluent aficionados. Hart agrees that the finer things in life belong to everyone, which is why Hart & Cru’s selection of wines are priced to fit any budget without threat of the lower ticket bottles being of poor quality. What seems to stop a lot of people from entering the world of wine in a serious way is not money, but fear, Hart believes; there’s so much to learn about wine that people feel overwhelmed with information. While the benefits of amassing a worldly knowledge base around wine is one excellent way to learn geography, history, culture, biology and the nuances of the palate, there’s nothing wrong with simply enjoying what you drink because it suits the moment.
“If people walk in and start asking questions about wine or they’re intimidated, to me, the question is ‘What are you in the mood for?’” Hart says. “I love asking a lot of food questions.”
“It’s really funny – people are not intimidated to tell me their really random preferences in food, but they’re terrified to talk about beverages,” Hart continues. “In the second that conversation is started, you build a relationship, and once the relationship is started, you can kind of take them on a journey. But to me you have to break down those barriers somehow.”
The selection at Hart & Cru encompasses the full spectrum of different styles of wine, with a favor toward western European and United States producers. Whether you have a preference for red, white, rosé, orange, sparkling or any other conceivable expression grapes are capable of, something on their shelves is certain to satisfy (but don’t come in expecting draft beer or a cocktail, this is all about wine and light bites). If you want to browse their retail options before heading in, visit hartandcru.com for a glimpse at what they have in stock. Price points on bottles are as low as $15 and can easily exceed $150 if you’re looking for something truly impressive.
Hart believes some food tastes better with wine and vice versa, which is why Hart & Cru offers “European comfort food light bites.” Think nuts, olives, bread from Allez Bakery with oil, and tabbouleh. French cheese puffs known as gougères, are prepared by Megan Ketover, former Boca pastry chef (Hart’s entire team comes from Boca). These dishes are inspired by Hart’s European travels.
Hart & Cru also offers seating to those indulging in item’s from the establishment’s food menu. The entire setup at Hart & Cru is chic, with modernity peeking over old world tradition in every detail. Hart aims to capture the charm of his favorite European cities by housing his shop in Pendleton shop as opposed to more trafficked areas.
“I wanted to be on some back street that just felt like a quaint little neighborhood and you stumbled upon a little place and you fall in love with it,” Hart says. “Pendleton really captures some of that for me.”
Hart & Cru, 1206 Broadway St., Pendleton, hartandcru.com.
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