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Winegrunt owners Robert Buranello and Astrid Friedrich pose for a photo in their Windsor wine bar on Monday. - Ryan Taplin
Winegrunt owners Robert Buranello and Astrid Friedrich pose for a photo in their Windsor wine bar on Monday. - Ryan Taplin

Like most professors of Italian and philosophy who’ve lived in Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., New York City and southern California, Rob Buranello and Astrid Friedrich took the natural next step and moved to Windsor, Nova Scotia, to open a wine bar.

“We met in South Africa in ’97, and we used to hang out at these really cool bars after work,” said Friedrich. “We liked wine more than academia, and we said, ‘One day we should open a wine bar.’ So, we did.”

She is originally from Montreal, he from Toronto, and it was at the end of a trip across Canada in 2014 that the couple fell in love with Nova Scotia.

“We were actually at Luckett’s, drinking Tidal Bay probably, and just looking out over the Valley and said, ‘This is really nice, we should move here.’ It took us a couple of years to get that done,” Buranello said.

Their small wine bar/restaurant, Winegrunt, opened in July in a Water Street space that’s been home to a few things over the past few years, but was a landmark hardware store for more than a century. Where once there were brooms, there are now Barolos, and Pinots reside where there used to be paint.

You have to be of a certain vintage to remember when the train rolled through Windsor’s downtown and even older to have seen ships tie up at waterfront wharves. But Friedrich and Buranello did their research and wanted their space to make a nod to the past.

“We had a broad idea,” Friedrich said. “We’d hoped to be able to retain the tin ceiling but since it had to come down, we repurposed it. We also wanted a railway and nautical theme, to put a bit of the history of Windsor into it.”

Part of the old tin ceiling is now the wall of the bar. Above, a chandelier is anchored by rope and nautical cleats are attached to the wall.

“The whole place just has a nice warm feel,” said Buranello, who remembers the day he and his wife, then living in South Africa, saw their future. “There was this couple, I think in their 70s. We were out towards Stellenbosch, at this tiny little winery that we’d discovered. It was about 11 in the morning, we rang the bell and this couple comes out, they’re pickled. And smiling and happy, and we thought that’s the bliss we want. That was one of the key moments — they were happy, they were older and they drank a lot of wine.”

“When we came back to North America, we were having far more fun with everything wine-related than we were with academic stuff. I wanted to be somewhere where I’d be in a better mood every day. As tiring and as stressful as this can be because it’s a small business, it’s ours. This is better.”

The couple visited every winery in the province before deciding on their inventory. They stock wines from all over the world, but 90 per cent of them are from Nova Scotia and local wines represent 80 per cent of sales.

At first the clientele was also mainly local, but they’ve started to get customers from Halifax and from further up the valley, especially on nights there’s live jazz.

“We’ve had people from their 20s into their 70s, all on the same night, so it’s pretty diverse. We’re not the hipster hangout, not much of a young place,” Buranello said. “It’s just different.”

Winegrunt’s latest decorative feature is the result of a months-long collaboration between the owners and cartographer Marcel Morin. Friedrich and Buranello were visiting the Piedmont region of Italy two years ago, and over some wines fell into conversation with a man who offered to explain the region’s terroir.

“He came out with this massive map, it had relief, he was discussing the soil and how it impacts. We said that’s perfect, exactly what (we needed),” said Buranello.

Using his research skills, he found soil studies from almost every county in the province, mostly done in the ’60s and ’70s. That information, combined with Morin’s skills, resulted in the Winegrunt map.

“Relief was out of the question, he didn’t even want to give me the details, it’s so expensive,” Buranello said. “But this one, which is metal on wood, has each winery in the province. We decided to concentrate on the Avon River and the Gaspereau because that’s where most of them are.”

The map was installed a few weeks ago, and will be officially launched at a ticketed event called A Sense of Terroir on Nov. 27, with guest speaker Bruce Ewert of L’Acadie Vineyards.

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