BUCKSPORT — In a little under three years, Verona Wine and Design went from being a (grape) seed of an idea into a multi-faceted concept.
“It’s all happened it feels like so fast,” said Colleen Gross, who runs the business with husband Mike Gross.
It all started — as many great ideas do — with some wine.
The Grosses, who will celebrate their five-year wedding anniversary this year, have long enjoyed drinking wine together, cooking and entertaining at their Verona Island home.
Colleen, an occupational therapy assistant for Regional School Unit 25, was browsing online when she stumbled upon an Adirondack chair made out of reclaimed wine barrel staves. She asked Mike, a longtime carpenter who now teaches industrial arts at Bucksport High School, if he’d be able to make one, to which he said, “Of course.”
The Grosses ordered a wine barrel and Mike created his first barrel creation, a bench which has been dubbed the “sweetheart bench.” Because of the barrel’s curved lines, the bench seat slopes in the middle, causing the sitters to inch closer to each other. Colleen did not get her Adirondack chair, but rather something much better — an original design of her husband’s.
Mike then began playing around with a host of different wine barrel designs, from tables and chairs, to wine racks and wind chimes. Soon, Verona Wine and Design wares were being sold online and at crafts festivals.
The Grosses source as many wine barrels as possible from Maine.
“Maine wineries are where we go first, but a lot of people are using stainless steel barrels now,” Colleen said. Since winemaking is a small industry in the Pine Tree State, many barrels come from the Napa Valley wine region in Northern California.
Colleen’s favorite barrels to repurpose are red wine ones. The deep purple grapes stain the inside of the barrels, making for a unique coloration on Mike’s creations.
While some may see the stain as an imperfection, Colleen and Mike prefer to leave the barrels as natural as possible. “It’s a really beautiful, burgundy patina that comes from the wine stain,” she said.
The Grosses varnish the wood for a nice, even sheen. But every other discoloration, wine stain or char remains in tact, just the way the barrel arrived. The couple also use just about every inch of the barrel. Cast-off end pieces became candle holders and the barrel’s metal bands became wind chimes.
Although Mike has decades of carpentry experience, working with wine barrels gives him a new challenge with every project.
“I think I like that every time I open a barrel, they are all a little different,” Mike said. “Each item I’m working on is always a little different.”
Earlier this year, the Grosses jumped on an opportunity to expand their business after they became involved in Bucksport Heart & Soul, a community organization that is working to revitalize the town. Colleen says that she became so invested in the town that she wanted to be a part of its revival.
“We got involved with Heart & Soul and being involved, we met so many people and we learned so much about the town and just fell in love with it,” Colleen said. “We saw so much potential in the town and took a leap of faith in opening a storefront.”
The Grosses both love to cook and entertain and so a restaurant was a natural step for their business, in addition to having a place to display the wine barrel designs.
Mike and Colleen renovated last spring what was formerly apartment space in Hayward House at 77 Main St. In mid-June, Verona Wine and Design, a combination retail shop and restaurant, opened and carries Mike’s smaller barrel creations such as napkin rings, wine racks, wine bottle and glass caddies and cheese platters.
Larger items such as benches, tables and chairs are custom-made to fit customers’ specifications so there is not an inventory of furniture. A custom piece takes about a month or so for Mike to complete.
Verona Wine and Design’s menu features items that Mike and Colleen would serve if you scored a dinner invitation to their home: charcuterie and cheese plates, crostini, paninis and desserts. A recent special was a crabmeat and avocado bruschetta with a balsamic reduction.
“Everything we offer, everything we do is an extension of who we are,” said Colleen. From the wine barrel designs, to the wine sold and the food prepared.
The retail shop also features wine from all over the world as well as some Maine favorites such as Monica’s Chocolates from Lubec, and mustards from Raye’s in Eastport and Atlantic Brewing Co. in Bar Harbor.
Both Verona Wine and Design’s bread and beers come from Friar’s Bakehouse and Brewhouse across the alley. East West Farms in Verona Island supplies garden greens and much of the restaurant’s summer produce comes from the farmers market down the street.
Verona Wine and Design’s inviting courtyard is filled with music and twinkling lights at night — a romantic setting for a date. The outdoor dining space mimics Mike and Colleen’s own backyard, a favorite place they don’t see much of these days.
“I don’t mind being here [at work] all the time, because I’ve got my backyard here now,” Colleen said.
Verona Wine and Design, 77 Main St. No. 1, Bucksport, 745-0731. The restaurant and retail shop is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday. Hours may vary off-season. www.veronawineanddesign.com.