Once a 660-square-foot niche wine bar, Helix Wine & Bites has relocated, and evolved into a community-focused space for high-end food, world-class wine (you’ve probably never heard of) and a setting for great stories.
Mike Schepp hosts a massive story library in his South Grand Forks commercial space. To acquire them, he’s traveled the world, visiting Italy, France or California with friends and family. Titles in his collection range from, The Executioner, to, McBlack’s Concoction, to an offering simply called, 1,000 Stories. Schepp’s stories, as he often refers to them, are best experienced from the glass. Founder of a boutique restaurant and wine bar, Schepp is passionate about maintaining and growing a unique list of wines (and now food offerings) his patrons would most likely never recognize outside his walls. “I always wanted my wine selection to be the highlight of what we did at Helix,” he says. “I’ve always liked wine. It always seems like if you open a bottle it is with friends and you share stories.”
Since opening, relocating and adding to his vision for Helix Wine & Bites, Schepp has always worked to infuse his understanding of wine—from a $10 bottle or a $100 bottle—into the ambience of his space. The goal is to help people experience and realize new possibilities in day-to-day living, a process that becomes possible, he says, with a great glass from a great label in a great setting.
High-End Wine, Low Prices
To give his patrons the ability to expand their wine pallets, Schepp has installed a wine station. “People want to try different wines but they don’t want to risk paying for a high-dollar bottle they don’t enjoy,” he says. Enter the wine station. For $1.50, a patron can choose from a variety of high-dollar wines. The wine station allows a user to select a wine and the volume (typically 1 to 6 ounces) to find out if they like the product. “With the station you can try what an $85 bottle tastes like for less than $5.”
-Wines in the station are preserved for long periods using argon gas. The presence of the gas—which acts like a floating cork—eliminates the chance for oxygen to enter the bottle and turn the wine into vinegar. When activated, the wine enters the glass through a system that eliminates the floating cork gas from the liquid.
Wine Stories Are Serious Business
Although Schepp has always enjoyed travel and tasting trips, it wasn’t until he got serious about a wine-centric bar that he witnessed the importance of storytelling in the wine production and distribution business. He’s visited several winemaking operations and learned that to be a successful producer, or seller, details can make an economic difference. “The story behind the wine is meaningful,” he says. Small-run vineyards to high-production operations all agonize over the story behind their wines. Details of soil type, sun exposure or secret-production processes passed down from distant uncles are important to wine drinkers. In a space where competition is always increasing, standing out amongst peers is a crucial task. Schepp works with a distributor to choose new varieties based on type, cost and, of course, the story behind the wine.
One of his most enjoyable monthly tasks comes during his Helix-organized wine club events. During the events, patrons can pay a small fee to taste five wines and enjoy entrees. For each wine, the distributor who’s been on-site and visited with the actual winemaker attends the event. During a recent meeting, the club’s evening lasted over two hours because the distributor had so many unique and engaging stories to share about each of the five wines. “A lot of what we do here is all about community,” he says of the events and his normal business operations.
With a product portfolio that features bottles from around the world, Schepp enjoys time reviewing existing bottles or testing new options with his distributors. But, more than three years after first opening, he still finds his best moments come when he’s at Helix in the evenings. He mingles with neighbors and guests, there to relax or rejoice. He makes and serves drinks or food. He answers questions about the taste and finishes of certain wines, how they pair with certain entrees and if he is lucky, he says, shares the stories of his collection. G
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PHOTOS BY: MELQUIST PHOTOGRAPHY