If wine doesn’t make the world go ’round, it’s certainly a major player when it comes to extravagant fêtes and special events like weddings, graduations and retirement parties. And we happen to be living in the golden age of vino, according to Eberhard K. Heide, owner of the Asheville Wine Market (65 Biltmore Ave.). “Wine took off in the 1980s, and everyone got on board,” he says. It’s a trend that he attributes to the perfection of winemaking techniques, though results can be mixed.
“There are a lot of wines out there that aren’t so great,” Heide says. “But if you know what to look for, there are many outstanding wines in the $8-$20 range.”
Walking into the shop with its warm wood floors and high ceilings filled with floor-to-ceiling shelves of wine, a shopper could be overwhelmed. But Heide says, “Most people find the selection comforting.” He attributes 20 years in business to his team's signature method for calming customers. “We know how to ask the right questions,” he says. From dinner parties with specific menu pairings to the dilemma of red wine and white carpets, staff members at Asheville Wine Market have heard it all and they know what to recommend.
Unlike many grocery stores where wine merchants purchase shelf space, Asheville Wine Market’s staff has the freedom to make its own selections. All wines in the shop are living wines — temperature controlled throughout the distribution process to ensure that the living aspect remains intact. “We respect wine,” Heide says. “We don’t mistreat it.” He adds that many customers find solace knowing their wine is tucked away in his climate-controlled storage lockers long before an important party.
Speaking of the pre-party, as Cathie Robbins of Origami Ink (61 Haywood St.) sees it, guests arrive at an event with a level of expectation. “When you open that invitation, you’re getting a whole vision of what the event is going to be,” she says. “It’s like a calling card.” The local artisan gallery and stationer specializes in distinctive designer lines such as Elum, Oblation Papers & Press and Twig & Fig. The shop also carries traditional favorites such as Crane & Company and William Arthur. “It’s limitless what you can do with your invitation, anywhere from simple to elaborate,” Robbins says. But this also means a lot of decision-making. Her husband Jonathan likes to joke with newlyweds who come into the store, “If you can make it through the invitations, you’ll make it through the marriage.”
Pricing depends upon how many elements are required, such as an RSVP card or a map to the gathering. One newer element is the website card, which directs guests to a URL where they can RSVP, find directions and explore additional information. “But not everyone is so Internet savvy,” Robbins says. “Especially elderly people.”
According to Robbins, much of the stress can be avoided by early planning. She suggests allowing two to three months for choosing the design, getting the invitations printed, having them shipped and delivering the envelopes to the calligrapher. “But then don’t forget you have to mail the invites,” Robbins says. She recommends posting a good eight weeks in advance of the event. Expert tip: Robbins suggests sending a save-the-date card up to a year in advance for parties and events where guests need to book hotels and flights.
Karen Donatelli, owner of Karen Donatelli Cake Designs (57 Haywood St.), also advocates early planning. “Once they know the date of the event, we should begin. With weddings, as far in advance as possible.” she says. While the baker fashions sweet desserts for nuptials, that’s hardly the only occasion worthy of frosting and fondant. Birthdays, family reunions, sporting events and picnics have all been commemorated with sugary goodness. And while cakes take the cake, the shop owner is also proficient with opera squares, cream puff towers and cornucopias of chocolate-dipped fruit.
At Donatelli’s shop, design is at the heart of her process. “Whenever possible I love to meet with customers in person and share creative ideas. They can bring in colors or flowers, and we talk about what they like,” she says. Part of her method is to consider where a confection will be displayed. She then designs every element to ensure that the cake is best seen (and, of course, photographed) in that location. Donatelli hand-delivers everything and sets up all of her wedding cakes. “I don’t trust that to anyone,” she admits.
Perhaps the best stress-relieving advice, when it comes to party planning, is to leave it to the experts. As Donatelli says, “I do my best work when given creative license.”