If you enjoy making snacks or meals around hard-to-find wines, premium meats and cheeses, you’ll probably be doing a happy dance at Disco Ranch.
Boonville’s modest wine bar and specialty market has all the attributes of a gourmet picnic, including cold cuts, cheese, crackers and more. Also available are obscure local wines, beloved European wines, and flavored wines that pair well in cocktails. Every now and then, the boutique even hosts pop-ups where visiting chefs will prepare full meals on the patio or take out.
But the store sells more than goodies you can eat – it also trades hooks. Owner Wendy Lamer chats with customers as they navigate and cares so much about the products in her inventory that she is always ready to offer expert advice on what to buy, what to pair it with and why.
The store has become a favorite with travelers and locals alike.
“You can’t be here for five minutes without learning something interesting, eating something good or drinking something delicious,” said Lamer, from Georgia. “That’s the whole idea.”
Rare offers find fans
Lamer, 58, has been selling wine and premium products for almost 40 years. She spent most of that time in the Southwest. Then she came to Boonville in 2019, fell in love with the unique blend of sophistication and small town charm and opened Disco Ranch in May.
Technically, this wine merchant is his second. Its first, named Happy Herman’s, opened in 1982 in suburban Atlanta. This first store only sold wine; an obscure Georgian law at the time prohibited the sale of food and wine together. Lamer swore as one day she would open a shop with the two.
Lamer said building the wine portion of his business was easy.
The wine selection is based on local Mendocino wineries such as Fathers & Daughters, Intent Wines, Lussier, Quigley Family Wines and Black Kite. This includes sparkling wines and classics from France, Spain and Italy. Lamer can’t carry alcohol, so she blew her selection of flavored wines. It is one of the only boutiques in all of Mendocino County to offer selections such as Bonal, Cappelletti and Cocchi Rosa. Sometimes, if it’s slow, she’ll even give tastings.
The food portion of the Disco Ranch took a bit longer to create.
The concept was simple: build a store around the concept of a pantry. This meant that in addition to storing wines, Lamer had to sell staples like oil, cheese, cold meats, and the like.
“The kind of stuff you would have if you were camping or just in a rush,” she said. “Delicious, affordable, high-quality food, but food that doesn’t necessarily take forever to prepare and enjoy. This is what I am looking for.
Today, some of his bestsellers include cans of sardines, scallops, cockles and octopus, as well as cheese and charcuterie boards with olives, crackers and nuts. It also offers a limited menu of prepared foods like antipasto salads and sliders on Hawaiian rolls. The smoked duck breast sliders are a fan favorite. Customers also line up for those with pulled chicken pesto.
If you’re wondering about the name of the store, it’s a throwback to the parties Lamer used to throw and throw at a ranch where she lived near Atlanta. The patrons had so much fun eating, drinking and dancing that they called it Disco Ranch. One of his regulars even bought him a disco ball. The name stuck.
Pivot during the pandemic
This same original disco ball hangs in the store today. Lamer said it constantly reminded her where she came from and why she got into the hospitality business in the first place.
She has needed a booster for the past two years.
Just months after Lamer set up Disco Ranch, the COVID-19 pandemic began. Like many small business owners, she was afraid of the future.
Instead of panicking, she pivoted the business. She launched an e-commerce site and set up a delivery service. She cleared the tables inside the store and added more delicious wine inventory for $ 15 or less.
She also relied on new friends to let it be known that her store was open.
As Mendocino County emerged from COVID-19 closures, Lamer was able to move closer to the model she originally envisioned. She still doesn’t do as many pop-ups as she would like and she still isn’t comfortable hosting guests for dinner inside, but the boutique has established an inviting rhythm that entices guests. to come stroll.
Example: Ashley Holland.
The Santa Rosa-based winemaker owns Read Holland and said she always makes a point of stopping by Disco Ranch and stocking up on supplies for her home cooking as she passes through Boonville. Two of Read Holland’s latest wines were made with fruit from Boonville and Philo, so the winemaker spent much of the harvest on Route 128.
“(Lamer) makes it easy to put together a cheese and cold meats platter,” Holland said. “Anderson Valley needed more local outlets and she found a break in the clouds for what was needed. She continues to over indulge in her wine selection, sundries, food and experiences.
Customers will find some of the Read Holland wines on the Disco Ranch shelves.
Laurel Livezey, sales and marketing associate at Husch Vineyards in the Anderson Valley, agrees with Holland.
Livezey goes out of his way to frequent Disco Ranch because Lamer offers products not easily found elsewhere. For example, Livezey fell in love with Champalou Vouvray and Barone Pizzini Franciacorta working in New York a few years ago, and was delighted to find them at Lamer’s.
“Wendy has a knack for choosing amazing, value-for-money wines from all over the world,” she said. “And when you’re in a wine region, it’s always nice to have the wines of the world to compare to those from your region.”
Don’t mess with success
The future of Disco Ranch is very similar to the present.
It’s not that Lamer doesn’t have big plans – she does. She also recognizes that we are still in a global pandemic, and having struggled to survive for most of the past two years, she doesn’t exactly want to mix up the strategies that have worked.
This means the shop will likely look pretty much the same throughout the winter, perhaps with a few more pop-ups from guest chefs and take out on the schedule.
Lamer said she hopes she can get the patio back up and running by spring and start offering more outdoor dining options there. This means guests will likely be able to stop by the Disco Ranch, order meals or cheese and cold meats, and linger on the patio out front. Finally, she would like to build an outdoor kitchen to serve these guests.
“Expanding the culinary program is the next step here,” she said. “Good things take time.”