Benjamin Richardson had a dream.
"About 15 years ago a little bubble popped up in my head about how a wine shop would be a great retirement plan. My wife Rebecca and I would kick around the romantic idea of me being an old man in his small wine shop," Richardson shares on a recent snowy afternoon inside his new wine store and tasting bar. Viaggio Wine Merchant is Richardson's plan, accelerated.
The Richardsons arrived in Bend in 2018 and Benjamin, with his years of restaurant experience, landed at Bos Taurus, quickly working his way up to general manager. He often ended up tableside talking wine with customers and realized that was the part of his job that he loved the most, so why wait until retirement to make that dream come true? "Bend seemed ripe for something new and different and in tune with my wine shop idea, so why not just do it?" he recalls. "It seemed like the right time."
This is Richardson's first time owning his own place and working for himself. As challenging as that may be — "there's a lot of inventory in here," he exclaims during our visit — he's up for it.
Richardson's wine journey began in Aspen, Colorado. "I was a snowboard instructor at Snowmass and needed a night job," he remembers. He went to work at Renaissance Restaurant, where the sommelier started force-feeding him wine. After a few more years and an epiphany that being a ski bum might not be what he really wanted to do, he started medical school. It was a chance encounter with Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, while having a beer at a place called Sherpa's in Boulder on his way to take a physics test, that was a turning point.
Shortly after that meeting, Richardson wandered by Stuckey's new place, Frasca Food and Wine, and was offered a job on the spot. That gave him the opportunity to immerse himself in wine, working at Frasca, over time, as the Maître d', the assistant GM and the assistant wine director. He also tested his way up the sommelier ladder, earning the second highest accreditation of Advanced Sommelier.
From there, Richardson headed to California where he ran the wine program at The Restaurant at Meadowood, a Michelin 3-Star restaurant. After his daughter was born he moved over to the winery side of things becoming the estate director of Failla Wines.
Then a desire to get back to a mountain town to raise their daughter overcame the Richardsons. They chose Bend and now, just a handful of years later, that wine shop dream has come to life.
Richardson named his new place Viaggio, an Italian word meaning "journey." Richardson says his own wine journey began serendipitously all those years ago and believes that everyone and every wine has a journey. His dream was to have a neighborhood wine shop, where collectors and novices alike could continue their journeys exploring the world of wine.
His idea is to have a place where everybody feels comfortable, whether they're buying a bottle of wine for dinner, sitting at the bar for a glass of wine or adding to their wine cellar. Richardson has plans for winemaker events, frequent tastings and other educational offerings, adding, "If you want to, you can really dive in and learn more about wine or discover something new."
"I'm here every day," he says. "That's what sets me apart. It's my full focus and I can walk you into something. I have wines that are less than $20 and wines that are over $500. I don't want anyone to feel intimidated."
Viaggio has a warm, welcoming vibe. "I describe it as Napa Valley meets European bistro," he says, "with lots of natural wood and warm white colors." He refers to the wine shop area of the establishment as "the library room," complete with a library ladder to reach the upper shelves.
The floor-to-ceiling shelves are filled with wines from around the world – France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria and other European outliers. There's a domestic corner with wines from California and the Pacific Northwest. There's also "bubble land" with a variety of Champagnes and sparkling wines.
Viaggio's wine bar features wines by the glass and bottle, Champagne, a few select beers and European-style snacks including caviar. The wine menu will change frequently according to Richardson and he's excited to "pour wines that people aren't accustomed to or give them something that's refreshing that they don't normally see, such as White Burgundy."
He's hoping his extensive, constantly changing menu at the bar, along with his large, varied collection of wines in the shop, will make Viaggio a go-to place. He feels fortunate about his location on the ground floor of The Hixon at Westside Yard on SW Century Drive in Bend as well, calling it an "ideal neighborhood spot uniquely positioned" for making Viaggio a part of everyone's daily routine.
Viaggio Wine Merchant
210 SW Century Dr., Ste 160, Bend
Open daily 11am – 8pm
Meet the Winemaker with L'Angolo Estate
Owner/Winemaker Chase Renton pouring four wines from his 100% organic estate-grown, limited production Dundee Hills Vineyard
Fri., Jan. 13, 5-7pm
Viaggio Wine Merchant
$10 fee (can be used toward purchase of L'Angolo wine in the shop)