Omaha Wine Co. Celebrating 25 Years of Bringing Napa to OmahaOct 29, 2020 03:45PM ● By Katrina Markel
Michelle Hyder’s passion for wine is infectious as she talks about her favorite vintages. The new owners of Omaha Wine Co., Michelle and her husband, Hasan, are more than small business owners and wine connoisseurs; they are keepers of a unique legacy built by John Draney, who founded the store 25 years ago.
“More than a dozen people have talked with me over the past four or five years saying, ‘Hey, when do you want to sell?’ Because I’m in my late '70s and I’ve got to have an exit. And I interviewed people. She [Michelle] was the first one I thought, ‘This can work,’” said Draney, who continues to consult at the shop.
Hyder recently worked with Chef Jacob Newton at V. Mertz to plan a 25th anniversary dinner for customers.
“We have an amazing restaurant scene and you know, let’s create an amazing experience where we can pair some great wine with your amazing food. For me it’s a win-win-win,” she said.
The Hyders moved to Omaha in 2006 and were originally customers of OWC. Michelle, who is in charge of day-to-day operations at the store, said that wine was a shared hobby for the couple. A chemical engineer by trade, she didn’t expect to own a business.
“Our youngest was starting kindergarten and I was looking at going back to school. What was my next chapter going to look like?” Hyder said.
When Draney approached her with the opportunity she wasn’t immediately certain, but “I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, when do you ever get to combine your passion with your livelihood?’ That’s rare.”
The Hyders bought the shop last year and have continued the company’s pioneering business practices of building relationships directly with winemakers, carefully curating wines, matching customers with their preferred flavor profiles, and hosting a twice-a-year open house with visiting wineries. They also attend an invitation-only auction, Premiere Napa Valley, where the store is regularly a successful bidder on one-of-kind vintages for its customers.
“You’re sincere, down-to-Earth, honest people. You’re not wine-jaded, like New York. The coasts, you know, the East Coasts and the West Coasts are wine jaded, but the Midwest is not…you guys have your act together,” said Randle Johnson, who owns Calafia Cellars in St. Helena, California with his wife MaryLee.
The Johnsons have owned Calafia for 41 years. Randle is also the lead winemaker for the Hess Collection. They come to Omaha for the OWC open house events where, according to Randle, Calafia wines are one of the top sellers.
“Omaha’s my number one—out of the state of California—market,” said Johnson, who brimmed with compliments for the city.
Hyder said she was skeptical when Draney first told her that the little store was known nationally for its collection of Napa Valley wines until she witnessed it for herself.
“I think it’s important for Omaha to know, this is a great local business. I mean, Omaha should be very proud,” said Hyder. “We have customers who live on both coasts and they have family here, so when they come back for the holidays they come in and they’re like, ‘This store is the best store for wine I’ve ever seen. I can’t get this stuff in New York. I can’t get this stuff in San Francisco.’ So, it’s just really cool.”
The Sciandri family was initially skeptical as well. Growers for more than 20 years, Sciandri Family Vineyards produced its first vintage in 2006. Around 2013, Ron and Roberta Sciandri first traveled to Omaha for the shop’s semi-annual wine event. Their daughter, Rebecca, who now runs the business, said that they were very excited. A bonus was that her dad, an avid bird hunter, could scope out pheasant hunting locations in Nebraska.
“My parents flew into Omaha, got a hotel and had a car, called and said, ‘We’ve made a terrible mistake.’ And I said, ‘Why, what’s going on?’ They’re like, ‘You don’t even know. We just drove by this little shop where we’re supposed to go tomorrow and, Rebecca, it’s this tiny little shop in, like, a strip mall. I don’t think it’s as big as that guy said it’s going to be. There’s no way that people come to this little shop,’” Sciandri said. “And then I got a phone call, late in the evening from two very exhausted parents saying ‘Oh my god. I can’t believe how many people come. What an amazing event. What a great group of people. This is a great place!’”
The shop, which is located in Miracle Hills Square, turned out to be bigger on the inside. Sciandri said the owners and staff also know their stuff.
“So, for the longest time, Omaha Wine Company was the only retail shop outside of California that carried our wine for that very specific reason,” Sciandri said. “For a wine shop, that’s key if a small producer like us is going to go into there. I can’t just be a label on a shelf and hope that somebody finds it without knowing anything about us or wines.”
The shop carries vintages from wine regions around the world, but it is best known for its Napa wines and its special relationship with vintners. In 2015 Ron Sciandri died of cancer shortly before the OWC fall wine event. Rebecca had already shipped her wines, but called the store to say she couldn’t make the event.
“Then, on the Sunday of the event, I started getting all kinds of text messages, social media messages from customers and what not, and I was like, ‘What is going on?’ The employees of Omaha Wine Company and fellow vintners manned our table and poured our family’s wine in honor of my father. It was the most heartwarming thing I had ever heard of or experienced. They put down their own stuff and stood at our table and told my dad’s story,” said Sciandri, with emotion in her voice. “So, they’re not just customers in a location. They’re very dear friends. They’re family. They’re people who are important to us.”
Visit omahawine.com for more information.
This article was printed in the November/December 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.