TAHOE’S QUEEN OF WINE
Through her five bars and restaurants near the lake, Kali Kopley has become a connoisseur.
WRITTEN BY MELISSA SIIG
PHOTO BY CHRIS HOLLOMAN
When Kali Kopley moved to Lake Tahoe in 2003, she didn’t know the first thing about wine except she liked to drink it.
“I was the girl at the party in college with a glass of wine,” Kopley, 36, says. “But if you put a chardonnay or a sauvignon blanc in front of me, I had a 50/50 chance of getting it right. I didn’t know much.”
A lot has changed in 10 years. After opening her first wine shop, Uncorked, in Squaw Valley in 2007, Kopley and her partners have created a wine and restaurant empire in the Tahoe-Truckee area with no less than five properties, making her not only one of the foremost wine experts in the region but also one of the top female business owners in Tahoe-Truckee.
It all started with this thought: “I have a feeling I can do it.”
That’s what came to Kopley’s mind after the Black Diamond Wine Exchange shop closed in the Village at Squaw Valley in 2006. On the verge of going back to Massachusetts for law school, Kopley gave up on the idea of becoming a lawyer in order to pursue what she saw as a golden opportunity.
“I saw the potential in Squaw,” she says.
With little to no personal knowledge about wine, Kopley started by tasting whatever wine industry representatives brought to her and trusting the recommendations of her friends in the wine business. But Kopley knew one thing for certain: Unlike the defunct Black Diamond, her store needed to have a tasting bar and chairs.
That’s one thing Kopley appreciates about wine — it fosters conversations.
“I love that it’s social, that some people collect it, some drink it, some are serious about it, and some just enjoy it,” she says. “Because it’s art, there’s a lot to talk about.”
With Roundwood Company, a local wood craftsman, Kopley specifically designed the bar so customers can interact more easily. It is made out of a rich Jarrah wood from Australia with a giant foxtail pine branch hanging overhead in a bit of a U shape.
Kopley’s learning curve about wine, though steep, was short. Kopley estimates that in her first year of business, from hosting winemaker events every weekend during the winter and summer, she tasted and spit up to 100 wines a week.
“My teeth were turning purple in the middle of the day,” she says. “But it was the best way possible to learn — to hear the winemaker’s story and the history of the vineyard while tasting the wine.”
Today, Kopley has a diverse portfolio of wine in her Squaw Valley store. The bottles range from $10 to $1,000, with an average price of $40 to $60. Uncorked also serves small cheese plates, almonds, and olives.
Between her three wine shops, which include two additional Uncorked locations in Tahoe City and Truckee and her Mediterranean restaurant at Northstar California resort called Petra, Kopley now has thousands of bottles of wine. (Her soup and sandwich shop at Squaw, Soupa, does not serve alcohol.) In 2010, two of Kopley’s customers, Debbie and Marc Metcalf, became her partners in Telos Wine (http://teloswine.com), the company that owns all five businesses. (Telos, ingeniously proposed by Metcalf, means “results” in Greek, the language of Kopley’s heritage.)
Although she always is learning, Kopley’s wine education has come a long way.
“I always say I was raised in Massachusetts,” she says, “but I have a far better understanding of the geography of California, and now Oregon, Washington, France, and any wine-growing region.”
Melissa Siig is much like Kali Kopley was before she opened her wine shops. She doesn’t know much about wine, but she loves to drink it. If given a choice, she goes with red.