When Damien Carney moved with his family from Berkeley to Petaluma in 2019, he found warmer weather, friendly people and a shorter commute to his office in Novato. The only thing missing, he said, was easy access to the kind of wines he loves to drink and is most passionate about — ethically farmed selections from small European producers, made with minimal intervention in the cellar.
While most people would simply order their desired wines online or make the drive to San Francisco or the East Bay for a wider selection, Carney decided to open a wine shop in Petaluma. The idea wasn’t as crazy as it may sound; the ambitious 43-year-old spent years as a sales director and portfolio manager for wine importers in New York and California before taking the plunge.
Avinage (pronounced “ah-vi-nahj”) welcomed the first customers to its bright, open Petaluma Boulevard storefront — just a cork’s throw away from the Mystic Theatre — in late April. The shop is now open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., staffed by Carney with help from his wife, Shree Starkman.
Avinage carries around 250 bottles at any given time, with an emphasis on wines from France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and California, including selections from Sonoma County’s Scribe, Cobb Wines and Pax. Because Carney handpicks all of the wines for the store, he knows the stories behind each bottle.
“We have esoteric stuff, not wines you can find in grocery stores or bottles that you see everywhere,” said Carney, a French wine specialist. “Our focus is on small-production wines from family-owned producers and small importers. People that make wine on a human, not industrial, scale.”
One of Avinage’s best features is the “Table of No Regrets,” set smack in the middle of the store, with dozens of under-the-radar wines priced at $25 or less. The idea, said Carney, is to encourage customers to try new producers and varieties without spending a fortune.
“Everything on that table is some of the best wine you’re going to find under 25 bucks,” he said. “We want this to be a welcoming place for people who don’t want to spend a lot of money, and people who want to buy fine Burgundy. We want to be inviting to everyone.” That especially includes women, he added, and people across the gender spectrum.
In conceptualizing Avinage, Carney took inspiration from the caves à manger of Paris — casual shops where people can purchase a bottle of wine and then have it opened on the spot to enjoy with simple, deli-style snacks like cheeses and olives.
“I don’t want to be a wine bar or a restaurant, but I do want people to drink wine here and experience it,” he said. “I want this to be place of community and do fun things around wine.”
Retail sales are in full swing, but other elements of Carney’s vision are still in the planning phase. He expects to add specialty foods by early June, followed by in-store tastings in the next couple of months. By fall, if all goes well with licensing and permits, Avinage will begin offering wine classes and hosting casual events in the shop’s mezzanine-level lounge.
Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. 15 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, 707-774-6080, avinagewines.com