How did a farm girl from Kuttawa, Ken., (pop. 600-ish) end up owning a wine, beer and gourmet food shop in Mobile? Partly by loving people, and partly by watching other businesses make mistakes. Oh, and partly by stocking a primo selection of potables — but I’ll get to them in a minute.
Deb Domke (with able assistance from husband, Phil) opened the Domke Market on June 1, 2012, leveraging her background in marketing and management to achieve her dream of running her own successful business. Emphasis on “successful.” She spent 20 years writing business and marketing plans for other people, and in mid-2012 it was her turn at the helm.
She must’ve been paying attention, because you’ll be hard-pressed to find more goodies packed into 1,000 square feet of retail space, particularly in West Mobile. And may I pause here to make a short plea for more entrepreneurs to locate west of the city limits? Your future customers are there, waiting (and waiting) for places to shop and eat — ones not entailing a long slog east on I-10 or Death by a Thousand Stoplights on Airport Boulevard. These folks have decent incomes and nice houses, from which they shop on-line.
Domke Market is an oasis in this parched land beyond the pale, sourcing wines from Alabama to Australia, California to Croatia and, of course, Germany, France and Italy. Deb made a conscious choice to set up shop in West Mobile, and has an appreciative and loyal clientele who visit her regularly at the corner of Dawes and Cottage Hill roads. During its short life, the Market has stocked more than 800 different wines — quite often in response to customers’ requests.
Possibly the most important fact about Domke Market’s wines is that Deb tastes every one. She likes nothing more than helping customers discover new wines — and you can’t do that unless you know how they taste. Deb says she wants shoppers to feel welcome, not intimidated. It might be easy to anonymously wander a grocery store’s wine aisle and grab a bottle — but will you enjoy it? Why risk wasting money?
With some quick questions, Deb can guide you to a light white for poolside or a robust red for candlelight — without passing judgment. Deb and I may disagree on wine sometimes (she never realized before opening her shop “how different every single person’s palate is”), but we agree that a “good wine” is one you enjoy; period.
The Domkes have traveled through Napa (they’re going back in July), where Deb’s enthusiasm for family-run wineries echoes her own childhood on a Kentucky farm. She says she’s fascinated by the agricultural aspects of winemaking — where to plant, when to pick — as well as by each family member’s role in the process, which she’d never really considered until seeing them in play. Visiting Napa’s small-production wineries has shown Deb “every bottle is really, truly a work of art.”
In its beer corner, Domke Market focuses on craft and microbrews, but also carries some larger European brands like Chimay and Smithwick’s. The Market has stocked more than 200 ever-changing brews during the past two years.
Alabama’s own Backforty Brewing Company and Blue Pants Brewery are on prominent display right now, alongside Sweetwater (Georgia) and Abita (Louisiana). You can buy a standard six-pack or mix your own, or buy just a single beer to try — a concept that has spared both my wallet and my liver.
Now you know I don’t write about food, but if you’re wondering what tasty treats to pair with your adult beverages then Deb can answer those questions, too. Once again, her love of small producers making high-quality consumables shows—and her shelves are packed. There are chips, dips, sauces, marinades, rubs, crackers, cheeses, spices, salsas, olive oils, vinegars, beer-bread mix and killer chocolate, just for starters. Brands include Fly By South, Captain Rodney’s, Sweet Home Farm and B.R. Cohn — and Deb knows all their back-stories (she tastes the edibles, too, and usually knows their makers).
Did I mention Domke Market hosts free wine and beer tastings nearly every week of the year? Yes, the operative word there was “free.” Dates vary, so take a look at Domke’s Facebook page, but there generally will be a Wine Wednesday twice a month with free tastings from a featured vineyard. These wine events were originally Women’s Wine Wednesdays, but then men started demanding equal rights — or simply showing up — so now Wine Wednesdays are free for everybody. (Men — what a bunch! You’ll pretend you don’t like wine until you learn it’s free.)
Domke also hosts tutored wine tastings requiring tickets, but they’re never pricey — usually $10 — and always offer more than you expect; like food for firsthand pairing. You’ll get knowledgeable insight into featured wines, sometimes from the winemakers themselves. I’ve attended several tutored tastings and been consistently impressed by the wines’ quality and the presenters’ expertise.
Beer tastings can pop up almost any time and are usually less formal, but still a great way to learn about styles and take home brews you’ll actually want to drink, not slip quietly into your neighbor’s cooler at his next cookout.
On June 20, Domke Market will host its next tutored tasting — featuring St. Supéry from Rutherford (Napa Valley), Calif. This family-owned winery bottles three “tiers” of wine to satisfy varying tastes. Tier one is their Napa Valley Estate label, with fruit-forward flavors featuring Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato and un-oaked Chardonnay. Next come their Bordeaux Estate Blends, followed by their Single-Vineyard Estate labels. “Wine Advocate,” “Wine Enthusiast” and “Wine Spectator” have given 90-point and higher scores to the Bordeaux Estate and Single-Vineyard Estate wines — and while you may have your favorite critic, I’m betting all three can’t be wrong.
Deb says her future hope is to expand Domke Market into a larger location — but still in West Mobile. Her customers are loyal to her and she promises to return the favor. Cheers to more years!