Editor's note: This story has been updated to better reflect the business' lease agreement.
CASTLE ROCK — Christine Sten and James Edwards fell in love at over a glass of wine — and their shared plans to open a wine bar together.
This year the couple will celebrate the fourth anniversary of their marriage and the realization of their business dream.
“All of this is because two people went and fell in love. It’s a dream four years in the making,” Sten said as she stood in the front seating area of Wine Down Dog, the downtown Castle Rock wine bar set to open Thursday. (The couple hosted a soft opening of the shop July 18 through July 26).
The bar serves a rotating menu of about a dozen varieties of wine, including four wines on tap. Customers can purchase drinks by the glass, the bottle or as a flight of samplers.
Wine Down Dog will feature a Northwest winery each month, with tastings led by the winemakers themselves. The first featured winery is Toledo-based Bateaux Cellars. The tasting is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Aug. 22.
The bar also has a menu of “small bites,” such as roasted goat cheese and marinara, charcuterie and mixed olives and marcona almond bowls. Most of the food will be prepared by Edwards, a former sushi chef.
“We want people who come in to feel welcomed, relaxed and like they are being pampered,” Sten said.
Sten, 50, and Edwards, 52, originally planned to have a wine and dog bar, where patrons could bring their dogs into the shop with them. But with on-site food prep, the bar isn’t allowed to have dogs inside, Sten said.
“It was a difficult decision to make, but the community wanted food,” Sten said.
As a compromise, the wine bar will eventually add dog-friendly seating outdoors, Sten said. They also sell biologically appropriate dog treats from a raw dog bar in the back for dog owners to take home to their pups after a night out, she said.
In addition to traditional seating in the front, there’s a lounge area with couches and coffee tables near the back of the shop. Sten said she wants the lounge to feel like “a living room away from home,” where customers can come to “wine down” after a long day of work.
Customers have also shown interest in renting the space out for events like bridal showers or bachelorette parties, she said.
Sten said she first got interested in wine when she turned 21. She had her first glass of wine at a Snoqualmie Valley winery with her sister, and she’s been “exploring my palette” ever since.
She’s been known to force Edwards to “make a U-turn for wine” if she sees a sign for a tasting or a new winery she hasn’t tried, she said. He happily complies, she added, because he also has a long-held interest in wine.
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It was one of the major points the couple bonded over before getting married.
“The most successful marriages, in my experience, are when a couple is pals and they share a hobby they are passionate about,” she said. “We both want to deliver an amazing experience and share our passion for wine (with others).”
Sten and Edwards relocated their family to Castle Rock about 18 months ago. They were living in the Snoqualmie Valley when they decided to “get closer to our family and the small town roots,” said Sten, who grew up near the south fork of the Toutle River.
“We were just tired of the King County rat race,” she added.
As they drove through Castle Rock, the couple knew that their new town was the right place for the wine bar they’d always dreamed of opening.
“It’s just such a flooded market (in King County), and we wanted to be in a location where we could bring something new and differentiated,” Sten said. “In Castle Rock, we knew we would be able to give people locally a sample of everything the Northwest has to offer in wines without having to leave their hometown.”
Before even arriving at their new home to unpack, the family stopped downtown in their moving truck to check out a storefront with a for rent sign posted in the window.
However, they held off on leasing a space in the shop and opening the business until they could settle into their new house, Sten said. They spent their first year and a half as Castle Rock residents doing “market research” for the wine bar, asking local residents about their thoughts on adding such a business, Sten said.
“They told us they wanted food,” Sten said. “We heard from a lot of women that they were excited to have wine nearby. The men said ... it would be nice to have a date night spot.”
This spring Sten and Edwards decided they were ready to start their own business. In April they signed a lease with the Focus Art & Frames gallery at 41 Cowlitz Street to rent out half the building. The art gallery, which has been open since 2005, continues to operate out of the other half of the storefront.
Sten and Edwards also have jobs outside of their personal business. Sten works as the the vice president for sales and marketing for StaffingTec, a small staffing and recruiting company. Edwards works with Mobile Graphics Installation, a design company that creates and applies graphics for trucks, vans, buses and other vehicles.
“Our long-term vision for (Wine Down Dog) is to have it grow and flourish so we can step down from our corporate jobs ... and retire into the wine bar,” Sten said.
Like the idea for the wine bar, the shop’s name comes from back when Sten and Edwards first started dating. Though they don’t remember exactly who said it, they said it was a flirtatious retort made when the other one got “a little too frisky” one night.
“One of us turned to the other and said, ‘Wine down, dog,’ ” Sten said. “Then we locked eyes,” knowing that they’d found the perfect name for their future wine bar.
Wine Down Dog also fit the bill for a name because, as Edwards jokes, “who doesn’t love wine and dogs?”