Alison Raymond says Bouteille Wine & Gift Merchants, LLC, which she co-owns with Marilyn “Em” Harris, was born out of her love of the grape and everything related to it.
Raymond says, “ The Claremont community has much to offer visitors and is definitely an up and coming area to visit. The energy of the shopkeepers and city leadership is evident, and one of the primary reasons we decided it was the perfect time to invest and become part of the next phase of growth that is developing here.
Bouteille, Boo.tay (the French word for Bottle) opened its doors on Opera House Square in November 2014, originating from a business plan Raymond initiated about four years ago, and then put aside as the timing was not right for she and her family.
“Design, staging, shopping, community, and socializing have always been passions of mine Harris says, so “when Alison broached the idea for a wine and gift shop, I was immediately intrigued by the boutique gift side of the business, and the opportunities it could provide. I’m a creative soul by nature and having recently retired from a long career in electric utility management this seemed the perfect match for my passions. We both felt the time was right for Claremont and along with positive vibes from the community and tremendous support from our prospective landlords Tony Zullo and Andy Dauphin, we set about setting up shop. Soon we were well on our way to supporting a community moving in the right direction and the revitalization of downtown Claremont.”
Raymond and Harris both Claremont residents, have lived in the area for many years, raising their families and actively supporting the community. What began as a high school friendship, as classmates in Windsor, Vermont continued on after college and has blossomed into a solid partnership. Harris says. “It’s working out very well. We are both collaborative by nature and our different personality traits and styles complement each other.”
Harris says she primarily concentrates on the staging and creative layout of the store while Raymond focuses on the review and purchase of the varietal wines. However, both sample all incoming wine selections in order to bring firsthand knowledge and experience to the customer. “Someone has to do it”, jokes Raymond.
Harris says they consider their store a cooperative business, relying on the support of family, friends and community for help in everything from planning and development to shop referrals; as well as incorporating customer suggestions into their business.
“The atmosphere here is phenomenal – it’s collaborative and positive,” Harris says. “Small businesses have to support one another to be successful, and we work very hard to make our store viable and successful, while at the same time supporting other local businesses.”
At Bouteille there is a focus on the inclusion of both local and sustainable products based on availability. The two thousand foot square shop carries a wide variety of unique products ranging in cost from five to five hundred dollars. Specialty food items include award-winning cheeses, meats and crackers from Vermont Farmstead, North Country Smokehouse and Jasper Hill Farms among others; locally-made maple syrup products, six varieties of jam and jellies including an amazing hot pepper option, Ruth’s Hot and Sweet Mustards and a full array of Halladay’s soup mixes, marinades, dips and dipping blends. A recent trip to a wholesale show in Maine yielded several new products including all natural barbecue sauces, Ass over Teakettle Bloody Mary mix, organic coffee and granola, along with mouth-watering salted caramel and hot fudge choices. Specialty food options are abundant in the store all of which have been pre-tasted and recommended by the owners and or their customers.
Unique gifts for the mind and body including the popular beeline all natural body care products recently featured on the Today show, and handcrafted by a retired chemist from Henniker, NH who grew up in Claremont are featured in a bee centric section of the store. Other items found throughout the tin ceilinged and hardwood floor store include custom-created copper, silver and costume jewelry; a full line of April Cornell linens and tableware, Revol dishware from France, Mosey handbags by Baggallini and a variety of wedding and birthday gift, wrapping and card selections.
The eclectic store also carries a variety of craft beers not common to grocery and convenience stores; stone and wood crafted products, along with silverwood trees crafted by artisan Randy Adams, whose work hangs in various venues throughout NH including the airport in Manchester.
One of the most popular purchases at Bouteille is their line of pure olive oils and vinegars, which are bottled in the store. They believe they have the market on the Rosemary Jalapeno variety, which originated as a mistake and has become one of the most popular choices among regulars who enjoy a small discount for bottle returns.
One of Harris’s goals was to have fun items in the store that allowed customer’s to laugh and enjoy themselves, and every time she hears someone chuckle at a clever cocktail napkin, card or coaster quote, she smiles and takes pleasure in achieving that goal.
During the process of opening the store, both Raymond and Harris lost a parent. Despite this they were able to incorporate special memories into something beautiful at their store.
“It slowed us down a bit. But the beautiful thing about it was when we were cleaning out their homes we were able to incorporate some of the lovely antique pieces that belonged to our parents into our store, and display them prominently. It gives the store a nice touch,” Raymond says.
“We are allows trying new wines to introduce to our customers; and I love learning about everything from the varietal to the region it originates from. I am also grateful to the distributors who so willingly share their knowledge and experience with us” she says. “You can learn something new every day by just looking at a bottle of wine – it’s been a fun adventure.”
Bouteille features wines from several continents including Europe, Australia, South America, Africa, California and the Pacific Northwest. They recently partnered with LaBelle Winery in Amherst, NH to offer some local option varieties not carried in the state or grocery stores.
“We buy boutique wines, ones that are not necessarily offered in the state and grocery stores. This gives our customers the opportunity to experience unique wines they may not find elsewhere. – So it’s kind of an adventure for both the wine amateur and enthusiast coming to our shop,” Raymond says.
Bouteille offers may special events options and has successfully hosted both business and private events in their shop including partnering locally with New England Spice & Dry Goods and the New Socials restaurant in Claremont for a progressive wine and dinner event. Weekly wine tastings centered at the antique country store counter gifted by the pair’s landlords and customized with a glass top from Claremont Glassworks whose owner is the husband of Alison Raymond are standard. The public tastings are typically scheduled on Friday evening or Saturday afternoons, and include a food pairing of items sold in the store. Wine distributors and reps are frequent hosts of these events.
In addition, they offer Sip and Paint classes twice monthly, with led by an instructor who assists customers in paint on canvas, slate, flowerpots or wine glasses.
To participate, you can call the shop and reserve your space. [social media link here]
Focused customer service is top priority at Bouteille whether you are shopping for a fun or uniquely personal gift. Achieving a highly satisfied customer is one of the most gratifying experiences say both Harris and Raymond. “Introducing wine to a friend who in 30 years had never found a selection to their liking, and having them be so satisfied with their purchase they bought multiple bottles was personally satisfying to me”, Harris shared. This work is extremely rewarding. It’s exciting to go to work and help people pick out a bottle of wine or a special gift. The atmosphere is lovely and it’s a pleasure to have this finally come to fruition,” Raymond says.