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The food and wine experience

From living in a metal trailer to retiring from Microsoft and opening the Hood River Wine Bar, Danielle McCune’s life has been as rich and varied as her selection of beverages.

In fact, life and wine have been entwined as long as McCune can remember.

Growing up, she never saw wine as a rite of adulthood. To her, it was much more than that.

“My parents taught us all about wine,” said McCune. “To us it was like life — something that was appreciated and respected.”

But would her passion be appreciated by others in the Hood River Valley? McCune admitted that when she opened her bar in May 2001 there were some who thought the venture was somewhat “on edge” for the community.

Even if it was, it certainly didn’t put a damper on business.

“We’ve done beautifully,” said McCune. “Since we’ve been here, we’ve found that it’s okay to get outrageous, creative and elegant.”

And there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation.

“Hood River is attracting people from all kinds of very interesting backgrounds,” said McCune. “They love the outdoors and things of the earth, and wine comes from the earth.”

Think “earthy,” and Beverly Hills doesn’t exactly come to mind. But that’s where McCune grew up. Though her parents were well-off, Danielle showed an early independent streak and a sense of self-determination, paying her own rent in high school. She went on to study anthropology at UC San Diego, then transferred to Cal Poly Pomona to major in zoology.

She found success in Los Angeles as an assistant to a real estate investment banking broker, but she didn’t care for the area’s “plastic society” atmosphere.

After selling and giving away most of her possessions, McCune blazed a trail to Washington, living in a metal trailer attached to a $400 car that could only be entered through the windows, with no working wipers.

She worked for $6 per hour as secretary to a Tumwater city attorney, but used her experience with computers and database programming to jump from job to job until she landed a position at Microsoft.

She worked there for five years, becoming one of five lead testers for the company’s Outlook e-mail program. She met David, a builder on the Windows team, and they were married in 1998, retiring from the company in 1999. After leaving Redmond, Wash., the Gorge was their obvious destination. McCune had only seen the area once, but once was enough.

“I fell in love with Hood River because it was so incredibly beautiful,” she said. “I had to be here.”

The McCunes bought 10 acres of land in Husum, and after taking a couple years off to grow their own food and recuperate from hard work at Microsoft, they decided to open up wine bar.

“We felt Hood River was on the verge of something,” said McCune.

If the bar didn’t push the town over the verge, it at least eased it closer to the edge.

“We’re all about providing education,” said McCune. “We don’t sell wine — we sell experiences.”

Inside the establishment’s woody interior, rows of bottles gave off muted glow, and black leather couches were arranged adjacent to the bar, halfway between the storefront and the brick wall in back. A James Taylor album played unobtrusively in the background.

“This place is an extension of our home,” said McCune. “We entertain as if this is our satellite living room. We know people by name and treat them like friends.”

The McCunes go out of their way to stock customers’ favorite wines, and Danielle is happy to recommend a vintage from the bar’s stock of around 200 wine labels. Right now she’s trying to expand the selection at both the low and high ends, and stock more rare varieties.

“I know my wine,” she said. “I want to facilitate heartwarming experiences with family and friends.”

There are 40 wines available at the tasting bar, kept fresh with argon gas that prevents oxidation. Portions of the bar’s selection change each week.

Tasting bar customers can select from six “tasting groups” that cost between $7-9, most of which contain five samples of unusual and premium Northwest wines. Customers are also free to order wine by the glass or bottle.

The bar also offers and ample selection of appetizers and desserts, as well as coffee, juice, beer and soda. Dinner is available, carried over on a platter from the nearby North Oak Brasserie.

Until recently, the business was called the Hood River Internet and Wine Bar, but McCune doesn’t promote a traditional Internet cafe atmosphere and didn’t consider the name to be appropriate. The bar has two computer workstations with high-speed wireless Internet access and a full set of Microsoft programs. They’re situated at large mahogany desks that afford privacy.

“Despite what many locals tell me about staying away from downtown, they’ve been coming in every week, and I tease them about it,” said McCune, who said the bar’s clientele is split down the middle between locals and out-of-towners.

McCune said she feels a certain kinship with establishments like Brian’s Pourhouse, 6th Street Bistro and Abruzzo Italian Grill.

“We’re part of a new movement that emphasizes quality of food and experience,” she said. “At the wine bar, young people come in shorts and tank tops to experience fabulous wine, board games and books — it’s like a home away from home.”

Two or three years in the future, McCune plans to turn the downstairs storage area into a higher-end area with a smaller bar and wine lockers. Customers would be able to store their own wine for a membership fee, and would be provided with equipment and supplies. Cigars would also be available, though probably not to smoke on the premises.

For the moment, McCune is plenty busy with the bar and her new Olive Tapenade Spread, which will be manufactured in The Dalles, bottled in Hillsboro and sold in specialty shops and eventually grocery stores.

McCune is also a stress coach (visit www.stress-coach.com for more information), starting her own program called “Matters of the Heart.” In a few years, McCune hopes to use a portion of her wine bar profits to fund programs in schools teaching children how to reduce anger, manage stress and deal with challenging situations.

McCune has a simple philosophy when it comes to handling the complications life throws at her.

“If I don’t like something, I change it,” she said.

There’s not a lot she’d change about her experience with the wine bar.

“I’m doing what I love,” said McCune. “I really enjoy people, and I want folks to come relax and enjoy themselves.”

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The Hood River Wine Bar is open Monday through Thursday from 4-11:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 2-11:30 p.m., and Sunday from 2-8 p.m. It is located at 106 3rd Street in downtown Hood River. For more more information, visit:

www.thewinebar.com

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