q&a with kathi hays

One of the many things I love about this city is just how helpful people are and willing to share all sorts of information and useful advice. All you have to do is ask. Case in point is Western Reserve Wines. It’s one of the places I frequent for wine, and have been for the past two years. Every one is incredibly helpful, knowledgeable and I often leave learning something new. If you haven’t been, they are located in north Solon right next to Miles Farmer’s Market. They offer tastings every Saturday, too, which might make for a nice opportunity to check them out. 

1. What is your favorite restaurant in Cleveland? My very favorite restaurant is Chez Francois in Vermilion. The food and service are always excellent, and they have a great wine list! In Cleveland, there are so many wonderful choices now. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’m always impressed with the job Parallax does and I like the creativity of Momocho.

2. How did you get into wine? I’ve always had a passion for wine and felt a nice dinner was not complete unless accompanied by wine. Ten years ago, I left the optical industry to learn more about wine and pursue my dream of owning a wine store.

3. What is your favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts? I love Cleveland! Culturally you can’t beat it (unless you go to New York or Chicago). We have great restaurants, a beautiful lake and a Metropark system that surrounds the city. The only thing that may drives me nuts is the lack of sunshine.

4. What is the first thing you notice when you look at a restaurant’s wine list? If there are any decent wines by the glass or half bottles offered. What’s the best way to navigate a list and find something you like? Personally, I like to see a list organized by country; however, I think it would be more helpful for diners if restaurants would organize their lists by grape varietal.

5. With the holidays coming up and thus holiday parties, what’s a good red and good white to give as a gift? It really depends on who the gift is for and whether you want to give a wine for early consumption or for aging. If you’re not sure what the person likes, then I’d recommend something that is both food and people friendly, but has some uniqueness to it.

6. How do you properly cellar wine? If you’re not fortunate enough to have a wine cellar with both temperature and humidity controlled, the most important thing is to keep it in a dark place and at a consistent temperature, preferably 55-58 degrees.

7. Fail safe trick for removing red wine stains? Wine Away spray, red wine remover – it’s never failed!

8. You have to spend a lot of money to sample a really great wine – true or false? False

9. What book are you currently reading? Wine & War by Don & Petie Kladstrup, a great read for wine enthusiasts and history buffs.

10. What’s one thing about wine people would be surprised to learn? That it has many health benefits.

11. Screw top or cork, do you have a preference and does it make a difference? I believe the age worthy wines still need the natural, breathable cork to aid in the maturing process. Screw tops are good for wines meant to be drank young because you don’t have to worry about getting a “corked” bottle of wine.

12. Best wine you’ve ever sampled? How did you discover it? It was a red Burgundy, with some age on it that I shared with some co-workers. I wasn’t in the business then so I don’t remember the producer, the appellation or the vintage, but it was definitely one of those life changing experiences that drove me to where I am today.

13. If you weren’t selling wine, what would you be doing? Traveling!

14. What’s the best way to learn more about wine and discover new varietals? You never know a wine until you taste it. We have a very aggressive wine tasting program here at Western Reserve Wines (every Saturday).

15. Last meal on Earth? Joe’s stone crab claws in South Beach served with a good Champagne.

16. Favorite wine pairing? Why does this go so well together? Pinot Noir with duck is one of my favorites. The gaminess of the duck needs a terroir driven wine like a French Pinot from Burgundy, and the acidity cuts through the richness of the meat.

17. Which wineries are must-visits? Any local favorites? I’d recommend visiting wineries that make your favorite wines. You’ll never truly understand a wine until you walk in the soils where the grapes grow, talk with the wine makers, and enjoy with the regional foods. As for a local favorite, I like the atmosphere and wine maker of Harpersfield.

18. Which local restaurant(s) features an impressive wine list? Many could learn from Chez Francois.

19. When a waiter places the cork in front of you and pours a small amount of wine into the glass, what should your next step be? Check to insure the cork is wet on the end, swirl the wine, smell, then taste. Don’t be afraid to refuse it, if it’s corked.

20. Why should someone visit Western Reserve Wines? We have one of the best selections of domestic and international wines you’ll find (priced to meet any budget), a knowledgeable, friendly staff that will offer expert recommendations on food and wine pairings, ongoing wine tastings, a large selection of Riedel Crystal, a Wine of the Month Club and a convenient location .


  1. steve
    Posted November 24, 2009 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Hi Michelle, Thank you for this interview with my friend Kathi. I’ve known her and her husband for a few years now, in the store and in our wine and dinner group with some other couples. She has one of the nicest stores in our area, with a fairly comprehensive selection of the wines that are available here. She is always helpfull with suggestions for wine pairings to go with specific food dishes. And she runs an interesting tasting program, which is a great way to find out what you like winewise.

  2. Posted November 24, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    I love this place! Very helpful and I love how they track your purchases. You can go back in a year and ask what you’ve previously bought to go with a certain dinner. One of the Saturday tastings they do is a 12 under $12 (“We taste the bad ones, so you don’t have to.”). I think they have that one Saturday every other month.

  3. Posted November 25, 2009 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    I think knowing how to talk about wine is like speaking another language, but a relatively easy one, like Italian or Spanish.

  4. Mara
    Posted November 28, 2009 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Just voted. Rock the Vote! Hey Michelle, just ate at Baricelli and had their Bucatini – awesome. You mentioned that was similar to how your grandmother made it. Off topic but can you pretty pretty post that recipe for the sauce? I would LOVE to try it at home.