Two master sommeliers at Boulder Wine Merchant pass the torch, and shop, to another

Over the past few years, Boulder has become rife with wine educators, serving as the home for a high percentage of the country's few master sommeliers.

And that is, in large part, due to Wayne Belding and Sally Mohr, owners of the Boulder Wine Merchant, 2690 Broadway, and among the first Americans to receive the Master Sommelier Certification. Their shop is renowned for its knowledgeable staff and shelves stocked with wines not easily available elsewhere.

But now, they're passing the torch. Boulder native Brett Zimmerman, another area master sommelier who has spent the last three years of his career as an expert and sales representative for Domaine Select, purchased the Boulder Wine Merchant with his wife, Jen, an attorney.

Belding and Mohr have owned the Boulder Wine Merchant since 1986, when they were still pursuing the top wine honor. In 1990, Belding became the thirteenth American to receive the Master Sommelier Certification; in 1995, Mohr became the second woman in the United States to do so.

The duo became local resources for restaurants and young sommeliers. Mohr consulted with several area restaurants, including Restaurant Kevin Taylor, which earned a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence with her help. Belding became chairman of the Court of Master Sommelier's education efforts, shaping the resources that future sommeliers would use for tests.

And the pair poured that knowledge into their shop, selecting employees via a rigorous wine knowledge test and then training other future masters and sommelier-certification-hopefuls by providing resources and conducting staff tastings.

The Zimmermans hope to preserve and broaden the knowledgeable reputation the Merchant has culled.

"We're going to integrate the staff more into what's going on," Brett says. "I want them to cultivate their own clientele, just like they would in a restaurant."

Maybe that's because Brett comes from restaurants. Before working with Domaine Select (and Southern Wine and Spirits before that), he was a sommelier at several restaurants around the country, including Charlie Trotter's in Chicago and Aqua in San Francisco. And he co-owned Boulder's Mateo from 2001-2006.

The Zimmermans will also gradually bring their own look to the store, moving it toward an elegantly earthy feel. But they'll do it slowly, starting with just a new logo and music in the now silent shop.

"We're mostly interested in maintaining the quality of the inventory and focusing on expanding the front of the house [restaurant] type of approach to customer service right now," notes Brett. "This is an area of town where people spend a lot of time, drinking coffee, eating at restaurants and buying groceries. I want to integrate into the community."

The new owner also says he'll focus on bringing in a craft line of spirits and beers in addition to new wines.

Before easing into retirement, Mohr and Belding will help ease the transition. And Brett speculates that Belding will continue to be active with the Court's board of directors.

The sale will be final on Friday morning, when the shop will open with the Zimmermans at the helm.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk