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Sunset and Vine: Sharon Crisman celebrates 10 years of business in 2023

Sharon Crisman, a marketing professional, purchased Christopher’s Wine and
Cheese in 2013. She said she didn’t know anything about wine at the time, but has enjoyed
learning the industry, developing her own taste for wine, and forming friendships with customers
over the years. She renamed the shop to Sunset & Vine in 2017, moved to a new building and
expanded the business. Photo by Jan Todd

By Jan Todd

A customer walked into Sunset and Vine wine shop in Blowing Rock. One of the shop’s
associates, Amy Lea, asked if she could help the customer.

“My book club meets tonight. We read ‘The Paris Library,’ so I want to take a bottle of French
wine. Something under $20,” the customer replied.

“Red or white?” Lea asked.

“Let’s go with red,” the customer answered.

Lea led her over to a rack and pulled out a bottle of Domaine de la Cotes du Rhone. “This is one
of my favorites,” Lea told the customer. She added, “French wines can be confusing to buy,
because the label indicates the region, instead of the type of grape. This one is a blend, with
mostly Grenache and Syrah.”

Lea then walked the customer over to a framed map of France, one of several posters on display,
depicting major wine regions. She pointed out the area along the Rhone River, from central
France heading toward the Mediterranean Sea. “This is where the grapes were grown for the
wine,” she said.

Sharon Crisman, owner of Sunset and Vine, said Lea’s sales method perfectly represented her
vision for her business.

The customer purchased the bottle and left, satisfied.

Sharon Chrisman, owner of Sunset & Vine in Blowing Rock, discusses a purchase with a customer. Photo by Jan Todd

“I want the shop to be comfortable, easy going and not stuffy,” Crisman explained. “Before I
came into the wine world, I was intimidated to buy wine from a wine shop. I’m just a regular
person with regular tastes, and I know most people are like that. They just want to share a bottle
with friends and have fun — with a wine that tastes good and isn’t terribly expensive.”

It is important to Crisman that her customers feel wine in the shop is accessible. “We want the
shop to be a place people can come in, experiment with new wines and enjoy themselves without
worrying about what to say or about using the right wine vocabulary,” she said.

While Sunset and Vine does stock many fine wines for aficionados, the majority of sales are
bottles priced under $25.

Since moving to its current location in 2017, Sunset & Vine has a spacious inventory
area for wine and gifts, plus room for customers to relax and enjoy one another’s company along
with a glass of wine. Photo by Jan Todd

“We try to find bottles that are very tasty for the price,” Crisman said.
“We offer wine by the glass and flights for tasting so people can try new selections. We change
the tasting menu every few days, and most of the wines offered are priced under $20 for a

On a busy weekend, it is common to find Sunset and Vine filled to the brim with customers,
seated at tables, lounging on the leather couches and relaxing on the wide front porch, all
chatting over a glass of grape.

Sunset & Vine in Blowing Rock is known for its welcoming atmosphere.
Customers are invited in to sample wine by the glass, flight or bottle, and relax in the shop on the
comfy couches, bistro tables or porch. Photo by Jan Todd

“This is a place where people meet each other. They come in for a tasting and strike up a
conversation, or come in for a seminar or event. I’ve watched friendships form and grow, which
has been really special,” Crisman shared.

Crisman came to Blowing Rock ten years ago, when she moved to the area from eastern North
Carolina to be close to her family in Hickory. She grew up in a “little place called Cat Square,”
she said, “where they have a great Christmas parade.” She earned a marketing degree from
Western Carolina University, and an MBA from East Carolina University.

She began her career with Hearst Corporation in Charlotte, then moved to Greenville where she
continued working in marketing for about 15 years. When she decided to relocate to the High
Country, Crisman said she was looking for a position in marketing and saw Christopher’s Wine
& Cheese shop was for sale in Blowing Rock.

“I drank wine, but I can’t say I had a love or interest for it,” Crisman said. “I’d go to the grocery
store and buy an inexpensive Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay. If it was $10, that would be too much
for me.”

Still, the thought of buying the wine shop intrigued her. “I thought I could either do what I’d
always done and work in a traditional marketing job — or I could stick my neck out and try
something new. I figured I could handle the business and marketing side, and just learn about
wine,” she shared.

A display of rose wine at Sunset & Vine beckons customers to browse and
learn about the different selections. Rose has grown in popularity in recent years, said Sharon
Chrisman, owner of the shop. People particularly like to “drink pink” in warmer months. In the
background, maps on the wall depict major wine regions — an educational element that helps
make the wine industry approachable in the shop. Photo by Jan Todd

When she purchased the shop, Crisman said she was introduced to a world she had never known.
The previous owner of the shop stayed on for a month to help her learn the business, and she
pored over the internet, books and articles to understand the various aspects of the industry.

“Every time a customer came in and asked me something I didn’t know — which was often in
those early days — I would look it up, because I didn’t want to not know the next time,”
Crisman said. “I was constantly reading and talking to distributors and winemakers, asking them

She discovered a love for the industry and for wine. “Once you get into it, you want to learn
more,” she said. “You can start to see differences and taste differences in the wines, and it is
really interesting.”

Her father was a farmer, and Crisman said she found the agriculture element in wine — the soil
components, rain levels, microclimates, timing of frosts — fascinating. “My dad raised apples,
peaches and pears, so I could understand the differences in a crop year and some of the variations
that growers deal with. You can taste it in the final product,” she said.

Crisman kept the original shop’s name for four years, then decide to rebrand it to make it her
own. She held a contest to determine the new name, and one of her regular customers, Ellen
Bray, came up with Sunset & Vine — a playful tribute to the iconic Los Angeles intersection,
while perfectly describing the wine shop’s location and business on Blowing Rock’s Sunset
Drive. Another customer added the tag line, “Wine with Altitude.”

In early 2017, Crisman purchased a new building down the street and expanded her business into
a much larger space. She enlarged the tasting area, incorporating more tables as well as
comfortable couches and chairs, added to the wine inventory and brought in more gift items to
sell. The shop also has an event space in the back, which seats up to 40 people.

An event space in the back of Sunset & Vine seats up to 40 people, and is
used for seminars, tastings and other shop events. The space is also rented out for private parties,
meetings and special occasions. Photo by Jan Todd

Regularly scheduled seminars and tastings are held in the event room once or twice a month, and
Crisman rents out the space for private events such as club meetings, parties and catered dinners.

The monthly seminars, usually hosted by distributors, winemakers or winery representatives,
provide customers the opportunity to taste and learn. Some of the tastings incorporate themes,
such as wines for Thanksgiving, blend your own wine, or masked wines in which customers try
to identify the grapes or origins.

A large portion of Sunset & Vine is devoted to tables, chairs and couches —
inviting customers to sit a spell. Various wines are offered on a daily basis for customers to order
by the glass or to taste several with a flight. An everchanging menu allows customers to try new
wines and develop new favorites. Photo by Jan Todd

“The seminars are lots of fun, very boisterous,” Crisman said. “They are a place for people to
have a good time and learn a little about wine.”

Crisman said her tastes have evolved since purchasing the shop. “The first wine I thought was
something really special was a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with bright grapefruit flavor. I
thought it was the best wine ever! But now my tastes have shifted again. I used to prefer big
fruity wines, but now lean toward the Old World wines that are earthier, more muted in flavor,”
she said.

“Old World” and “New World” describe wines from different regions of the world. Countries
such as France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Portugal (Old World) were early influences in the
wine world — producing the grapes, winemakers, traditions and techniques that defined the

Old World wines typically have lighter body, lower alcohol content and a less fruity flavor than
their New World counterparts. Countries in the Americas, Australia, South Africa and New
Zealand are considered “New World” in wine traditions, where winemakers put new spins on
customary procedures — either to adapt to different growing conditions or simply to be creative.

“I appreciate every varietal, though there are particular ones I prefer,” Crisman said. “It’s just the
palate of the day. The taste of the wine is enhanced by what you’re eating, but also by who
you’re with, where you are. It is all about the experience and what’s going on, how you feel at
the time. Wine is a very social tool, an expression of the moment.”

Crisman loves interacting with her clientele. “We get to know one another. We learn what they
like, and we are able to give recommendations for new wines to try. It’s like a puzzle, trying to
figure out what a customer prefers and the best wine match for an occasion, or what we can give
them that is different,” she said.

“I have the best customers,” Crisman said. “They’re like family. We socialize after work and they
have helped me out on so many occasions, jumping in to clear tables when we’re swamped or
doing whatever needs to be done.”

When she relocated the shop, Crisman said a group of customers showed up to lend a helping
hand. “I had planned to close down for three days to move everything and set up. But all these
people showed up that morning, started moving inventory and stocking shelves, and we were
open that afternoon. It still warms my heart to think about it,” she said.

Out-of-town visitors also frequent the shop, and Crisman enjoys getting to know them and their
tastes in wine. “I know they’re going to come by whenever they are in the area,” she said. “Folks
walk in and say, ‘I just got to town, and this is my first stop.’”

Sunset and Vine is located at 150 Sunset Drive, Blowing Rock. Open seven days a week.