Lexington native son returns home to run wine business

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LEXINGTON, N.C. — After their now 4-month-old son, Wyatt, was born, Lexington native Chris Briggs and his wife, Kristin, decided to leave New York City and return to Chris’ hometown to own and operate Tastings Wine and Beer.

The couple had heard over the past summer that the owners of the wine and beer shop at 312 E. Center St. – Ann Holbrooks, Gayle Burke, Sally Dodd, Kristie Miller and Sarah Smith – were interested in selling the business. Dodd’s daughter is married to Chris’ younger brother, Kyle.

“Just after he was born we seriously started considering it,” Kirstin said. “We really felt like we wanted to be closer to family and that Lexington would be a wonderful place to raise Wyatt.”

 “It’s nice to be home,” Chris said, adding that the couple also liked the idea of owning and operating their own business. “I’ve got two babies now.”

Chris, the son of Ginger Briggs and the late Dr. Gerald Briggs, is a 1987 graduate of Lexington Senior High and a 1991 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in English and drama.

He has lived in New York City for the past 18 years, pursuing a career in acting and also working for a robotics and special effects company there for 15 years.

While in New York, Chris, a member of Actor’s Equity, studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London one summer as well as Joseph Papp’s Public Theater of New York, which offers Shakespeare in the Park every summer.

But after 9/11 and the Great Recession, Chris said work in the arts was increasingly difficult to find.

“9/11 really had an effect on the arts in New York,” Chris said. “And then it was another big hit in 2008. It just wasn’t as lucrative as it once was.”

Kirstin, a corporate event planner in the city for the past 11 years, said she was also ready for a change of pace once Wyatt was born.

“I had a great job and I loved it,” she said. “But why go elsewhere and work for someone else again? If we wanted to bring Wyatt to work here, we could.”

Kirstin, a Pittsburgh native, graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with an English degree.

She met Chris when she was working on a project on electricity deregulation for public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, and the robotics and special effects company Chris worked for was involved in the project.

They were the main contacts for their respective companies and began a long-distance dating relationship after that.

“Then I got a job offer in New York on Madison Avenue, so it was a good career move, and we could date more easily,” she said.

The Briggses married in 2008. For their honeymoon, they toured wineries in the Finger Lakes region of New York. The following spring, they toured breweries in Dublin when they attended a friend’s wedding there. Living in New York, they’ve also had a lot of chances to try wines and beers from around the world.

“It’s one of those things that, as we’ve gotten older, we’ve enjoyed trying different styles of wine and beer,” Chris said.

While neither have worked in a retail setting like Tastings, they said their previous work experience gave them some business experience.

The Briggses said the Tastings owners, especially Holbrooks, who managed the shop, were a tremendous help in teaching them the business the first couple of weeks in January.

“We couldn’t have done it otherwise,” Kirstin said. “Ann’s so plugged into the community here. We see it’s so important to develop relationships with customers and the business community.”

Chris said Tastings will not change a lot from how it has been operated by the original owners since it opened in 2006.

“They’ve been very successful in what they’ve been doing,” he said. “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

The wine and beer shop will continue to offer tastings Thursday and Saturday evenings and sell wine by the glass for people interested in learning about new wines, he said.

“We want people to be as excited about wine as we are,” Chris said. “It’s like any hobby – you can get as much out of it as you want to put in.”

As an analogy, he noted that someone can be a baseball fan and enjoy attending games, but someone else might keep up with statistics and appreciate it on a different level.

Someone might know what they like to drink, and another wine aficionado might be interested in the terroir, the grapes, the vintage and the winemaker of different wineries.

“It’s really whatever level you want to participate in,” he said.

Chris said he’s also excited about the growing number of craft breweries in North Carolina and carrying some of those products as well as other labels that can’t be found in grocery stores.

Kirstin said, with her background in event planning, she would also like to continue the “tent tastings” with distributors in the parking lot on occasion and offer the shop as a place for small special events such as a bridal shower/wine tasting.

The shop’s website has not yet been updated, but they are using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to put the word out now as well as a blog, corksandpints.com.

People who want to be added to their emailed newsletter list can email the Briggses at info(at)tastingswine.com.

Kirstin said her in-laws and community members have been very receptive about their move to Lexington, and she already feels at home.

“I think we’ve really hit the jackpot,” Kirstin said. “Everyone has been so welcoming and so kind. Part of me can’t believe this is our job now, talking and joking with customers and having fun.”

Information from: The Dispatch, http://www.the-dispatch.com
Credit: The Associated Press.