Wine Bar Offers 'Flights' at BWI

A new place to drink between flights has landed at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport: Vino Volo, a wine bar billed as the ideal sit-down place for a pick-me-up.

Located inside the Southwest Airlines terminal on Concourse A, Vino Volo opened to passengers this month and was promptly swarmed, according to Patrick Walsh, vice president of BAA Maryland.

"Airports are not all burgers and fries and pizza anymore," said Mr. Walsh, whose company manages airport concessions. "People who travel these days have some disposable income and are not averse to spending it at places like Vino Volo to have a really good time."

The wine bar is filled with comfortable places to sit down, ranging from low coffee tables to intimate booths to the obligatory bar counter. Bottles of wine are dislayed in lighted wall alcoves.

"I've seen this kind of thing in Europe but not here," said David Roos, a traveler from New York who stopped by the BWI Vino Volo last week while waiting for a flight home to Albany.

"I was walking along, looking for a place to have a beer and I found this. It was just a very pleasant surprise."

More than 20 wines from around the globe are on Vino Volo's menu, including Pinot Grigio from Austria, Shiraz from Australia and Chardonnay from Sonoma Valley in California.

But casual drinkers shouldn't be intimidated by fancy names - Vino Volo wants to accommodate them as much as the connoisseurs, CEO Doug Tomlinson said.

"You shouldn't have to take a class to appreciate great wine," said Mr. Tomlinson, who spent part of last week sidling up to patrons and introducing himself as they entered the BWI wine bar.

"We create a small list of only the finest wines and arrange them into groups that ... make them easy to try without committing to a whole bottle."

Each group is called a "tasting flight," continuing Vino Volo's airport theme. Vino Volo itself is derived from the Italian words for "wine flight" and travelers can buy bottles of wine to carry with them on their planes.

Since Vino Volo is located past all security checkpoints, the recent ban on carry-on liquids doesn't apply, Mr. Tomlinson said.

The menu also boasts a slew of small dishes designed to accompany wines: cheese plates with fruit, cured meats, salmon rolls and steak skewers. The food ranges from $5 to $12 while the wines themselves cost anywhere from $6 to $14 per glass. Full bottles go from $16 to $135, with a $12 fee for patrons who want it served on-site.

Mr. Walsh said the prices are not inflated despite the premium cost of leasing airport space.

"Here at BWI, we have a street-pricing policy," he said. "What that means is that retailers and restaurant purveyors here must certify to BAA that their prices ... cannot be more than comparable off-site locations."

Given Vino Volo's emphasis on upscale decor and service, a good comparison for their wine and food prices would be the prices inside any Inner Harbor restaurant, Mr. Tomlinson said. "It's easy for us to be at market price."

Based in California, Vino Volo has locations at three other airports across the country: Dulles International Airport in Virginia, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington state and Sacramento International Airport in the chain's home state. More expansions are on the way, with a Vino Volo slated to open in May at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

"We look at this as a national concept," Mr. Tomlinson said. "Our plan is to bring Vino Volo to Americans wherever they travel."

The only hitch?

"There no way to get here without a plane ticket," Mr. Tomlinson said.

Specifically, a Southwest ticket. BWI is the only Vino Volo location with this issue, but since Southwest generated more than 50 percent of the airport's traffic in 2006, the wine bar has access to plenty of fliers.

"People are like 'Oh, I'm flying. Now I get to go to Vino Volo,'" Mr. Tomlinson said.

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