by M. Anthony Davis
Princess & Bear Wines is a new wine shop and tasting room that features an expansive collection of handmade wines, all imported from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. Walking into their space, the soothing ambiance of natural lighting and a rustic, homey feel, accompanied by vibrant staff and a few cuddly dogs, is immediately calming.
Owners Carol Baily and Steve Medwell, who have been married for 25 years, entered the wine business inadvertently. Baily had recently retired from her career as a divorce lawyer, and Medwell was a recently retired colon and rectal surgeon.
“We were going to retire,” Baily explains. “I wanted to get back to someplace that was sunnier and warmer but near the ocean.” Baily is originally from Texas and grew up in a diverse neighborhood where many people, including herself, spoke Spanish. Hoping to find a place that was warm, near water, and had a Spanish-speaking population, Baily and Medwell stumbled across a region of southern France that checked all those boxes.
“We found this region that’s not well known to Americans,” says Baily. “And through a friend of ours from L.A., we found out it was affordable. So we went there and just fell in love with it. It’s natural. It’s wild. It’s unspoiled. There’s no tourists. There’s no high rises. There’s no traffic.”
The original plan for Baily and Medwell was to retire in southern France and leave city life behind. But, as Baily explains, the couple “failed retirement” when they decided to start a business importing wines from local winemakers in France after discovering the region they moved to was full of hand-crafted, high-quality local wines at shockingly low prices.
“We just moved to this place,” Medwell says. “We didn’t know anybody there, and we had no idea about a wine business at this point. And we just started going to the little bistros around and tasting the wine and seeing the prices. And when we tasted it, and we saw the price, we were just like, ‘how can this be,’ because we had never tasted a bottle of $18 wine that was truly delicious.”
They found that the delicious wines they were discovering in the bistros were all locally grown, organic, and oftentimes came from family-owned farms. After visiting farms and meeting the farmers, Baily and Medwell learned that none of the locals in their region were exporting their wine to America.
“Americans need to know that you don’t need to spend over $50 for a good bottle of wine,” explains Baily. “You can buy a great bottle of wine for 25 bucks that’s made from organic grapes.” None of the wine in Princess & Bear Wines’ shop is chemically altered or artificially sweetened. You also can’t buy any of their wine anywhere else in the United States. The only place these premium, affordable, organic wines are available is in a swanky new tasting room tucked in the heart of South Park.
How did a trendy wine shop with a menu that exclusively boasts a selection 100% imported from France end up in South Park? The same way a recently retired married couple became immersed in the wine import business — an unexpected and unplanned set of events.
Baily and Medwell originally set up shop in Georgetown, in the building that housed the old Rainier bottling plant. The space had low ceilings, and debris was always falling to the ground. The lighting was unusually dark, and Baily began to worry about the possibility of asbestos. At that point, Baily and Medwell knew it was time to relocate.
“We had a neighbor who does upholstery on furniture,” Baily says. “And she moved to South Park and she told us, ‘you know, you guys need to come see this place. It is so cool. It’s a neighborhood where all kinds of interesting things are going on.’”
The idea of being in South Park was intriguing to Baily and Medwell. They wanted to be in a small neighborhood with a family feel. And the model behind their business is high quality while maintaining affordability.
South Park has also provided a sense of community connection. Princess & Bear shares a lot with Tin Dog Brewing, a local brewery and taproom, and Osprey Bistro, a small eatery owned by local chef Shane Ryan, who wanted to create a space with a more accessible atmosphere after a career in fine dining restaurants.
Princess & Bear Wines has already created partnerships with their neighboring businesses, including dinner events where Chef Shane curates special multi-course meals accompanied by French wine tastings that include origin stories, told by Baily, of the wines.
While it is important to mention that South Park is one of Seattle’s historically underserved communities — and is still considered a food desert — local businesses like Princess & Bear Wines are excited to support the community.
M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.
📸 Featured Image: Patrons visit The Princess and the Bear during its grand opening. (Photo: Susan Fried)
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