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Business owner makes selecting the right wine simple, fun

(Kristen Forbes is a freelance writer living in Tigard. To view her blog, visit www.krissymick.blogspot.com .)

'Surprisingly deep, like Richard Gere,' reads a tasting card from a recent event at WineStyles in Beaverton, 'this ruby-colored wine offers strawberry with hints of minerals on the nose and palate.'

This card is one of many ways King City's Sandey Church, who owns and operates WineStyles, is striving to make wine not only more accessible, but more fun.

'People think that wine is intimidating and they can't - unless they know a lot about it - they can't drink it,' Church says. 'And the thing about wine is: It doesn't matter what's in it or who says what or what year it is or how much it costs. If you like it, it's a good wine for you. If you don't like it, it can be a $200 bottle of wine - who cares, if you don't like it?'

For Church, the process of discovery is half the fun. Her store is set up to be accessible, hands-on and easy to navigate. What you won't find: Pretension, intimidation or frou-frou, snobby ideals. What you will find: A fun, funky, friendly environment led by a woman on a quest to demystify the process of selecting, appreciating and buying wine.

'That's the whole concept: to help people learn about wine, find out what they like and make it a fun experience,' says Church.

After spending 20 years working in schools, most recently as the director of a college, a lay-off left Church craving a career change. She'd always loved working with people and knew a lot about sales, so she researched franchises and came across WineStyles.

WineStyles, whose current franchise count is 183, shares its philosophy on its Web site: 'Wine should be a simple pleasure. Now, shopping for it is simple, too.'

The most noticeable difference between WineStyles and a typical wine shop: Wines are categorized and arranged by flavor and taste, rather than by varietal or country of origin. All of the wines are organized into eight flavor profiles: Bold, Mellow, Fruity, Crisp, Silky, Nectar, Rich and Bubbly.

The only exceptions are the 'If You Insist' wines, a special category devoted to pricier bottles, and the Oregon Pinot Noirs, which are separated into their own section. Excluding the 'If You Insist' wines, everything is $25 or less.

A crowd much larger than expected gathered for Wine Style's opening in February, and since then Church has attributed word-of-mouth and her ever-growing e-mail list to the success of her store. Her weekly e-mails notify customers of ongoing and upcoming events, which include tastings on Tuesday and Thursday nights, live music on Friday nights, monthly Singles and Bunko events, murder mysteries, holiday parties, a Wine Club and private parties. Additionally, Church is hoping to start a business networking group soon.

Church is assisted by a small staff of part-timers who mainly work on-call or as needed, when not working at wineries, in restaurants, doing marketing or as stay-at-home moms.

The hours they put in at the store stem from a shared compulsion to socialize, share their knowledge of wine and have fun.

The business is also a family affair. Church met her husband Herve when they dated in high school in New England but didn't reconnect with him until years later, after he had moved to Colorado and she had moved to Arizona. She says Herve has been instrumental in helping her when he's not at his tech job at Xerox. Church's daughters and stepsons have helped, as well.

Herve is so involved, in fact, that the two often spend their Sundays - the one day of the week Church has off and the one day her store is closed - visiting vineyards. For Church, work, business, fun and hobbies have merged into one and the same. If she did have the time, Church would be enjoying the outdoors, hiking and camping. She and Herve used to make a point of exploring a new area and trying something new every Friday night.

Now, her time goes to the store. Although more time for her customers means less time for herself, you won't catch Church complaining. She is proud to give Beaverton residents a reason to stay in town and not always feel like they have to trek to downtown Portland to experience fun and culture.

Church describes WineStyles as 'the neighborhood wine shop, where people can come hang out, meet other people, not have to go downtown, but still have a really awesome experience.'

And why go to Portland when you can mingle with wine lovers in Beaverton, learning from someone who refuses to take herself or the business of wine too seriously?

Visit Church at 4655 S.W. Griffith Dr. #160 in Beaverton, or visit the WineStyles Web site for information on store hours and events: www.beaverton.winestyles.net.