Mutiny Wine Room: A Taste of Napa Valley in Houston’s Heights Neighborhood
Instead of asking which wine regions Mark Ellenberger and his wife Emily Trout have visited, you might as well ask which they haven’t traveled to.
For the Houston couple has traversed nearly every major wine-producing region in the world over their 22 years together – from France to Italy to Spain to Napa Valley. Now, having both left their respective corporate jobs, the two oenophiles have launched Mutiny Wine Room, a tasting room concept that brings a piece of California’s wine country to Houston’s Heights neighborhood.
“We didn’t really get into this to compete with the restaurant scene,” says Emily, a native Houstonian. “Neither of us are chefs. But to be able to bring Houston something that is different and educational and fun – that makes me really proud.”
Mutiny Wine Room, located at 1124 Usener St., features a dedicated tasting room where guests can sample a rotating portfolio of wines in an elegant space with ceiling-high windows and a Napa Valley aesthetic. Adjacent to it is what Emily calls the “farmhouse,” which offers ample seating plus a massive open-air patio. There, guests can order wine by the glass or bottle along with shareable food pairings such as Gulf Snapper Ceviche and Carolina Gold Rice “Cacio e Pepe.” The menu was created in consultation with Chef Ari Weiswasser, an experienced chef who owns fine-dining restaurant Glen Ellen Star in California.
Winemaking started out as a hobby for Emily and Mark. The couple made a single barrel of wine at a custom crush facility in San Francisco back in 2008 for an anniversary celebration, and they soon found themselves making so much wine that it only made sense to sell it.
“We got carried away and ended up with more than we could possibly drink or give to our friends,” says Mark. “So we made the decision to go commercial in 2010.”
The couple created their own brand, Kagan Cellars, named after their sailboat. They used to spend hours sailing on Kagan and talking about their dream wine-ventures. They quickly discovered that growing a small brand organically was challenging, especially while working full-time – Mark in oil and gas and Emily in real estate.
So the duo took a leap, both leaving their jobs, selling their boat and going all in on wine. They started producing about 500-600 cases of wine a year and building up an inventory. Aiming to bring a unique experience to Houston, the couple started planning Mutiny Wine Room, which would showcase boutique wines – ones that would not otherwise be available in Houston due to their limited distribution.
“We are interested in promoting newer, smaller unknown wines,” says Mark. “That really speaks to us because we know how hard it is to sell wine.” Most, if not all, of the wines on the Mutiny menu come from winemakers who Emily and Mark know personally.
Another personal touch to the space is the mahogany doors at the entrance; these massive doors were the only items salvaged from Emily’s dad’s home, which flooded during Hurricane Harvey.
Emily and Mark take a hands-on approach to operating Mutiny Wine Room, making sure the concept is executed according to the vision they’ve been dreaming of for years.
“We very much want to make this an image of what we really want,” says Mark.
“I am the keeper of the concept,” Emily adds with a laugh. Emily fondly calls Mark a “wine geek.” He is an encyclopedia of knowledge on wines – from the science behind perfecting a pinot noir, to how the climate affects grape production. Mark, after leaving his corporate job, studied winemaking through UC Davis’ Winemaking Certificate Program.
Emily, meanwhile, laughingly says her knowledge of wine comes primarily through consumption. Emily has a finely-tuned palate – she notices the subtle flavors in each wine she tries and has a sense for which food – be it bruschetta or Jerk Octopus – will pair best with each.
Quarterly, Mutiny will change the wines it offers in its tasting room. And they will soon offer a second flight, which will be designed to help Houstonians better understand which types of wines they do and don’t like.
Mutiny Wine Room is open Tuesday-Wednesday, 4 p.m.- 10 p.m., Thursday-Friday, 4 p.m.- 12 a.m., Saturday 12 p.m.-12 a.m. and Sunday, 12 p.m. -10 p.m.
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