Pinot's Palette in Montclair Was First 'Paint-and-Sip' in Northeast
Oenophiles incorporate wine into their lives many ways. But until I visited Pinot's Palette in Montclair, N.J., I never considered combining a palette of five paint colors and three brushes with a glass of Chardonnay.
The Montclair Pinot's Palette is one of 62 "paint-and-sip" stores nationwide and the first to open in the Northeast. The painting-lessons franchise was founded in Houston in 2009 and grew almost 400% last year alone, according to a company spokeswoman, who added that it hopes to open a store (or "studio" in company parlance) in New York sometime soon.
Colleen Carlee took a trip down to Houston and visited several franchisees before she decided to open her Pinot's Palette in Montclair. "I've always been a craftsy person," said Ms. Carlee, who worked at Bear Stearns before opening her store. The fact she wasn't an artist was one reason she decided to invest. "It was art that I could do," she said.
Ms. Carlee settled on a Bloomfield Avenue storefront for her location. "I wanted to be out there where people could see me—where there was a lot of foot traffic," she said. Ms. Carlee spent almost $100,000 on the franchise fee and on renovations, furnishings and art supplies—tables, chairs, easels and paint—before opening in August. She didn't have to outfit a bar, since it's BYOB like most Pinot's Palette studios.
Ms. Carlee can choose from 480 paintings from the company's "library" to feature in the lessons—every one is created by an artist or a student hired by Pinot's Palette. At the end of the lesson, each student has "a painting suitable for framing," said Ms. Carlee, who keeps two copies of the painting—one that she hangs on the wall and one that she often donates for a charitable cause. There were landscapes and still lifes on display—wine bottles are particularly popular, said Ms. Carlee.
Business was slow at first, said Ms. Carlee, but the classes have slowly caught on—they last two to three hours and cost $35 and $45—and have grown crowded, particularly on weekends. Some customers drive more than two hours—from as far away as southern New Jersey or Rockland County. Almost all are women except on weekends, when more couples attend.
I asked how people drive from such distances when drinking is part of the draw. Ms. Carlee explained that her customers don't really come to drink as much as to relax with friends or to celebrate, adding that most didn't drink very much. And if any artist-drinkers get carried away: "There is a taxi company across the street."
I decided I wanted to try it myself. After all, I knew I could complete at least half the program (wine drinking). I consulted Ms. Carlee's online calendar to find a painting that I thought I could replicate. The blue hydrangeas in a teal watering can looked simple enough, and hydrangeas are one of my favorite flowers.
Ms. Carlee said that most people arrive in groups or with a friend, but I came by myself. Unlike most of Ms. Carlee's customers, who "love to hold a glass of wine and paint," this isn't true of any of my friends.
Most people bring fairly modest bottles to the studio, said Ms. Carlee, so I brought a bottle of simple but pleasant Mosel Riesling that was also low in alcohol. (I didn't want to be compromised, after all.)
The class that night included about 30 women and one man, ranging in age from their early 20s to a group of women in their mid-60s. As Ms. Carlee predicted, everyone came in pairs or a group—one woman came with a big posse and a bottle of Carlo Rossi Sangria and vodka-infused cupcakes. It was her birthday, she said.
Although Ms. Carlee had warned me that wine wasn't a big focus, I was a bit discouraged by the quality of the choices on display—the wine equivalent of paint-by-numbers: Barefoot Moscato, SkinnyGirl California White (whose calorie content featured prominently on the front label) and Cavit Pinot Grigio. The best bottle, a 2009 Sancerre, belonged to two older women.
The bottles were marshaled in the back of the room on a table or in a bucket of ice so they wouldn't get knocked over while we were painting. Most women wrote their names on their bottles to ensure there was no accidental Pinot Grigio poaching, and one woman even kept her bottle of Prosecco by her side.
The instructor was a pleasant young artist named Eve, an art therapy student at a local college. Ms. Carlee likes to employ elementary art teachers because she thinks they have the right temperament and technique. Eve explained about how the painting would work, and about the colors (on a paper plate), the brushes and the various steps. When she stopped talking, music played and we painted. When the music stopped, she was ready to instruct us again. Eve painted the picture, too.
Almost everyone had a glass of wine in hand, as Ms. Carlee had predicted, and some professed nervousness about getting the painting right, though it seemed pretty straightforward. "I'm so scared," I overheard one Barefoot-drinking woman say when Eve instructed us to paint the spout of the watering can holding the flowers.
I took a fortifying first sip of my Riesling, and proceeded to make a complete mess of my painting. The spout of my watering can looked like a badly wrenched handle of a coffee cup, and the more I tried to fix it, the worse it got. "I'm sure it can be saved," said Ms. Carlee cheerfully, though I was sure she was secretly horrified by the sight.
Painting and drinking may not be as dangerous as drinking and driving, but the combination—at least in my case—didn't produce a very pretty sight.