Drinks On Him: The Man Behind Barriques

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MTT News Desk's picture
By: 
Nathan Mabie
Middleton resident and Barriques owner Finn Berge.

Most wine collectors die with stockpiles of vintages held safely in storage. But not Finn Berge, wine enthusiast and owner of Barriques Market cafés. When Berge is gone he wants people to remember him and think, “At least he drank well.”

He buys bottles of wine to be used. In Berge’s opinion, wine is meant for drinking, ideally with great food and friendly company. And 22 years of tasting and buying wine has only cemented this belief.

Today Berge is a successful businessman - he owns six Barriques throughout the Madison area including one in Middleton’s Cayuga Court - but this wasn’t always the case. His success is more than two decades in the making, with ups and downs and turns unforeseen.

The first Barriques, on Madison’s Monroe Street, opened in 1998 as a wine-only shop. But the story of Barriques begins much earlier, in the spring of 1990 with the opening of a small, new restaurant on the Capitol Square.

Long-time residents of Middleton will remember the Square in the early nineties. “It was dead,” Berge recalls. Berge and three other enterprising young restaurateurs saw opportunity where others did not.

Twenty-two-year-old Berge joined his brother and two friends as partners in the Blue Marlin, an upscale seafood restaurant. Berge was the bartender and wine buyer for the young restaurant. He began learning about wine, tasting wine, and visiting vineyards in the States and abroad.

Business was good.

Berge and his brother opened another eatery, Restaurant Magnus, in 1998. This was when Berge said he, “lost the concept of a work week.” Working long days and even longer nights at Blue Marlin, Berge watched couples, families, businessmen and businesswomen enjoy good company over expensive wines.

Stuck behind his bar – in an effort to maximize seating capacity Berge was blocked in all night – Berge had an epiphany: good wine and good times need not be an extravagance.

He wanted to enjoy the wine he loved so much, with kindred spirits, without breaking the bank to do so. Berge guessed he wasn’t alone.

Later that year, Berge and his partners remodeled the space that became Barriques Wine Cave, on Monroe Street. The centerpiece of the Wine Cave was, and remains, the “Wall of 100” – 100 wines from all over the world, all under $10. Berge and his brother-in-law, Matt Weygandt, ran the Wine Cave for five years before they decided to expand.

Berge and Weygandt sought a new model for the second Barriques, one that could expand the customer base and maximize the space. The two landed on a simple solution: coffee in the morning and wine in the evening.

Berge and Weygandt leased the spec space on the corner of Cayuga and Elmwood, in Middleton’s then newly built Cayuga Court. Originally the endeavor was a partnership between Berge and a coffee company, but the bean people walked away before the doors even opened.

Berge pressed on.

Thirteen years after learning wines on the fly, Berge began his crash coarse in coffee with the 2003 opening of Barriques in Middleton. He was a fast learner.

By the end of the year he added a third Barriques in Fitchburg.

Since then Berge has opened three more Barriques locations throughout Madison. The sixth and newest location, opened in August 2011 on Park Street, is especially unique.

The back half of Barriques Park St. is devoted entirely to coffee bean roasting. Headed by Rob Jeffries, Berge’s full-time roaster, the Park Street location now supplies each of the six Barriques with all their coffee beans.

In addition to supplying his own stores with coffee, Berge’s now sells his beans, wholesale, to other coffee shops, restaurants, and businesses. He believes wholesale business is where future growth within his company lies.

Looking ahead, Berge plans to continue selling wholesale beans and operating his six Barriques locations. A husband and father, he appreciates his current work and life schedule after years of working long nights, early mornings, and practically every holiday and weekend.

“Last year I went skiing on New Year’s Eve,” Berge said, “it was my first time not working New Year’s Eve in 25 years.”

Berge expects to continue to enjoy some weekends and holidays with his family, a privilege in the food service business he’s earned thanks to hard work and years of sacrifice. Enjoying life outside of work is consistent with who he wants to be, he reflects. Berge understands what long-term success looks like for him and it doesn’t include stockpiling anything.

He has the wine, and he plans to drink well.

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