When it comes to wine, Paula Paradise knows her way around a vineyard or two. The co-founder of Paradise Wine is constantly on the lookout for ethically sourced, sustainable wines that tell a story. We sat down with the entrepreneur to discuss oft-overlooked wines, the value of hard work, and what it’s like to run a business with your best friend.
First things first: red, white, orange, sparkling, or rosé?
All of the above! Wine is like food—you wouldn’t want to eat the same thing every day, so why stick to the same ol’ wine when there are so many to taste and experience. Each wine is like a book with its own story to tell.
Prior to launching Paradise Wine, you ran a catering business and then worked for Premier Wines, the largest liquor retailer in the Buffalo area. What lessons did you take from those experiences to prepare you for success?
Actually, before either of those experiences, I spent a lot of time hanging out in the restaurant my grandmother owned. I loved the whole scene—the customers, creating a space where people could relax and enjoy something super delicious. That first experience would result in a 15-year career as a pastry chef and so many lessons learned, like how to deal with all types of personalities, how to multitask, how to get along with a team. I credit busting my butt in kitchens for the work ethic I have today.
What made you decide to go into business for yourself?
I had dreamed of making a really cool bottle shop in Buffalo that would make people feel like they were in a seaside resort town and had just stumbled across this wonderful collection of wines in a shop with positive vibes and friendly staff. I wanted to create a small business with soul.
You’re also a poet. Do your poetry and wine careers ever intersect?
Poetry is my deepest place. It’s where I can go in rare moments to experience something that is pure light and love. Poetry resonates with me to the core. So, yes, in a spiritual sense, they intersect every day. Practically speaking, we hosted a wine/poetry night with Just Buffalo Literary Center a few years back, where we had a few readers and a book exchange and drank some wine.
Besides poetry and wine, what’s another one of your passions?
Very much connected to wine, I am adamant about supporting small farmers and organic, earth-friendly farming practices. Wine, food, and earth are all intricately woven together. I also love cycling and lounging at the beach.
From a creative perspective, what was it like collaborating with Block Club on the Paradise Wine brand?
It was the first time I had collaborated with a design team. I was initially hesitant about it because some of these wine insider themes are not always easy for a non-trade person to get or capture. But as we got into the process, I found it incredibly reassuring. The Block Club team was able to address all our needs and aspirations. The final images were really fun and creative, and we felt like they captured our concept well.
For your location, you chose Buffalo’s Five Points neighborhood. What attracted you to that area?
Lauren and I both wanted to have a business in the neighborhood that we live in. That idea of living, working, and helping to build community is super important to us.
What are some of your best wine-buying tips?
In retail, find a person who seems to get your taste. They can guide you through some of the complexity and home in on the wines that might bring you the most pleasure. When dining out, if the server seems knowledgeable, then rely on them. Otherwise, if you really don’t know wine very well, I suggest sticking to Southern Rhone wines, which are rarely disappointing.
What’s the first step people can take to start drinking sustainably produced wine?
Easy—just start shopping at Paradise Wine! Lol. Or look up wine producers’ websites, and see how they are farming. That info is often available online.
What’s an underappreciated wine you feel more people should try?
I think small production Beaujolais is gaining traction. I’d recommend trying wines that have been dismissed because of overproduction or because big brands churn out commercial tasting versions people have turned away from—gamay, chardonnay, pinot grigio. These wines, when crafted from small producers, can be stunning. I’m a champion of the underdog grapes or whatever is not popular. I’m not really interested in trends. I like to hunt for wines that people might overlook, like freisa from Piedmont or pinot blanc from Alsace. Wines that aren’t widely available inspire me.
What’s it like running a business with your friend?
We have a lot of fun! We also keep our roles very distinct so as not to step on each other’s toes—though in a small business, that’s bound to happen. The advantage we have is that when it does occur, we know each other well enough to step back, breathe, and then approach the problem differently in the coming days. It’s important not to force things but to allow time for things to evolve. It’s been kind of amazing that I get to run my dream business with my best friend. It doesn’t seem like a job at all.
What’s your best habit as a business owner?
Well, not exactly a romantic answer, but hard work is my best habit.
What was the most challenging aspect of starting Paradise Wine?
Waiting! Lauren and I are both aries and not known for patience. Lauren rehabbed the entire building from the foundation up. That took a couple of years.
What’s the most challenging aspect of running it today?
Patience—wanting to grow faster and buy more wine! Also, finding staff is definitely a challenge, as they need to be both personable and wine savvy.
If your life was a book, what would you want people to take away from your story?
I’d want people to understand that the most important thing for me is doing something that has depth of meaning and a positive impact on my family and community. Supporting organic farmers, showcasing handcrafted wines, and bringing people together to celebrate life is the most gratifying part of what we do.
Photo: Nancy J. Parisi / visitbuffaloniagara.com