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Unwined is worth the detour 

Unwined owners Ray and Joni Pavlik visit with patrons.

Photo by D.L. Anderson

Unwined owners Ray and Joni Pavlik visit with patrons.

The vines that once entwined Unwined wine shop had nothing to do with grapes.

Brambles and scrub saplings had choked the life from the squat, 1920s building that began life as the grocery-store-filling-station in the heart of Chatham County's Oakland community. By the time Ray Pavlik happened upon it a decade ago, little but the walls remained. The roof had caved in. The floor had rotted away. Scarcely a soul had crossed the threshold since the 1950s.

Ray fell for the old store on Center Grove Church Road at a glance. It took his wife, Joni Pavlik, a bit longer.

"She cried when I bought the place," Ray says, chuckling a bit at the memory.

These days, Joni is toasting their good fortune rather than bemoaning their fate. Ray finished renovating the place last fall and together they opened Unwined. Its 600 square feet again serve as gathering spot. In place of 5-cent Cokes and 27-cents-a-gallon gas, the Pavliks sell North Carolina wine and locally made cheese, crackers and salami. With the exception of the olives, the inventory comes exclusively from within the state. Joni tried to find paper napkins and plates made in North Carolina, as well. And Ray used local building materials for the renovation.

"I wanted to be different," Joni says. "Not only are you coming to buy a bottle of wine, you're getting the whole experience."

Unwined is unlikely to become anyone's go-to place for grabbing a bottle of wine on the way home. It's about half a mile off U.S. 15-501, five miles south of Pittsboro, at the end of a dead-end road, hidden from traffic on the highway. Folks who settle in the thickly wooded lots and in the artists cabins nearby usually have a taste for solitude.

"When people come down here, they move into the woods and you don't see them unless you're looking for them," Ray says.

But neighbors are turning out to support the shop, Ray says. The Pavliks sell wine by the bottle or the glass and feature a flight per week. They drew a healthy New Year's Eve crowd. Ray has built a small stage and a set a few tables out back beside the creek. It's easy to imagine sunny days and warm nights here, listening to a strumming guitar or the splash of the water against the rocks.

Ray and Joni came to North Carolina more than 20 years ago. They met in New Orleans, where Ray had moved for work. Joni was a native who grew up in her father's restaurant on Canal Street. It's hard to guess which would have been the bigger long shot when Ray began the renovations in 2003: The possibility that he could refurbish the gutted hull to HGTV-worthy splendor using wood and steel from nearby abandoned barns and bridges or that when he did he could fill a wall with only North Carolina wine. That both bets paid off is a testament to Ray's persistent craftsmanship and to the exponential growth of the state's wine industry.

North Carolina now has more than 100 wineries, twice what it counted 10 years ago. According to the Department of Commerce, the wine industry pumps more than $1 billion into the state's economy and supports more than 7,600 jobs.

It's the economic angle that excites Joni. She relishes the chance to help keep money circulating locally. Her day job is dean of business and media technologies and public services at Central Carolina Community College.

Ray seems an unlikely sommelier in his worn ball cap and red-and-black buffalo-plaid shirt, but he's the expert when it comes to stocking the shelves—and building them. He'll happily pour you a taste of the McRitchie hard cider he brought back from the Yadkin Valley or his latest find, High Country Rose, from Banner Elk Winery.

But his eyes really start to gleam when he talks about how he pulled the I-beams from an old bridge in Sanford or the well driver who sold him the pipes. Ray has gone over every inch of the place, from the stained glass windows to the blond wood bar to the under-the-bar purse hooks, horseshoes that he bent into shape himself.

They're not looking to retire on the profits from Unwined, necessarily. But with their good luck, you never know.


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