Belle Isle Moonshine

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Behind the Bar: Virginia Samsel of Saison Market

Conversation, RichmondElizabeth FuquaComment

Saison Market opened in 2014 to the delight of Jackson Ward residents and chicken biscuit lovers alike. Sharing a kitchen with its sister Restaurant, Saison (whose owner, Jay Bayer, has been featured both on the blog and our cocktail page), the Market offers patrons a coffee-shop comfort level combined with wine, beer, cocktails, food, and a killer new patio. 

This week the Market's wine buyer, Virginia Samsel, gives us an overview of Saison's current selection and shares her experience of falling in love with wine.


Interview: Virginia Samsel

How did you land here?

I grew up in Richmond and went to VCU for Painting + Printmaking. I started working in restaurants in Richmond when I was 17. Three years ago I started working at Secco - that's when I first came into contact with wine. Last year, I lucked out and talked myself into a job here. It's been fun to watch this place grow and evolve.


Why wine?

Working with wine is great way to combine art, history, language, and restaurant work into one thing. Wine is about refining your communication with people. 

I just fell in love with all the things you can do with wine - it feels like art. Especially the winemakers who get a chance to put all their spirit into it. 


I have definitely cried over wine.  

There is so much passion behind it and it's fun to share with people without making it pretentious. This is really for everyone.


Tell us a little about the space you've created with Saison Market. 

We don't take it too seriously - we try to focus on the environment and encourage the community to enjoy the space and have a good time with the company they're sharing. It's flexible, it's breathable, comfortable. 

It's very much a neighborhood and a community. We have so many regulars - there is a lot of casual interaction. Even the staff spends a lot of time here. It's a place everyone can really enjoy, it's  a great place to hang out.


How are the offerings here unique compared to other local markets?

We encourage things that are a little different - we're a small shop so we don't have to have things that everyone else has. Since we have customers that are looking for something different we can bring on the funkier wines and sherries - things like that. It's about not being too serious about the cocktails, we have a lot of fun with it.

We have frozen drinks in the summer and generally just try to make it easy to just enjoy what you've got going on. Each bottle of wine or beer or cocktail is going to taste different depending on the day or company or situation, so each experience is completely new.


How has the Market's wine program influenced the restaurant side of things?

Bringing on more wine over here has brought out a different approach to the way the bartenders have developed new cocktails. It definitely plays a part in the palates of everyone here - a lot of the cocktails have turned more to sherry and vermouth. 


How do the cocktails differ between restaurant and Market?

The Market cocktails are definitely more relaxed, things that you can do at home. We usually sell the ingredients here as well, so actually, you can make them at home. Over in the restaurants they are working on pretty complex - but still really focused - recipes. 


Do you have a wine tasting pro-tip?

My biggest tip with wine, beer, or anything is to drink it all. Even if you think you didn't like that style or producer the first time, always try it again. You can't say something for sure until you do. 

Especially with wine, styles change and evolve. It's never the same twice. 

What do you find yourself gravitating toward these days?

Apparently I'm a sucker for Valdiguié. I have 3 on my shelves with Valdiguié, but I love what happens to it. It's bright and fun - and usually pretty cheap. 

Also, champagne. My favorite right now Clouet. It's 100% Pinot Noir and aged 6 years on lees - it's very balanced. If I'm trying to quit a bad habit I'm not allowed to drink champagne that day, that's my punishment. It's my everyday reward.

Cocktail: Saison Market Bloody Mary


  • 1 1/2 oz. Belle Isle Premium Moonshine
  • Texas Beach Bloody Mary mix
  • 5 dashes Bittermans Orchard Celery Shrub


Add moonshine, top with ice, top with Bloody Mary mix. Garnish with okra.

Available at Saison Market, Richmond VA

saison _market_belleisle

(FYI, Samesl's art can be found at:

Photography by Alexander Kreher.