What is Betty? Is it a wine shop? Yes, it is. Is it a wine bar? Yes, it’s that, too. It’s also a deli, a hip corner store and a boutique.
In short, Betty is the Swiss Army knife of wine establishments, a multipurpose business that opened at year’s end in Sacramento’s Southside Park neighborhood and was instantly discovered by the kind of people who make it their business to know about the hottest new places in town.
Betty is owner Colleen Fleming’s second home run. Her first was Cadet, a Napa wine bar that she opened with partner Aubrey Bailey in 2014. According to the online wine publication Vine-Pair, Cadet revolutionized Napa’s drinking culture with its casual, backyard vibe and ecumenical wine list. A place where you could rub elbows with the coolest vintners in the valley, Cadet became known for its Wednesday-night Meet the Winemaker events and its cheeky “buy a bottle, pick a record” music policy.
But even while conquering Napa, Fleming had one eye on Sacramento. “I liked the bones of the city,” she says. “It has a big-city feel but with many traits of a small town. It’s like the Midwest of California.”
After she had her first child during the pandemic, Fleming sold her interest in Cadet to Bailey and moved her family to Sacramento. She saw a niche here that she thought was aching to be filled: for a gathering spot offering a broad range of wines from around the world, focusing on small, lesser-known producers that specialize in organic and low intervention wines. She opened Betty in November 2022, one month after giving birth to her second child.
If Cadet is a rollicking, late-night partier, Betty is its staid, settled-down older sister. The light-filled, brick-walled space features an ordering counter at one end, a wall of wood shelves filled with bottles of wine at the other. Between the two are a small retail area displaying pantry items like tinned fish, upscale housewares and cookbooks, and a dining space with tables and chairs. Nearby, a small kitchen (overseen by general manager Jenna Sergeant) turns out a limited menu that was devised by consulting chef Galen Duckles. It features a couple of salads and a handful of East Coast-style deli sandwiches at lunch and, starting in late afternoon, snacky bar bites such as cheese and meat plates, anchovy toast, whipped feta on crostini and panini.
Wines here are sold at retail prices, ranging from a low of $15 a bottle to a high of about $200. If you want to consume a bottle on the premises, you’ll pay a $10 corkage fee—a significant price savings over the standard restaurant markup of 200% to 300% over the retail sales price. It’s designed to introduce people to wines they otherwise wouldn’t try, says Fleming. “We want to encourage people to explore and purchase wine and not be intimidated by the price,” she notes.
Wines are categorized by style rather than varietal: crisp and bright whites, fresh and fruity reds, and so on. Handwritten tags hanging around the bottles’ necks explain what you can expect from the wine within. “Sleek, crisp and racy with flinty focus and brisk high-toned fruit,” reads the tag on a 2021 Albariño from the Rias Baixas region in Spain.
Writing those tag descriptions is one of the duties of Betty wine director Sarah Milstein. “It’s very important to me,” says Milstein, who worked at Flatiron Wines & Spirits in New York City before moving to Sacramento, where she did stints at Taylor’s Market, Corti Brothers and Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. “So many people are intimidated when they look at wine shelves. I love giving people an idea of what they’re thinking about buying.”
Milstein also runs Betty’s wine club ($50 a month for two wines, usually one red, one white) and coordinates Thursday-evening tastings, which focus on a single winemaker, purveyor or theme. One week in December, for instance, the theme was champagne and oysters. She spends as much time as possible on the floor, chatting with customers and helping them pick a wine.
Fleming sees Sacramento as a ready audience for what Betty is selling: a family-friendly place where you can try interesting, affordable wines that you won’t find in a grocery store. Napa’s loss, it seems, is Sacramento’s gain.
1103 T St.;