Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
FAIRFIELD — Fairfield has a new wine bar that specializes in natural, European wines.
Julia Punj opened Veraison Wine Bar in July 2020 at 508 N. Second St. Punj grew up in Fairfield, and had just moved back to town from Aspen, Colorado, where she was working as a financial adviser. She said it was time to “get back in the game,” since she had worked in the winemaking industry for years, and was ready to try her hand at running her own wine bar.
The wine bar features seating both indoors and out. Patrons can choose from more than 200 wines, half of which are natural or “biodynamic” as Punj called them. On top of wine, the bar sells liquor, ciders, cocktails and beer. It offers a number of food dishes, too, such as locally sourced vegetables and breads, as well as meat and cheese platters.
Kris Johnson, manager of the Maharishi International University farm, makes regular stops to drop off organic basil, parsley, arugula and radishes, which Punj turns into a pesto dish. She adds walnuts, Parmesan cheese, oil and garlic on a garden flatbread.
“It’s a meal,” Punj said. “Everything we serve is intended to be shared over a bottle of wine and great conversation. That’s why most of our seating is lounge seating.”
Punj said opening the wine bar during the pandemic was a challenge, but she was able to entice customers with the business’s outdoor patio seating and attention to public health measures such as employees who wore gloves and masks.
This year, Punj has removed the mask requirement. She said it’s easier to explain wine terms to her patrons without a mask on.
Punj graduated from Maharishi School in 1999, and went on to study marketing at the University of Iowa. She got her master’s in business administration from Maharishi International University, and later a culinary and pastry degree at a school in Vancouver. That’s where she began studying wine in 2013. Her career in wine includes working in Italian wine sales in New York City.
Punj has traveled extensively, especially in Europe where she’s had the chance to study wine. She wants her patrons to have those same experiences at her shop, which is why she’s chosen a European theme.
“I know the most about European wines,” she said.
The business opens at 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and stays open later on the weekends. Every Thursday, patrons are treated to live music courtesy of Michael Dugan. Punj is planning wine education sessions on Saturday afternoons for those who wish to know more about the bottles they’re tasting.
“I love to introduce new wines to a person who’s excited about it,” Punj said.
Punj said she has taken a special interest in Greek wines after visiting the country some years ago. She’s fond of Italian wines, too, and has wines from the Italian winemaker Arianna Occhipinti.
“Everything she does is organic and beautiful,” Punj said. “I’m happy to have female winemakers on our list.”
The bar has 10 tables outside, but Punj said a couple more will be added soon, so that the total seating indoors and out will be 60. Punj said she loves her space, and remarked that the fence around the perimeter of the patio makes the area feel more private.
“It makes you feel something magical here,” she said.
The bar is a sight to behold at night, when the area is illuminated by lights on wires leading up a flagpole.