Pasadena Wine Shop helps sommelier heal
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Chris Mortenson/Staff photographer
Nicole Lalagüe was working her dream job in wine sales, helping “amazing” restaurants build their programs, all while living in Pasadena.
“I loved my job, and I loved living in Pasadena,” she says.
That is until 2019, when she was rear-ended on the 210 Freeway, leaving a 10-millimeter lumbar spine herniation.
“I had never been in pain that didn’t go away,” she recalls. “I had surgery and then it herniated again.”
Lalagüe just couldn’t regularly step into a car again, raising the odds of a crash happening again and being unable to find comfort.
“I tried to find work for myself, but with that second discectomy, I couldn’t get back to that old way of working,” she says. “I had to resign from a job I loved and couldn’t find a job that suited my needs.”
After lengthy planning, Lalagüe opened the doors to Pasadena Wine Shop, in the heart of historic Green Street Village district, in the spring. Open 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, Pasadena Wine Shop offers private shopping appointments for individuals or small groups.
“I realized in this area there were no indie wine shops,” she says. “This one is less than a mile from my home. People are coming in. It’s been my dream.”
In the 600-square-foot Pasadena Wine Shop, the Bungalow Heaven resident carries 300 selections of wine she hand-picked from around the world. IPAs, sours and beer are on the shelves, too.
“We focus on family-owned, small producers,” she says.
“A lot of our wines are classic wines whom I know personally and visited the properties myself. There’s a real intimacy with the wines I have.”
She likens finding a customer’s perfect wine to being a sleuth.
“I ask them what they like, what they want to drink, and then I play Sherlock Holmes and try to find the wine for them,” she says with a laugh.
“It doesn’t matter what I like or what I think is good. I match people to a wine they can’t find elsewhere. That’s what keeps them coming back.”
Lalagüe is well versed in the world of wine. The California native learned about the F&B industry at restaurants in her early 20s.
“It’s history. It’s geography. It’s geology. It’s people. It’s social,” she says.
“I think it’s a real jack-of-all-trades type of industry. If you’re curious about a lot of different things, wine will scratch that learning itch. It’s always changing, too. Every year is different with new styles, new producers.”
Her resume includes stints as a sommelier with the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group and managing sales and distribution locally for Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Leflaive.
She lived in Bordeaux for six months and, like her father, is a French citizen. In a previous position, she traveled regularly to California wine country.
“I was granted citizenship because my father was born in France,” she says. “That’s part of what got me into wine. It’s something my dad always enjoyed, and it was really romantic to me.”
After the crash, she wasn’t sure if she would find a new calling. Pasadena Wine Shop is a mélange of past and present worlds.
“It’s been so nice to work again. I didn’t know I would work again,” she says.
She recalls trying to return to work but, although mentally stimulated, physically she just couldn’t do it.
“It’s weird navigating my new world with pain. I lay down and work on the website when people aren’t here. I walk through the world of wine with them when customers are here.
“Physically, I feel the best I have in years. After a three-month break from work, I was mentally stir crazy. Working in sales, you’re always proactive. You’re making things happen.”
Pasadena Wine Shop is the only female-founded wine shop in the San Gabriel Valley.
“It’s just me and Wells Fargo,” she quips. “It’s just me taking a huge risk. I don’t have a huge investor. It’s just me asking questions of city hall every day.”
Giving back to the city is pleasing to the Bungalow Heaven resident.
“The thing I love the most about the shop is I get to know so many people in the community,” she says.
“Being able to have that human interaction keeps people coming back. We launched our online store a few weeks ago. But customers usually come into the shop so they can explore. People are using the online store to see what we have. It’s a passion for both of us.”
Pasadena Wine Shop
1055 E. Green Street, Pasadena