By the time they finally debuted Rainbow Wines—a new, Chicago-based online wine store—in March 2021, Emily Sher and Cub Dimling had been conspiring to work together for years. Best friends and longtime veterans of the local hospitality and wine scene (Sher as a host and manager at Blackbird and Cellar Door, Dimling as a partner at Wicker Park’s Red & White Wines), they had occasionally mused about what it would be like to own a natural wine bar as they hung out and visited each other at their respective workplaces.
“We were hoping to continue our work, but together,” Sher says. “We thought that would be a really interesting physical space.”
When tentative plans for a brick-and-mortar spot fell through, they decided to move the project online, launching Rainbow Wines on a Square store and Instagram. Working with producers in California, France’s Loire Valley and other natural wine hot spots, Sher and Dimling stock a range of low-intervention bottles—which generally refers to additive-free and/or unfiltered wine—supplemented with thoughtfully-penned tasting notes, plus glasses and other accessories.
People can either order directly from the web store or send an email or Instagram DM with some parameters (“Like, ‘I’m making curry!’ or something,” Dimling explains) and Sher and Dimling will curate a few selections, often texting back and forth to assess the situation. Then, on Thursdays through Saturdays in the evenings, they’ll personally deliver the wines, loading up Dimling’s Subaru with orders and meeting folks at their front doors (though wine can also be shipped beyond the Chicago area). Bottles can be delivered chilled on request; they can also be ordered relatively spur of the moment, so long as the order meets the delivery window. Because of that, the process operates somewhere in between buying in-store and buying from a larger online wine retailer.
“I think we were both kind of worried, having come up working in person with clients and guests, of not having this personal connection,” Dimling says. “But driving to people's houses and seeing them on their porch and meeting their dog or their kid is very personal, very intimate.”
The Rainbow Wines website also features a blog, where Sher and Dimling sound off on everything from new wines they’ve been drinking and recipes they’ve developed to heady meditations on the nature of food and memory. The two usually trade off posting each week, working as each other’s editors and sound boards in the interim.
“We had been talking a lot throughout last year about our nostalgia for food blogs,” says Sher. She and Dimling, who describe themselves as having a shared background in the liberal arts, are aware they take a somewhat erudite approach to the blog; at times, posts veer into vaguely academic territory, citing Yeats or the autobiography of experimental dancer Yvonne Rainer. But the post are frequently heartfelt and lovely to read, full of observations and photos from trips to vineyards, or translated interviews with winemakers, or a snippet of an afternoon spent drinking wine on a porch. That intimacy is intentional: Wine education, complex and expensive as it can be, remains inaccessible for lots of would-be oenophiles. By providing glimpses of their sensory experiences with wine—something a little like opening a peephole to a group of friends sharing a bottle—Sher and Dimling say they’re hoping to offer something of value for free.
“I know that we can't be everyone's best friend but it's like our way of offering some of those interactions that have been really influential,” Sher says.