Chris Giellis would rather talk about wine.
He's happy to talk politics, though the owner of Lakewood's Mile High Wine and Spirits suggests the topic wouldn't hold much interest if his wife, Jamie Giellis, wasn't running for mayor of Denver.
"I have no political background," he said with a smile during an interview at his store, situated under the Belmar Whole Foods Market.
"I don't partake in politics. It's not for me. I'm a small business owner. This has always been my baby, until I met Jamie."
The couple met through an online dating site in 2014 and married last June — they live in Denver's Platt Park neighborhood with his 9-year-old son Jackson — about a month before Jamie, an urban-planning expert and former president of the RiNo Art District, decided to take on two-term Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, says Giellis.
"Jamie and I were trying to have a family, and when that didn't work out for us, she said, 'Hey, I want to do this.' It was no questions asked, let's do it," he said.
Just days before ballots were due in Denver's increasingly acrimonious mayoral runoff, Giellis said he's confident his wife will pull off a feat no one has accomplished since the early 1980s by defeating the city's incumbent mayor.
"I feel like there's a lot more supporters out there. I feel like there's a silent majority out there that's going to come to Jamie's aid," he said. "I feel like the citizens in the communities in Denver are ready for change, and Jamie's an advocate for that."
He shrugged at a mention of some the latest attacks lobbed by the candidates and their supporters.
"I knew it would be rough-and-tumble, and I'm just lucky Jamie's so strong," he said. "She perseveres harder than anyone I've ever met in my life. Watching her learn and grow over the last six to eight months has been the main thing that's driven me to want to work harder for her."
It wasn't long before Giellis steered the conversation back to his store, which he plans to continue operating if he becomes Denver's first gentleman after the June 4 election.
"This is my love and my soul, and depending on where the industry goes, I want to stay in this business," he said.
The 7,000-square-foot store is dominated by the roughly 500 wines hand-selected by Giellis and his eight employees but also stocks similarly curated selections of beer and liquor.
"I'm an equal opportunist, but wine was the impetus for this. I wanted to learn about wine — I was tasting wine, and I never felt comfortable buying wine anywhere. I kept saying to myself, this can be done better."
The Denver native, a graduate of Denver South High School, opened Mile High in 2007 while he was working on a master's degree in marketing at the University of Colorado Denver after spending a few years at a tech job that involved frequent travel.
"When I was out on the road, I was going to random wine stores in Dallas, and I got excited about wine," he said. "I thought, no one does it well or makes people feel comfortable when they buy it. I was a marketing guy, so in the midst of my travels, I decided to write a business plan when I was still in school to open a wine store. I feel like we've built a clientele and a community here that's respected and valued."
Surveying his store's customer-friendly displays arrayed along wide aisles to encourage browsing, Giellis smiled.
"I'm just a wine geek. That's what I consider myself."
He said one reason he opened the store was to help customers track the wines they've tried and enjoyed using an innovative point-of-sale system, but it's his staff's attentiveness that's helped grow a loyal customer base.
"What we do differently here is we taste everything," he said. "I won't say the name, but there is a very big store that has a wine buyer that doesn't even taste their wines, simply buys by the label. I've had the same wine buyer here all 12 years. We have built quite a reputation for having quality wines at fair prices and making sure we keep the junk out."
Every wine in the store is accompanied by hand-written tasting notes that include sometimes whimsical descriptions along with practical advice for pairing the beverage with food and activities.
"It's what we see, what we smell, what we taste. It's really what differentiates us, instead of relying on the corporate materials or what comes from the winery. We like to say, well, actually this is how we feel about it," he said.
"The palates that we have, we're really geared toward European wines. We sell a lot of domestic wine, but in our eyes and over the last 12 years learning about wine and tasting wine, I think we've realize that the best values come outside of the United States," he said. "We try to educate our customers on the more obscure, the more hand-crafted, the more artisanal wines, and less about the corporate-produced wines."
He's a big fan of French wines, particularly "anything from the Rhône Valley," which Giellis described as the epitome of "quality, everyday wine that pairs well with food."
"The balance between the fruit and acidity really shines through," he added. "I think that's why Europeans in general drink a lot more wine with their meals than we do, because it's oriented around food — and family."
Giellis recalled a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence a while back when a customer brought in a box of bottles that turned out to be classic first-growth Bordeaux wines.
"These bottles were anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 a bottle," he said. "This lady had sold off her husband's cellar, and these bottles were not up to snuff in terms of being able to sell them. But being able to drink bottles from the 1950s and '60s of first-growth Bordeaux, including [Chateau] Petrus and some phenomenal French stuff I'll never get to taste again — those are the moments that make me feel like this is why I do this business."
Still, he cautioned, the wine and liquor business is no picnic.
"This industry's going under huge changes right now with grocery stores selling full-strength beer. I think they'll have wine and liquor within the next couple years. It's a very challenging business, it's a very low-margin business, but I love it. I love customer service, I love talking to people, I love selling wine," he said.
In the eight months since Jamie Giellis launched her campaign in November, her husband hasn't exactly been bitten by the political bug, he acknowledged, but he has enjoyed canvassing for his wife and talking with voters.
"My role in the campaign has been, I'm a husband at home. I'm cooking, I'm cleaning, I'm running a small business on the side, and I'm also out knocking on doors," he said.
"It's been eye-opening. The amazing thing has been knocking on doors, when I talk to people and hear what their pain-points are, what they're struggling with in Denver, a lot of people have communicated to me that Jamie resonates with them, her ideas. They love her ideas. And then when I tell them I'm her husband, it's even better," he said, a smile growing ear to ear.
"For me, I always go back and look at the resolve that she has, and it drives me to want to be a better business owner, to be a better role model for my employees, and to be a better person, to be honest."