Shopping for Wine? Just Ask a Woman
Women shoppers and women retailers are a force to be reckoned with. Did you know that 83% of all wine purchasers are women? That’s right! Women account for $4.3 trillion of the $5.9 trillion in annual consumer spending on wine according to a report in the wine trade magazine Beverage Dynamics. In fact, three-quarters of all women will purchase wine for their household at some point, according to a 2016 study by the Wine Market Council. The study also noted that when it comes to shopping for wine at a retail store, 53% of women like to browse the labels before making their selections.
Purchasing a wine in a retail store can be a daunting experience, whether you are shopping for yourself or a gift. With endless selections stocking the shelves, you could browse for hours and carefully study the labels if you have the time. Or you could ask the advice of your local wine retailers. As more women control the purchasing power when it comes to selecting wines, wine retailers have taken notice. And many more wine stores are now run by some savvy women who have a keen eye and polished palate for selecting what their customers, of all genders, will want to buy.
You don’t have to live in a big metropolitan city to find great wines these days either. Here are just handful of the many successful women-owned wine stores in Tri-State New York from a tiny shop located in a subway station to a historic landmark store in Connecticut.
Kit Pepper, Kit’s Underground, New York City
“There are 469 subway stations in New York, but only one is home to a wine shop,” wrote Lettie Teague, wine columnist for the Wall Street Journal. She was referring to Kit’s Underground, which calls itself “a soothing haven away from the subway.” This small, 600 square-foot shop, located in Turnstyle at the Columbus Circle subway station features a carefully curated selection of wines focusing on small producers you may not find at larger “above ground” stores. An example is Cave de Ribeauville Collection Riesling
Running a wine shop is a career change for Kit Pepper who is an owner/managing partner. She worked in book publishing out of school and was drawn to editing cookbooks. Kit says, “I realized I needed a little more wine knowledge to be able to deal with the wine component for some of my work. I enrolled in a 22-week wine course and came out feeling wine was way cooler than food.” Kit continued her wine studies through the International Wine Center’s WSET program and then edited more wine-focused books. Eventually, she moved full–time into freelance writing and working in retail. In 2016, she decided to open Kit’s Underground.
“My shop is the first to be located in a New York City subway,” notes Kit. “We try to sell what’s unique to the location. With a store this small, everything is hand-sold. [as in personally recommended]. We host consumer tastings every Thursday and Friday, perhaps even more.”
What’s selling: “Wine in cans is a hit! We also have an ‘under $15’ table featuring wines that are out of the ordinary; no national brands, just great values. My chef and restaurant crowd loves some of the notable producers we carry, such as Movia (Slovenia), Borgogno (Piemonte), Nikolaihof (Austria) and the lesser-known grapes like Posip from Croatia, Aleatica from Italy Grignolino , an Italian grape variety also harvested in California.” it
Palate-pleasing pairings: “My website blog features an Asian tomato soup with crab paired with Coutier NV Champagne (a fantastic New Year’s Eve combo). Less predictable might be an Il Poggio Gavi di Gavi with a tuna poke bowl; the wine has a nutty, yeasty note that plays up the umami flavors in the bowl and brings out the ‘sea-ness’ of any seaweed present.”
If I were a wine varietal “Chenin Blanc. Adaptable. A person of many styles and approaches, but overall rigorous and a bit nerdy.”
Kit’s Underground, Turnstyle, Columbus Circle subway station, 58th Street (212) 262 6000
Christy Frank, Copake Wine Works, Copake, NY
Fans of the popular wine shop Frankly Wines in TriBeCa who have missed former owner Christy Frank can rejoice as she has emerged once again. In the northern Hudson Valley town of Copake, she now oversees Copake Wine Works, alongside her husband/store owner.
Following the trend amongst many of these women owners, working in the wine business was a career change for Christy as well. She first earned an MBA from Columbia Business School, then worked in finance, and eventually switched gears to wine. “Every dime I made I spent on wine. It’s where I got the retail bug,” said Christy. After working at a New York-based importer-distributor, she opened Frankly Wines in TriBeCa in 2007 and quickly developed a following. In 2017 she sold the store, handing the torch over to another woman, Liz Nicholson, and headed up to the Hudson Valley with her husband.
Christy describes Copake Wine Works’ selection as highly eclectic. It’s similar to her first store in the city but expanded to include more of the bigger brands, since there are few wine shops in her area. “Honestly, among the general wine-buying population, the mainstream [brands] are still the mainstays,” she notes. “California in general, fruit-driven reds, buttery Chardonnays, and Pinot Grigio are tops. Prosecco, Malbec, and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc are still somewhat adventurous choices.”
Hidden gems: “Anything that’s not the usual suspect. My favorite customer is the one who asks to go a step or two outside of their normal comfort zone. That’s my invitation to blow their minds and start them on a wine journey that will hopefully keep going for years and years.”
Palate-pleasing pairings: “Big rich Chardonnay from California, Australia, or New Zealand, with fried chicken.
If I were a wine varietal: “Nebbiolo. Because I am thick skinned, always seem to have my head in a fog and, hopefully, just get better with age.”
Copake Wine Works, 177 County Road, 7A, (alt 69 Main Street) Copake, NY (518) 329-5549
Catherine Mok, Red Gamay Wines & Liquors, Amityville, NY
Catherine Mok also opted for a career shift when she went into the wine business as sole proprietor of Red Gamay Wines & Liquors in Long Island. The store offers 600 wines and whiskeys which Catherine describes as offbeat and intriguing. Catherine says, “My focus in the store is wines from around the world with grape varietals indigenous to the country such as Greece, Portugal, Hungary, Israel, and many more.”
So how did she get into the wine business? Catherine reflects, “I worked for a Fortune 500 [company] for over 20 years. During the banking debacle [in 2008] my New York office closed and moved to the Texas main office. I had the choice to relocate or find a new job. I chose to stay in New York. At the time President Obama was encouraging people to follow their dreams and start their own business. I always wanted to own open my own wine shop because the winemaking process is so complex and intricate and I appreciate the ‘fruits’ of the labor. I also believe I have the potential to run my own business because I am disciplined, and I love working with people. I remembered I applied for a sales job at a wine store and I was told I must be nuts. So, I decided to take my cash savings and open my own wine store. I discovered a little wine store located in Amityville. I asked myself: what does it take to run a wine store like this? Driven by the curiosity and a sense of naiveté, I decided to take over the store and dived in, bold move right? Here I am, and 3 ½ years have passed by, in defiance of the statistics.”
To further her own education Catherine earned an advanced certificate from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) and is working on her sommelier certification. She says she enjoys encouraging her customers to expand their palates, “Customers are afraid to try new things so I often make recommendations based on their profile and then I put a twist to it. If a customer drinks Pinot Noir, I will recommend a Côte de Rhone. If there is a request for big red, I recommend a Douro. Earn their trust and give them a new point of view.”
Why Red Gamay? “When I first open[ed] my business, I want[ed] to name it after a grape. Gamay is young and vibrant and that is what I feel most of the time.”
Regarding encouraging customers to expand their palates: Women should try more whiskeys. Give it a chance and you will realize you can drink like a man. Also drink rosé year-round”
Palate-pleasing pairings: “Luigi Einaudi Dolcetto di Dogliani with hot dogs and a Garganega (Pinot Grigio) with steamed fish.”
If I were a wine varietal: “Brunello di Montalcino. I’m a bit cherry red when you meet me and then espresso and leather once you get to know me. We age beautifully.”
Red Gamay Wines & Liquors, 45 Merrick Road, Amityville, NY 11701 (631) 691-2888
Lily Peachin, Dandelion Wines, Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Looking for something out of the ordinary? Perhaps a pétillant naturel (natural wine) or a vegan wine? Check out Lily Peachin’s Dandelion Wine Shop in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn where you can find a nice selection of organic, biodynamic and natural wines as well other artisanal offerings. Dandelion Wines was recently named one of the “10 Best Wine Stores in the USA” by VinePair, a lifestyle publication.
Lily and her team work with over 40 distributors to curate Dandelion’s offerings from around the world. Many are small producers with unique stories. Most are also priced to be consumer friendly at under $25. Dandelion Wines hosts free weekly Thursday night tastings and dispenses tips on its website blog.
Lily says, “Everything is different and delicious Many [customers] will come in and say ‘I don’t recognize anything in here!’ And then they come back for another look.” Three examples she desribed included a Werlitsch Freude Amphora Bottle 2012 ($65) Austrian orange wine made from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay fermented on the skins and aged in amphora with “musky flavors of apricot, tangerine and wet hay;” Cantine Dell Barone Paone Fiano 2015 ($23), an unfiltered vegan wine “with smoky with a slight honey flavor and sandy-mineral overtones” from the Campania region of Italy, and Via Callejuela Las Mercedes 2016 ($26), “an unexpected Spanish white made from the sherry grape, Palomino with intense funky flavors and hint of salt.”
Lily grew up on a farm in upstate New York then lived in France where she caught the wine bug. College had her attending Cornell University Hotel School and majoring in wine and food. After graduating in 1999, she moved to New York City and spent six years managing a group of country and western bars in Manhattan. Eager to jump back into the wine world she took a job in sales for a large wine and spirits distributor. After a few years selling wine for a wholesaler, Lily opened Dandelion Wine in her Brooklyn neighborhood in 2008. She now has a second wine shop scheduled to open in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in early 2018.
What’s selling: “Lots of rosé, bubbles, [wines from] lesser regions like Greece and Portugal, Malbec”
Palate-pleasing pairings: “Champagne and fries, potato chips or popcorn, and rustic Italian reds with homemade sausages.”
If I were a wine varietal: “Maybe Cabernet Franc… distinct, down to earth, earthy, edgy, not for everyone… can be playful or serious but is always undeniably Cabernet Franc.”
Dandelion Wines, 139 Franklin Street, Greenpoint, Brooklyn (347) 689-4563
Theresa Rogers Matthews, Horseneck Wines & Liquors, Greenwich, CT
“May Champagne be a part of your daily palate exercise. Too much of a good thing is wonderful!” This is how Theresa Roger Matthews’ email signature reads, which really says it all. Her rise to ownership of this revered shop has been well deserved and hard earned as Terry, as she is known to her friends, has worked in the wine business since 1978. She’d previously been in both sales and distribution and ran her own wine brokerage business aptly named, The Wine Professionals. In 1986, she purchased her first wine shop in Greenwich, CT with a partner. The store was an instant success.
Terry recalls, “In 1989 I received a call from the owner of a local wine shop. He’d seen how I’d grown my current store from $450,000 to $2 million in three years and said he was ready to get out of the business for health reasons.” That year, she took over as sole proprietor of Horseneck Wines & Liquors, a historic shop built in 1934, named after the original name of the town of Greenwich.
Horseneck supplies a big selection for this small and affluent town. “We carry over 3,000 selections from all around the world,” says Terry. “We also have a large selection of family-owned and company-owned single malt scotches along with craft spirits (bourbons, gins, rums) [from] every section of the country. Tequila is another strong area as are great Armagnacs and Cognacs.”
Palate-pleasing pairings: “A prime rib-eye with a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon from California. For something a little more offbeat, try Dom Pérignon with barbeque or a beautifully aged Bordeaux with a fresh cup of New England chowder.”
If I were a wine varietal: “Burgundy Pinot Noir- specifically from Domaine de la Romanée Conti grapes. They take a long time to come around for perfection, but when the Pinot Noir is climbing in age, as me, it is an ever-changing miracle. It can be a little spicy, soft, and caressing on the palate, and no one knows what the next sip will be like.”
Horseneck Wines & Liquors, 25 East Putnam Avenue, Greenwich, Ct. 203-869-8944
While each of their respective stores and approach may be different in style and location, these successful retailers all have a few things in common: a nose for great wines, a passion for sharing their knowledge, and an instinct, perhaps it’s “women’s intuition,” for anticipating what their customers will continually come back for and enjoy.