How to Challenge the Norm of Wine Retail with Dustin Wilson MS

Dustin Wilson (@dustinwilsonms) is a partner and owner the wine shop in Tribeca, New York City called Verve Wine. Dustin came on the podcast when the show first started and he was working at Eleven Madison Park, but in this episode he tells us about how he transitioned from being a somm on the floor of restaurants for so many years to starting and being on the floor of a retail store and what the challenges of starting a new wine shop in New York City has been like.

We then dig into the story behind Verve, why Dustin wanted to start something new, and how Verve is challenging the norm of wine retail by integrating an amazing website that helps people find and learn about wine in an easier, more natural way and utilizing social media to do the same with things like visual tasting notes.

Dustin then shares with us one of his favorite wines he’s been excited about lately called 4 Monos, a Garnacha made just outside of Madrid, and you can get it at Verve for only $20. To top it all off, Dustin and the team at Verve are giving you as a Cru Podcast listener, 10% off all discountable wines when you check out with the code CRUPOD10. It only applies to those of you who can receive shipments in the USA. So, go get some wine from some great people who want to share more wine with the world.

But before we get into the show, many of you know that I had the opportunity of traveling to Madrid a couple weeks ago and meet a great winemaker by the name of Fabio Bartolomei, and experience the only natural wine shop in Madrid, called Wine Attack.

So, I knew that I was going to be buying a ton of wine, and my last experience with bringing a case of wine back in my regular suitcase was not only sketchy caused it looked like I was smuggling wine bottles out of Germany all wrapped up in t-shirts, but I didn’t know if all of my bottles were going to break. You know how TSA can be with our bags. So, I had to find a solution to my wine bottle traveling debacle. I found this company called Lazenne.

Essentially, they make suitcases for your wine bottles. It was perfect! I got one and they even offered to ship it to my hotel in Madrid so that when I got there, all I had to do was fill it with a case of amazing wines. I didn’t have to worry about making sure that I got it in time to fly out and then check a bag going out. I just gave them my address and it was sitting on my bed when I walked into my hotel room. It only cost me €35 to check the bag on the way back and it got to my destination in perfect condition!

Guys, I’m telling you. If you ever travel with more than a couple wine bottles on the plan, or even just driving long distances, you need to get one of Lazenne’s bags. Go to Lazenne.com and check out which bag is best for you. I got the 12-Bottle Wine Check Luggage, but maybe something a bit sturdier would be best for you, like the Vingardevalise Hardshell Wine Suitcase. Either way, take a look and protect your wine with a Lazenne bag.


Transcription

Dustin: My name is Dustin Wilson. I am a partner, owner of a wine company in New York city call Verve Wine. Our shop is down in the Tribeca neighborhood. Personally, I live in Manhattan in the upper west side. Long-time sommelier turned retail guy, I guess you could say.

Chappy: Has that been a weird transition from working the floor in a restaurant to the floor in retail?

D: Yeah, definitely been different. It’s a different type of business. There’s a lot I’m learning about it every day. I’m enjoying it a lot. I like it for a lot of reasons but I think one of those reasons is the challenge of learning something new. That has been great!

C: What are some of the new challenges that you have tried to tackle?

D: You know, it’s more of business-related. I was in restaurants for so long, I just I understand them better. I understand people better, understand what they’re looking for, what they want and likewise what to provide to people who enter your restaurant.

Whereas retail, it’s a different game. You know restaurant, you have people coming to you. It’s less about marketing, outreach, and advertising. It’s more about providing good experience and generating some buzz. With retail, it’s a lot more active or proactive, I should say. Outreach and marketing, I should say, are very new things for me.

C: It seems to be doing well, not only from the looks of the website but, the Instagram, Facebook, and everything else. It’s really well-done, I think.

D: Thank you! I appreciate it. We’re trying to do a great job with the imagery and kind of the branding aspect of what we do. That is part of what we really thought was lacking out there a little bit when it came to wine and we put a lot of effort into it. So, I appreciate that. Means a lot!

C: So, what’s the story behind Verve? How did it get started?

D: Originally, when I met my business partner, we got teamed up on a wine trip a few years back. And, we’re talking about various things and I was at that time with EMP, still. But I knew I wanted to start my own thing. We really loved the idea of having a wine bar/retail concept. These were all over the place in California, maybe not all over the place but there’s a few of them at least. I’ve been to a few and they’re great! It’s awesome to be able to sit down and glass of wine, a bottle of wine and get up and get a couple of bottles with you out the door. It’s super fun. We quickly realized that is not legal here, in New York city. In fact, you need to have separate licenses, totally separate business entities in order to do it. Separate entrances to the businesses. They cannot be connected in any way. They can be next door to each other but they can’t be connected.

We just need to find two adjoined spaces that are both available and put a wine bar on one of them and retail space in the other one and we’ll cross-market the two and run deals and make it super fun to be back and forth between the two. It’d be great! It all sounds good until you start looking around Manhattan looking for spaces like that. It’s hard enough to find one space, nonetheless two that are right next to each other. Then we also realized that we were essentially trying to create two totally different business concepts at the same time.So we took a step back and said, “Alright, let’s figure this out. This is too much for a first venture. Why won’t we pick one and do it really, really well. And then down the line, if we want to try something else then we can.”

That’s kind of how we ended up there. And we decided on retail because we found an opportunity to do something new and fresh and interesting in the retail space here in New York. Obviously, wine retail is very strong here and there are a number of good places. But a lot of them have been around for a long time and they put up great wines, very classic things of the world. There’s just absolutely nothing wrong with that but, we felt that there wasn’t a voice or a place for kind of a fresher, more youthful wine drinkers to pick up some good stuff and kind to appeal to them and what they care about.

For me, personally, I like wines that are $20 to $40 per bottle. That is usually my price range, roughly when buying stuff to take home. And we looked around and there weren’t a whole lot of people doing things super well online. They were either retailers who were kind of big discount stores, big box retailers that have an online presence and selling a lot of mass production lines at very discounted prices. Or the other end of the spectrum, great shops, like various ones here in New York who have an awesome product but their web experience was lacking. And there was a whole lot in between. We kind of wanted to fill that gap and say, “Let’s have this cool line. Let’s carry the stuff that we’re super into and passionate about.” But also have great web presence, social media presence and things like that we felt that we’re missing. Frankly, younger wine drinkers do care about that stuff. 

C: It’s funny that you mentioned that. I feel that within the wine industry, it seems to be five to ten years behind when it comes to technology and adopting new media. And it’s part of the reason why I started this podcast because there’s so much food coverage out there but there isn’t a whole lot about wine. There’s more and more stuff popping up but, really on the grand scheme of coverage at all, there isn’t much out there. I think there’s an opportunity for that which you’re obviously working on filling that gap.

D: Exactly! I agree. I think it’s definitely a little, we’re in the business that operates on the archaic side of things. We like going to dirty old sellers and drinking old wine and I guess part of it, the romance of wine itself is it is always behind the times. But, at the same time, for us, I mean for me, what I saw was a chance to kind of freshen things up a little bit and still pay great respects to the wines themselves, the producers, where they’re coming from, and how they’re being made, and all that. You know, give it a fresh face, something that can appeal to newer wine drinkers.

C: So I didn’t know that you couldn’t have a wine bar and retail at the same space at all. Were you able actually to do tastings and what-not and can you just actually sell glasses of wine?

D: Correct. Yeah, we are allowed by law to host post-tastings and serve up to a specific quantity but we can’t have people come buy glasses of wine. We can’t serve wine by the glass or anything like that. So, you can’t have like a bar scenario. But we do host classes, tastings, and seminars and things like that in store where we will open and pour wine. But you know, it’s in small tasting quantities and it’s not like people are coming to sit down, drink, and eat. It’s more about the education and tasting.

C: I’ve seen kind of, by the people I’ve spoken to and just around the internet, Verve has been super successful from day one, it seems. Everyone knows about it. Everyone’s talking about it, even if they have a faint idea about it, “Oh! There’s this new wine shop in New York. It’s called Verve or something.” Everyone really, really loves it.

D: That’s over in your neck of the woods, as well?

C: I’ve been around London and some people within the industry, in bigger cities in Europe, they’re talking about it.

D: Amazing!

C: But a lot of people, like upstate New York, people in L.A., San Francisco, and everywhere in between, they’re just like, “Yeah, there’s this new shop. There’s this name and these two guys.” And people, I don’t think they have made the connection of who’s involved and what’s going on. They’re just, “There’s this cool shop. I wanna get on.”

D: That’s awesome! That’s more awesome to hear that and you know, without my name being connected to it or anything, it’s great! It’s what you need out there.

C: Yeah, it’s really good.

D: It’s made my day!

C: So, what, with that and knowing that it’s getting out there and it’s growing but it’s still such a young business. What’s the goal? Where do you want to get to?

D: My goal at the end of this is pretty simple. I want to work with, while I didn’t decide to go with the restaurant and pursue retail in the first place was because of all the options out there available to work in the wine industry, what I loved about, I love a lot of thing about restaurants, but one thing I didn’t want to give up was the ability to work with all the wines that I like and I love with the producers that I respect and the places that I really enjoy wines from. If you go into distribution, let’s say you’re stuck with a specific portfolio that you’re working with, I’m saying with importing or if I went to go and work for a winery, which many of my colleagues have done, you’re talking about one line all the time. So for me, it was really important for me to be able to keep all the fun lines I’ve grown to love in the years and I don’t want to give that up. That leads me into, for me I want to have all those wines and be able to share them with people and expose people to them and continue to educate people. And one thing that’s nice about this versus the restaurant, such a big realization to me was before we started the business was, one of the things I loved being a sommelier was you get the chance to educate somebody at the table. They come in. They’re not quite sure what they’re going to drink. You get to be the tour guide to take them into the world of wine and help them set something that would go great with their meal and get to talk to them about it. It’s a great experience and its fun for me.

But, the downside is that you’re really restricted to whoever walks into your restaurant that night. Whereas with this, there’s an opportunity to share these stories, the experiences, the wines, people behind them, the terroir, that kind of stuff at a much grander scale. So for me, what I wanted it to go, what I wanted to do really is just continue to tell these stories about these awesome wines and educate people but not in a nostalgic super geeky way. I want wine to be fun and I think what I’ve seen with some businesses out there, there’s kind of a gap in the middle. Again, there’s the kind of lower end of the spectrum where people make wine super fun but they’re not using great wines and they portray wine as something being chugging by the pool without utter respect for where the wine came from, what made it sort of thing. And at the other end of the spectrum, you got people who are educating very thoroughly but almost too much so where most consumers from what I found or usually somewhere in the middle. They’re enthusiastic about wine. They like it. They want to know about it. But they don’t have the terminology down. They don’t have the jargon. They don’t know a lot of the kind of foundational stuff that takes one to a higher level. A lot of times, we tend to over-educate or talk about things at such a high level that it goes over the head of a lot of consumers. So again, the goal for me at the end of the day is work with the wines I love, tell the stories, and help educate people and make them excited about good wine in a fun way. So everything that we do is kind of around those ideas and those goals.

C: So when somebody, say when somebody walks into Verve and they know a bit about wine, maybe they come in and say, “Hey, I’m looking for this or I’m thinking about getting something like this tonight.” How do you start to approach them and educate them in a way that’s not super geeky or super plain?

D: Most of the time for me, it’s really just talking about the basics and not trying to talk over their head, I guess. As soon as you start using too technical terms, you know going into specifics, terminologies and stuff like that, it goes over the heads of a lot of people. I try to be enthusiastic and really excited. I got to first listen. First thing to do is pay attention to what people are looking for, what they’re asking. It’s not always my agenda. I come from a restaurant, its hospitality. So it’s listening to guests and hearing them and understanding what is it that they want. And then being excited about and talking to them about, you know, the choices that could work well for them and why they’re fun, where they come from, and things like that. For me, I try to just be fun and light-hearted about wine, tell them where they came from. If they want to dig into more geeky stuff then we can have at it.

C: So when you’re on the retail floor, do you consider yourself a sommelier?

D: Man, that’s a loaded question! No, not necessarily. I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s a whole lot another conversation, I guess. Technically no, a sommelier works at a restaurant so I wouldn’t consider myself to be a sommelier. In my heart, I’m always a sommelier and I act the same way, do the same things as I would but I guess I wouldn’t label myself as a sommelier to the people in the shop. It’s something I go back and forth with a lot because I like what sommeliers are, what we do, and I have a huge respect for the sommelier profession so in that sense I’m inclined to one may refer to as sommes as we’re doing kind of the same. It’s a touchy, touchy thing.

C: Okay, cool. We can move on. So let’s talk about the web aspect of Verve, what’s going on with all that? We kind of mentioned before about filling that market gap of providing great content and stuff that really tells the stories of wines and the producers. What are some of the ways that you’re doing that on website and on social media? Has it been resonated with people?

D: Well, I think first on the website, we really tried to think about people who shop online and more often than not, it is usually, “I need to go pick something up to drink with dinner tonight.”, go to a friend’s house, grilling something up. So they need something to go along with that or, “We’re heading out to the park for a picnic, I want to go get some wine to go with that.” It’s usually pairing-oriented, for instance. Or maybe they are giving a gift to a friend and they need something for that. Or maybe they know that they like things that are light and aromatic or like big and juicy and fruity and they like to describe things by their flavour profile.

While we do get a lot of people who come in asking for very specific wines, they know the producer, the vintage, everything that they’re looking for, or maybe they know a specific region, or price budget that they’re looking for. You know, a lot of people, more often than not, coming in and saying, “Hello! We’re going to have chicken for tonight, I kind of want something that would go well with that. Here’s my price range.”

So when we built the site, we tried to create it with all kinds of people in mind to be able to navigate through the site, in such a way that it’s accommodating to however you need come at it. So, when you look up wines by pairing, the type of food that you’re having, or you can look it up by occasion. We run various occasions, seasons. We just launched brunch a while ago. Its brunch wine, it’s going to be spring soon. Brunch is big deal here in New York anyway. Moving out gifts. Or you can search wine via its flavour profile, light and crisp, or slightly sweet, or rich and round, things of that nature or you can look it up traditionally by its grape and region. And then those that are looking for very specific producers, the search is really powerful on the site so you can just type the producer that you are looking for and it will pop up, assuming we have it of course. First and foremost, we want to make sure that it was very practical for the way people shop. But then, the other thing that we did is I wanted to, you know, at a high level to keep things fun, educate a little bit without being too forward with it, I guess.  When you click on a line for instance, you’ll see a picture of the bottle, the name of the wine. Most of the wines will also have a brief description of the wine. And if you scroll down, there will be a blurb about the variety of grape used in the wine and what kind of normal flavors does it have, where’s it from. Then, scroll down further, you’ll see where the wine comes from and a small blurb about that too. Kind of like, going above and beyond just the typical how to present Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara but, giving people some insights on grapes and regions. So that was one way to kind of lightly educate, I guess. We have more significant plans in the works for the site that will be built in a little further down the road. We want to launch with at least those kinds of basic things; a) being able to navigate in a practical way, and b) getting some good information about the wines and the grapes and the regions where they come from.

As far as social media is concerned, I wanted to try to use that more for a platform to educate. Its funny when we first got the social thing going, we kind of had different ideas of what we wanted and it took us some time to kind of figure out our voice. So now, we’re starting to come clear of what we’re trying to accomplish in social media and I’m super excited about it. Basically, every month, we pick a new region of the world and highlight it and talk about it and every post of the month will have something to do with the said region.

For instance, we just launched Santa Barbara. Last month we did the round and we tried to make all the posts either about the region, in some way, or about the producers that are there, or the grapes that are used, or something interesting about terroir, some form of educational component to it. Then again, keeps it light-hearted and we try to be creative and fun with it. You may have seen some “visual tasting”, what I like to call them, by the way, in the middle of the photo, all of the kind of usual flavors that you would get from that type of wine that are surrounding it. Instead of writing out a tasting note like, “This tastes like strawberries and flowers”, that kind of stuff, we just put strawberries and flowers in the photo with it and it’s kind of like explanatory. So, kind of giving people a way to look and visualize what a wine tastes like, what a grape expresses. That was kind of our goal in social or some of the posts more serious or in depth like about a place and what makes it special or a photo of a winemaker we really love in a particular regions and what we like about them, some background. We really want it to become less “sales-y” for featuring a wine that we have around. But I like using it more for the goal of sharing the stories and education.

C: I think last time we spoke, originally, the first time, goals that you mentioned were wanting to use social and wanting to see more people using social and marketing, in general, for education purposes, as opposed to saying, “Hey! This is the bottle that I’m having. It tastes like this.” Or maybe, “This is an awesome bottle.” It doesn’t actually tell anybody, anything.

D: Yeah and you know I’m like a fan of the bottle shot. It’s fine. I do it myself often enough but I think what social has turned into, for a lot of wine, is it is trying to build FOMO or trying to be cool and be like, “Hey! See what I’m drinking. Here’s this wine that nobody can get their hands on but I’m drinking it now. Hahaha!”It almosts seems that the rarer the wine or the more expensive or something, or the better the Instagram shot, is just basically trying to build a jealousy of FOMO. Instead of using it to help people understand wine a little bit better, I think there’s room for both, but, for us, for Verve Instagram anyway, I wanted to stay really close to making things approachable and fun and educational. So, we’re not taking photos of DRC from 60s that nobody can afford or purchase. These are wines that you can buy. They are awesome. They’re delicious. Here’s something fun about it and you can learn something along the way.

C: I’m curious because I’ve seen a lot of statistics and what-not from e-commerce vs. brick-and-mortar sales, especially for food and wine, where some saying that e-commerce sales is only 15, 20, 30% of total retail sales. What have you all found on that e-commerce vs. retail sales base?

D: Right now, we’re still very new. Right now, I’m still trying to think. Like in the last couple of months, we are right around that 15-ish, 18-ish percent online vs. what we’re selling out of the store. It kind of depends on what you consider to be an online sale. Is that somebody that just navigates to your site and buy something or is it something that was purchased via email. But basically, whether it’s through an email promotion or just the site, we’re hovering around 15 to maybe 18%. But we really help, we see the scalability of the site so, we want that to grow. It’s certainly a challenge because it’s like getting, wanting it to grow and making it grow are totally different things. While I’m extremely proud of the site and what we’ve done with it, with the way it looks and feels and everything. Just having a pretty website is not going to get people to buy anything. They might pick you over someone else if it’s the same thing and your site looks a little bit better. Like for me, if I go to a site that looks shoddy and old and you know, built like it’s 20 years ago, I might be hesitant to purchase anything whereas, nicer looking sites are more open to buying it but, having something that looks good alone is not enough to attract people. So that’s the piece that we’re still trying to figure out. I’m personally trying to figure out but I think there’s definitely some room to grow, definitely. And I think it’s just a matter of, kind of figuring out exactly how to get the site out there more, what helps people convert. It’s a tricky game for sure.

There’s a lot of pricing that has to do with it too. Like wine searcher, certainly makes pricing very competitive because the good thing for the most part but it’s tough to compete with businesses that have been around for a long time that they’re buying palettes of wine at a much lower price and we’re only able to buy a few cases of something and we’re paying more for the wine that they are so they are able to get a nice mark up on it. It’s way cheaper that we can ever offer it. So there’s economies of scale that prevent us from drawing at a pace that I’d like to grow but, I think it is our long-term goal to really increase the online piece for sure. That’s where we want to be.

C: Have you seen more and more wine clubs popping up? Have you all seen an increase?

D: We get questions about it all the time and it’s not official yet but we are launching a wine club this month. We’re excited about that. I’ve spent a lot of time seeing what else is out there, what I like, and what I don’t like. We’re pretty excited to get back going. I think that’s great for certain demographics.

It’s not great for everybody. I think that at the end of the day, I really like the fact that we have a lot of different lines that you can shop a la carte for. But increasingly, we get a ton of questions like, “Do you guys have a subscription wine club?” People want to sign up for a club that still doesn’t even exist! It’s good. It’s great for me so I thought, “Let’s just do one and make it awesome.” There are a lot of people out there who want it. There’s going to be a high demand. I’m super excited about that piece. I think that will be really good for us in a number of levels. It will bring us more attention. It will drop people to the site that will hopefully, help us increase some of the sales online because if they get the box and they like some of the wines inside, we’ll going to make sure they’re available on the website as well so they can buy extra bottles. I think there’s really a lot of potential that comes in doing that. So, yeah, I’m stoked about it.

C: Is there a typical person that’s coming in asking for it? Is it kind of the late 20-something female or is it just random people who are interested in it?

D: it is definitely, definitely the younger demographic for sure but, men and women alike. Let’s say probably 20’s to mid to late 30’s or so are the people asking for it and its people who are wine enthusiasts not wine experts. Its people who like wine, interested in tasting cool wine, they don’t know a ton about it just yet. It’s funny because we get it more often than not necessarily in the store but wherever I go, on the road, or when I host an even somewhere, or we set up like a tasting table on an outside venue, we get people going to us all the time asking like, “Are you a subscription club? What are you guys?” And we’re like, “We sell wine. We have a store.” That’s when they’re asking about it. Certainly, high demand.

C: Yeah and there’s more popping out every single day.

D: They’re really interesting. It’s still really early in the game so I don’t know, I know that somebody’s clubs are doing extremely well but it’s still so new that I think there’s definitely some room to do something cool and still be kind of in the frontend of this trend. We’ll see! I have high hopes and I guess we spent a lot of time to make this fun and really awesome so, I’m excited about it.

C: Very cool, very cool. How often are you travelling? Whether its to events or to go meet with producers?

D: Maybe average of probably like, roughly once or twice a month somewhere for something. Whether its, a lot of times events take me all over the place or tastings. But I try to get out to visit wineries and producers at least a few times a year as well. But if I travel around three or four times, I bet it intermingling with event travel. Events’ a pretty decent amount. My girlfriend definitely gives me a hard time.

C: Yeah, I was talking to Dylan Proctor and he’s saying he’s travelling last year it was like 320++ days that he’s on a plane. That’s rough.

D: Yeah, that guy is on the road constantly! That’s his job.

C: So, are you visiting, when you go visit a producer that you already have wines that you are selling, is it kind of exploratory missions or go and to see what they are doing? What is that kind of like?

D: Definitely the wines that we have here, that I really love, that I have visited before are way high in the list. But its always nice too! Its always nice to hear the opinions of people you respect. If you’re here, you might as well see xyz person. It’s great. It ends up to be a mix of getting education of seeing producers that we carry, maybe I haven’t seen before or there are a handful of producers who are I go back to and see relatively often, just re-taste their wines or a new vintage or something like that. And then, I’m inevitably finding new stuff on the road too, so it’s great!

C: So, it’s just me on a selfish curious personal standpoint, when you are bringing new wine into the shop, other than that being something you enjoy, what are you looking for in a certain wine?

D: I deal with like small family-owned wineries that farm sustainably, that don’t necessarily have to be labeled organic or bio-dynamic but, they’re essentially practicing for the most part but haven’t got certified. They’re very hands-on for the winery so as not to, we don’t like wineries who manipulate their wine, putting, adding certain things like that. I wouldn’t say that we are only looking to carry what you would call natural wines but its certainly not the case. We do have a bunch of them but, we’re not really dramatic about that. But more importantly for me I think ; a) it has got to be delicious, b) it has got to fit all those pre-requisites I mentioned , and c) its making sure the wines that they make are very true to their place and true to the varieties that they’re using. It well represents their terroir and the grapes being used.

There’s a lot of wine out there, you taste it and you can’t tell where it’s from or what it is. You can have all the other stuff. Sometimes there’s a little guy in the middle of nowhere making wine and if it doesn’t speak to that kind of place or kind of grapes, to me, it just kind of loses the character.

C: Absolutely. So kind of going in another direction, a video kind of recently has been blowing up. You know what I’m talking about with Punch and I was looking it up and it was actually from a few years ago, when you’re from EMP.

D: Yeah I think it got reposted recently.

C: Yeah, it just took off. First of all, to the people who haven’t seen it, which I’m sure everybody has, what is tonging and where did that come from? Does it have like a historical aspect like Sabrage or does is it just a random thing that people started doing?

D: They’re called port tongs. Originally, the use for them was to open old bottle corks, vintage, so we have to wait to drink it. Usually, it’s not that good until at least 20-30 years old. And over that time, corks were often disintegrated. You get high alcohol levels in there. It eats away. So traditionally they use these port tongs to heat up, place them on the glass to heat up the glass, on the neck of a bottle and then hit it with a little cold water to snap the glass in a nice cool clean way, kind of bypass on how to open or sticking a wine key through the cork.

It’s been done before in other restaurants for that specific purpose. Tables that would order a grape from the 60’s or something like that. I’ve seen other places that would do that, use the port tong service. But you know, EMP was more like these experiences and like some of them slightly more theatrical. When bring food out to the table, do you need to cut things table-side or do you need to present a big piece of fish. There are a lot of things that happen in restaurants that aren’t done out of necessity or done to enhance the experience of the guest in the restaurant. From a wine perspective, there’s only so much you can do that is like you can show the wine, decant the wine, pour it in a glass, like a wine service kind of things. Like today to have a better experience, you can have good wine served in great glassware, as long as you handle bottles correctly and everything. It’s kind of limitations of what you can do. So we got a little keen, “What else can we do that can be fun and energizing for guests?”. We kind of just threw it out there jokingly and we thought about it to be really fun.

So when we first started doing it, it was strictly for older bottles of red wine. Now in my restaurant, we didn’t often sell full bottles of vintage port at the end of a meal. I don’t know a few places that do anymore. But most people by the end of a three-hour meal and multiple glasses of wine or multiple bottles of wine. The last thing they really need is a full 750ml full sized bottle of 20% alcohol, 45% wine. So we don’t have too many requests for that but we really wanted to try service. It needs to be wines at least 30 years old. We do it for those. Like that way, that can instigate people to want to experiment with older wines and it also kind of works because there’s maybe some new to opening the bottle that way because a lot of older corks will be tough to get out of the bottle or break. There’s a functionality and logic that works for that. So that’s how we started. We started doing it every now and then and we would sell those old bottles of wine. When we got the opportunity, we ordered something old, corked it out and do something for them and it was nuts, I swear! And every single person at the surrounding tables would stop eating and turn around and watch what we’re doing. They’re just absolutely fascinated like, “What is that? That is crazy.” People would start clapping and we would like break the glass and take the top off. They really didn’t know what was coming. We would talk to them about the old school way of opening cork. We’ve repurposed it for these old bottles of wine and they still really didn’t know what was going on until the glass cracks, we pull the top off and people would go nuts. People just love these stuff and we started getting requests from other tables and were like, “What’s going on in there? That’s awesome! Could you put my bottle that way?”

At first we were like, I don’t know, should we do this. This is kind of lame. And hey they want it. Who are we to say no or be snooty about it. I didn’t want to be snobby in the restaurant even if we’re a very high-end restaurant like, “No, we’re sorry. We cannot do that for you. We only do that for expensive, old wine.” And disappoint these guests. Some people come if they’ve saved all these money spending a ton of money there, it’s their anniversary, a super special night. You squash the whole experience by telling them “no”. It’s like, who cares? We just get over ourselves and have fun with it and let’s just rock it out. So we do it for those people and then honestly, it just became so popular that people were asking for it left and right. We started essentially doing it for guests and wanted to have a kick at it like if we have a VIP coming in or something like that, we would do it for them like a fun extra service piece to the experience. It was a huge hit. People just love it. They can’t get enough of it. It went way bigger, became way more popular with our guests. It’s out there. It’s not necessary, it’s a total waste of time or on and on said by some comments. I agree with that, it’s totally different when you go to a restaurant just make people have fun and give them a great time and get over the snobby snooty aspect. It doesn’t need to be necessary to make it awesome.

C: Wine’s made to be fun.

D: It’s like people want it and they have a good time with it. You see them smile, their faces light up. That makes it all worth it. Was it necessary? No. But they went home and they told their friends about it and they freaked out about it and they have a great time and that’s awesome.

C: I love it. Cool! We’re almost an hour so, just a few more questions. One is, what have you been feeling grateful for lately?

D: I guess it’s awesome to be in New York and get to taste all the wine on a regular basis. I’m grateful for so many things, grateful for my business partner. Man! I don’t know if I could just pick one thing.

You know somebody, the other day, they’re like, “Are you scared? Are you freaked out or anything?” I was like, I grew up in a family with my mom. My dad left when I was young, when I was four years old. And my mom was a teacher in a local high school. I had two younger brother and sister. We grew up with not a whole lot. Now, I have a wine business in New York City. I’m like grateful for all of it.

C: That’s awesome. That’s really cool. I like to hear stuff like that where people start from whether its nothing or you’re from just a totally different life and now, they’re doing something they absolutely love. It’s great. 

So, next question, where can people connect with you online? With Verve? And starting to know more about wine and getting involved.

D: Yeah! I would definitely follow us on the social media, Instagram. We love all of our followers on Instagram. If you ever want to connect with me, I love hearing from people. It’s just dustin@vervewine.com. Shoot me an email. I’m always done to a nice chat.

Or, I also do a lot of stuff with my social media as you can see. You can hit me up there. Definitely check out the website and peruse. Check back relatively often. We’re going to be changing some stuff on the site relatively soon and we’ll get some new stuff up there, some more content and continue to pump out some fun stuff over social.

C: And the last question, which is really difficult for a lot of people. What’s one wine you’ve been really excited about lately?

D: Oh man! I have it for you. It’s nothing fancy at all. It’s a Spanish wine called Quatro Monos. Do you know it?

C: Yeah, Helen Johanneson told me about it in L.A.

D: It’s got monkeys on it on the label. It’s like $20. It’s like a 100% Garnacha from Spain, outside Madrid. It hasn’t really caught on, I think with the trendy super big sommelier yet. I’m sure it will because it fits the profile to a T. It’s delicious and it’s cheap so, I’ve been drinking a lot of that lately.

C: Where can you get that in New York? Or maybe I shouldn’t say?

D: Well, you can get it at Verve. That’s for sure!  Shoot! I can’t remember who the importer is for that. I should look that up. Oh! Actually I think it’s MFW that brings it into New York. We buy it from them. It’s delicious. They make in red and in white. I prefer the red. I think Spain is having a really interesting resurgence right now. There’s really a lot of really cool stuff coming out over there.  Actually I think they’re having an identity crisis for a little while there. It was either super, super traditional old school like Rioja and at the other end of the spectrum, it’s like the flavour paths like super oak like Jumilla El Nido, not a whole lot of stuff in between.  Now there are some interesting things coming around. You’re probably familiar with the invinata stuff. Those have become very trendy but they’re delicious and rightfully so. But this is kind of if you like those invinata wines especially some of the lighter, fresher styles that they do reds, then this is right up your alley.