October 12, 2012

Bottles on the Block

While working at Goldman Sachs, Eric Woods ’00 was inspired to open a Harlem wine store.

By Amanda Chalifoux

While working at Goldman Sachs and living in Harlem, Eric Woods ’00 was often too tired to enjoy wine at home. “In most Manhattan neighborhoods, everyone has a wine store three to five blocks from their apartments,” Woods says. “But my neighborhood didn’t have any wine stores, so if I wanted wine at home, I had to schlep it on the subway.”

As Woods watched his Harlem neighborhood being transformed by new restaurants and renovated brownstone apartment buildings, he knew the area could support a wine store, too. Working with his college friend and business partner Jai Jai Greenfield, Woods opened Harlem Vintage in 2004.

Not only is the store unique because of its location — “People thought we were absolutely crazy to open a retail boutique in Harlem,” Woods says — it‘s also innovative in its organization. Traditionally, wines are displayed according to region of origin. Convinced that the average customer doesn’t understand that the same grape is called different things in different countries — a Bordeaux, for example, is also a Merlot — Woods sought to organize the store in a way that makes the most sense to customers, grouping wines by grape rather than by region. “All the Rieslings are together, all the Chardonnays are together, all the Sauvignon Blancs are together, et cetera,” he says.

Harlem Vintage also focuses on wines produced by women and people of color, drawing from the dizzying number of wines on the market, which Woods says is the most challenging aspect of the industry. “There are an infinitesimal number of wines being produced,” says Woods. “And as technology changes, the number of regions where they’re produced grows every day.”

Family tradition. “My father is a wine aficionado and has a wine cellar at home. He used to let me choose wines for family dinners. I call wine the fifth food group.”

Keep it bubbly. “When bringing wine to a party, Prosecco or Cava are always good choices. You can never have too much bubbly at a party.”

Illustration by Scotty Reifsnyder

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