In the fall of 2004 long-time couple Debbie Summer and Jan McGill opened Fermented Grapes, a neighborhood wine shop where they would sell wines which were true to their grape variety and terroir – wines with character. Brooklyn residents for over 25 years, Debbie & Jan say Prospect Heights was a neighborhood that initially brought doubtful laughs. Taking the “if we build it, they will come” approach, they are now running a fantastic little shop supported by neighborhood regulars and wine enthusiasts alike.
“10 years before opening the store, we had dinner together at a restaurant. It was the first time we ordered a bottle of wine with dinner where we noticed that the food made the wine taste better and the wine made the food taste better.” says Jan. It was the beginning of a journey that led them to vineyard visits, wine classes, an importing gig, and countless tastings before finally opening their own shop.
They were pleasantly surprised at the friendliness of the neighborhood residents as well as the level of willingness to try new things. “That’s why natural wines do so well here – people are open to learning something different.” says Debbie.
The store has a tight-knit staff who taste and buy as a team, with Debbie and Matt making the final decisions. This really carries over into the level of customer service since their staff is knowledgable and passionate about each product. Matt says “I believe the homey feeling we’ve cultivated has helped to take the intimidation factor out of wine. For so many people, buying a bottle of wine is a process that comes riddled with fears: the fear of the “up-sell,” the fear that the staff will be snooty or judgmental, and worst of all, the fear of feeling stupid.”
With backgrounds in computer programming and TV/Film operations for MTV and ABC, Debbie and Jan love the challenges and newness of each day in the wine industry. “You’re never finished, able to sit down and say there’s nothing more to know,” says Debbie. For Matt, he loves how the conversation about wine can turn into the story of the artist. “When we know the story behind a bottle of wine it can dramatically enhance our experience of it. For example, Olivier Cousin battling the Appellation system in court is almost a genius act of theater! When we drink those wines, we think about the significance of the conditions in which it was produced.”
Over the years they’ve watched the world of people who are knowledgable about wine become much more diverse. The guts of a great wine shop is not only about interesting wines and winemakers, but people like the Fermented Grapes family who are dedicated to learning and relaying that information to thirsty customers.
While they like many different regions, at home, Jan’s favorite is always Burgundy and Debbie tends to favor wines from the Loire.” Matt has a special fondness for Domaine Binner. “I still have some bottles stashed away of the 2008 cuvee Beatrice Pinot Noir. Really superb stuff!” He also mentions the quality and value from Domaine des Sablonnettes. Normally avoiding multiple wines from an individual producer, the store carries three Sablonnettes labels. “They’re subtle and humble, not screaming to be noticed. But there they are, waiting to be enjoyed.”
Fermented Grapes hosts free tastings every Wednesday and Saturday evening. Stop by anytime and expect a gracious welcome, inspiring wine conversation and a diverse selection of real wine.