How the Brooklyn Wine Exchange Became a Beloved Neighborhood Wine Shop

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NYC is experiencing a golden era in wine, as retailers have access to more wines from more importers from the farthest reaches of the globe than ever before. As I set out to distill those retailers down to a forthcoming list of the 10 best (which will build on last year's list), I reached out to the public to see which stores hit their "favorite" lists, and why. One store received repeated nominations: Brooklyn Wine Exchange (138 Court Street, 718-855-9463). Thus, I decided to take my questions about what makes a good wine shop to the owner of the lauded store, Christopher Modica. We chatted about developments in the retail industry, wine trends, how he defines a quality shop, and why his staff and learning center make his retail style unique from the rest.

Modica grew up in Carroll Gardens and roasted coffee at D'Amico Foods for many years. He felt compelled to enter the retail sphere because retail was all he'd known, and Brooklyn had been his home his whole life. His interest in wine grew gradually over the years, as he discovered the many parallels between the processes of transforming grapes into wine and coffee beans into coffee. Because D'Amico had an ambiance that fostered a chat over one's espresso, Modica wanted a wine shop with a similar philosophy: a place at which neighborhood folks could meet and converse about wine. Modica opened Brooklyn Wine Exchange in December of 2009 on the border of Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill.

What is the scope of your selection and why?
We have tremendous diversity in our customers' interest, knowledge level, and passion for wine. We sell skin-fermented white wines just as frequently as we sell Bordeaux. Wines from Piedmont, Italy are given just a much shelf space as Malbec from Argentina. And while we feature over 50 wines at all times that are $13 or less a bottle, we are also selling Premier Cru white Burgundy and Grower Champagne with serious frequency.

Who are your clientele?
We are at the epicenter of four major well-known and fashionable Brooklyn neighborhoods: Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn Heights, and Boerum Hill, so we have serious wine geeks, people new to appreciating fine wine, and people looking for a nice, inexpensive bottle to pair with Tuesday night dinner. We also see new customers every week due to the fact that we are located next to Brooklyn's only Trader Joe's location. Their clientele, who travel from all over the city to shop there, often shop here as well, and it is extremely important to us that they are made to feel welcome.

What sets your store apart from the rest?
We are extremely proud of our customer service and feel that it is the best in the city. If you come to our shop, you are going to get the same level of attention if you are purchasing an $8 bottle of wine or a $100 bottle of wine. We also have a very unique 40-seat learning center, located in the back of our store, where we host up to three free classes a week on a variety of wine and spirits topics which are led by our staff, our importers, and often the winemakers and distillers themselves.

Do you feel there are more quality wine shops now than five or 10 years ago? Is there room for more, or do you feel we are hitting a saturation point?
There definitely are [more quality shops]. New York City is in the midst of a serious wine shop boom, and almost all of these shops are presenting quality wines that tell a story about where they come from. Neighborhoods all over the city continue to reinvent themselves and attract more population, and people always need wine!

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