Talitha Whidbee at Vine Wine
If you live near Williamsburg, drink wine in Williamsburg, or have friends who do either, then chances are you’ve been to Vine Wine, the neighborhood’s go to boutique for any curious consumer. Sherry, Pet Nat, magnums of rosé, Basque cider, and biodynamic. Vine Wine carries the roster of Jon Bonné’s publication, The New California Wine, alongside wines that express terroir for under $20 a bottle. “If you’re training yourself to taste, you can taste what’s manipulated,” said Talitha Whidbee, the proprietor at Vine Wine. “I like natural wines, but I also like wines that are made to taste like something. I think the general public gets a short stick. They don’t know they can get good wine for under $10. The Crosby Cabernet Sauvignon tastes like Cabernet Sauvignon and people can tell.”
Developing her palate first with coffee, Talitha opened Champion Coffee in Greenpoint in 2006. “I started in coffee at twelve [years old],” she said. “I grew up in Seattle and started doing coffee blending. When I turned eighteen, I could taste wine…You start in coffee,” she added, “and you like Sumatra. Then you like Guatemala. It’s the same with getting into geeky wines. You like orange wine and then you realize, ‘No, I like Trousseau.'”
Relocating Vine Wine from Long Island City, where she first opened shop because, “I wanted a place to go that was good, and that had a relationship with the maker, where you could buy something for $10 or $50 and it’s good,” Talitha relocated to Williamsburg in April 2011. Here, as in Greenpoint and LIC, Talitha knows the importance of community. Vine Wine is a store where one can easily linger, whether it’s to read through the descriptors that are necklaced around every bottle top, or to chat with the friendly/personable vaults of knowledge that work the floor.
“You have to create community around your stores,” she said. “In New York City, people are desperate for that. They want community. This is an extremely selfish business,” she added and laughed. Selfish, if your sole need is to spread your love for great wines to every imbiber in your community. From free tastings to classes to winemaker’s dinners, Talitha makes the most beneath a single roof on Lorimer Street.
Last year, we attended a winemaker’s dinner with Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope. With a number of friends from the industry sipping alongside consumers and fans, Vine Wine supported an informal tasting, a sit down dinner, and a dance hall party all within a single room. It was a raucously good time that left a few of us a bit dizzy the next morning… (Thanks Talitha!)
Since then, she has hosted Steve Matthiasson, Barnaby and Olga Tuttle of Teutonic Wines, a book party for Jon Bonné and recently a sherry tasting to coincide with a book signing for Talia Baiocchi’s recent publication, Sherry. “I love sherry,” said Talitha. “I love Ana [Cabestrero, the capataz at El Maestro Sierra]. Talk about women in wine, and all the witchy-women, unicorn/god stuff with sherry. It’s perfect.
“I like wines that are made with excitement and passion, and I think that’s what’s behind the New World wines. They’re not making wine to get rich. Pet Nat. You’re not making it to make money. You have to be super passionate,” she added, without revealing that Talitha herself is responsible for founding Pet Nat Week.
It’s this very same passion that makes Talitha structure her business around people and wine, and the love that brings the two together. As a wine store that doesn’t do offerings, Talitha will not sell a single bottle before it arrives. “We could sell all the [Ameztoi] Txakoli,” she said, when a customer came in looking for a bottle of Rubentis. But her aim is to keep the shelves stocked so that her customers have the opportunity to access wines that they might not find elsewhere.
“We’re a place where you can drop off your keys and get your packages left,” she said. “I once got a call from a guy down the street who got locked inside his apartment. He called to get someone to drop his keys down to so that he could get out, and we said, Of course!”