Wine as a Passion, and at a Good Price

BY LAURA HANRAHAN | On a Friday night in Chelsea, Empire State of Wine has a constant flow of customers stopping in to pick up a bottle or two for the weekend.

Owner Eddy Le Garrec expertly helps each client find his or her perfect match. Whether you’re looking to find a red to pair with homemade pizza, or wanting something that will be a crowd-pleaser at a dinner party, he knows just the bottle. It would be hard to guess that this cozy wine shop that is a go-to spot for many local residents opened just a few months ago.

A French native, Le Garrec opened the doors to his store, at 111 W. 20th St., between Sixth and Seventh Aves., on Dec. 1. But its feeling is hardly typical. With colorful shipping containers, vibrant yellow walls, upbeat music and lit-up signs decorating the space, it resembles more of a California beach bar than your average New York City wine store.

Cases of wine are displayed out in the open with easy-to-read signs giving aspiring oenophiles all of the essential information about each bottle, including its American Wine Critics’ rating.

“What I was thinking when I created this is that, for a lot of people, wine is intimidating,” he explained. “So that’s why I put up the ratings, because sometimes when I talk to customers, they’re scared to talk to me. So the fact that they have all the information is great.”

Since Eddy Le Garrec, above, opened his Empire State of Wine store on W. 20th St. in December, it has fast become the go-to spot for local vino lovers. The French native brings to the table an extensive knowledge of wine, and also cuts out markups by buying directly from wineries, which keeps the consumer’s cost way down. | Photo by Tequila Minsky

In the middle of the store is its most popular section — bottles under $15. Le Garrec makes shopping even more streamlined for those who are new to wine by dividing the section into light, medium and full body.

“ ‘Under $15’ is awesome because it’s kind of a comfort zone,” he said. “When they’re there, they know I’m not going to kill them for something that’s $25. It’s creating a nice environment.”

Empire State of Wine isn’t Le Garrec’s first vino venture. He found massive success in Florida as the number-one seller statewide of wine above $75 and champagne with his company W Wine Boutique. He eventually sold the business and moved to Chelsea, unsure of what his next move would be.

“I kind of got depressed,” he said. “I had all this money but I had nothing planned, so I went back to school in New York. I learned how to make documentaries. It’s a great passion to have, but there’s no money,” he said with a laugh.

Le Gerrac had no intention of going back into wine until he walked by his local wine shop — a whopping 4,000 square foot store — only to find that it had closed overnight.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is so stupid, it’s such a fantastic location,’ ” he said.

Le Gerrac quickly called the landlord, negotiated down the size of the store, and within a few months had opened Empire State of Wine.

Because of his years of experience, relationships with wineries and expert knowledge of seemingly every grape all over the world, Le Gerrac is able to buy directly from the winery, avoiding markups added by suppliers and greatly reducing the cost per bottle to the customer. To illustrate this, he pointed to a bottle of 2015 Beaujolais that he sells in the store for $18.

“I had a supplier that came to sell me the exact same wine, but in 2012, which wasn’t a great vintage — 2015 is fantastic — for $18 and 15 cents,” he said. “I said maybe you should be buying it from me.”

Eddy Le Garrec is often changing up his wine stock, based on the best vintages that are available at any given moment. He has direct relationships with many wineries worldwide and an expert knowledge of every variety of grape. | Photo by Tequila Minsky

Le Gerrac, however, hasn’t limited his store to just wine. He also sells several spirits, including a vodka he says is even better than Grey Goose and a tequila that he described as “dangerously good.”

Because of Le Gerrac’s purchasing style, he tends to have a high turnover rate, with new types of wine constantly being brought in.

“For example, 2015 was unbelievable in France and 2016’s going to be even better,” he said. “But 2017, not good, so I’m not going to have French 2017.”

When asked why other wine stores in the city aren’t able to offer the same experience he has created, Le Gerrac cites his two unmistakable qualities: his passion and his knowledge.

“It’s very simple,” he said. “In New York either you have this very pretentious, intimidating wine store or you have the little guy down the street who doesn’t know anything. So, I knew there was a niche between the two: someone who does it right and doesn’t take advantage of the customer.”

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