April 22, 2022: Wine & Beer Happenings in Greenwich
BEFORE WE START…
Post-Covid, the tasting shows traditionally put on by distributors in the area have really picked up again. I recently attended tastings given by Rosenthal Importers and Independence Wine & Spirits. My favorites from these exceedingly well-chosen portfolios can be found after midnight tonight (Thursday, April 21st) on my web page, at https://www.frenchyswinerd.com/blog, under “Recent Favorites.” I will also be including some favorites from recent in-store wine - and brewery - tastings in Fairfield County.
CHRIS VELLOZZI’s GOT A BRAND-NEW GIG
I sat down the other day with newly-hired Store Manager Chris Vellozzi, to learn more about his exciting move to Old Greenwich Wine Merchants (OGWM). Chris’s hire is a savvy move by OGWM. It isn’t every day that you can bring on a Manager who grew up in the area, still lives here, and has Chris’s breadth and depth of experience.
Chris was born in Rochester, NY, but his family moved to Stamford when he was still a kid. With those two cities as hints, any guesses who his father worked for? Xerox, of course. Chris’s family also spent a few years of his childhood in Northern California. Chris now lives in New Canaan with his wife and two teenage boys.
After college, Chris scored a job in Sales at U.S. Surgical, but realized rather quickly that the Corporate lifestyle was not for him. Various jobs eventually led to working with Greg Carlon, owner of Glenville Wines in Greenwich, then to one of the great talent “trees” in the Fairfield County wine trade: Gerardi’s Liquor Store, on Newfield Avenue in Stamford. He and Carlon eventually bought Castle Wine & Spirits, in Westport, in the late 2000s, staying there until 2019, when they received a surprise offer for the store that was too good to pass up.
What attracted Chris to OGWM? “It’s a beautiful store. Tin ceilings, a chandelier, and the way the shelves were laid out is great. It just has a wine-store look and feel. It’s polished, and very inviting.” Chris was also impressed with Owner Charlie Santoro: “Charlie runs a good store. What he does is always well thought out.” As an example, Chris points out the store’s hyper-organized special-order sheets; special orders are often the transactions that lead to repeat business and customer trust but they are notoriously difficult to track.
Chris was also attracted by the sophisticated but always curious customer base. “Relationships with customers are the biggest reason I like working in retail. If they trust us, we can help them, and direct them to the things that they are looking for.” I asked Chris what his biggest hurdle is in the new store. “Learning the wines we didn’t have at my old store! There is always another wine you’ve never heard of and have to taste!”
What about the parking situation? Owners of previous iterations of OGWM often complained about the inconvenient parking in Old Greenwich, which was reputed to turn customers away. Chris (and Charlie) turn that logic on its head: “it’s no different from any other shop in Old Greenwich.” With that positive attitude to start, Chris goes on to point out that “Old Greenwich is a walking town. People love to stroll down Sound Beach Avenue. And they know the less-busy times to come.” Christ further reminds me that OGWM has parking in the back of the store.
“We also have free, no minimum, no-fee delivery, which means customers never have to carry their purchases out of the store. Many times, we beat them home with their wines.” OGWM will deliver within the hour if staff is available, but certainly the same day no matter what staff is on hand. And OGWM delivers from Byram to Stamford.
So… if Chris had retail superpowers and could have an infinite selection in his store, what would he still feature above all else? “Burgundy. I strive to take the intimidation factor away from Burgundy for my customers. The wines are so good, but there are so many labels and appellations that it really is confusing.”
Chris has also enjoyed watching the growth of Rosés over the past 15 years. “Ten years ago, people looked at French Rosé and asked ‘oh… is this sweet?’ Now, it is the go-to Summer wine for customers, and many wine drinkers favor it even in Winter.”
WORD TO THE BREWHEADS AMONG US
OGWM has a classic selection of Connecticut and out-of-State breweries, like Beer’d, Housatonic, Nod Hill, NEBCO, Back East, Industrial Arts, Jack’s Abby, Lawson’s, and No Worries. I would love to see them get even more funky, with Connecticut farm beers and some of the truly obscure Nutmeg beers. Chris’s past work as beer buyer and his very strong knowledge of beers in our State, as well as Charlie’s obvious priority to bring in top brews, make me confident that this will happen.
OGWM Armada Brewing is holding the Grand Opening of its Tasting Room in Fair Haven (east side of New Haven) this weekend. Learn more at Armada’s Facebook page.
The When Pigs Fly Bacon & Beer Fest takes place this Saturday afternoon at the New England Air Museum on the north side of Bradley Field. Tickets are $79 for tastings from 25 craft breweries. More info at: https://whenpigsflybb.com
The Study will have a wine tasting Friday from 3-6 PM, and do not forget their Pinot Noir class next Thursday, April 28th, from 7 to 9 PM. Football fanatics: make sure to set your recorder, since the NFL Draft begins at 8 PM and the Jets and Giants pick early! https://www.thestudyfinewines.com/classes-tastings