Gowanus Lounge: Serving Brooklyn

Urban Environmentalist NYC Q&A: Gnarly Vines

November 5th, 2008 · 1 Comment

The Center for the Urban Environment (CUE) found Gnarly Vines owner Brian Robinson through the Sustainable Business Network NYC (SBNYC), a network of NYC business owners dedicated to building a vibrant, diverse and responsible local living economy in New York City. For more information on SBNYC check out www.sbnyc.org. Gnarly Vines is located at 350 Myrtle Avenue, between Adelphi and Carlton. For more information, visit their website at www.gnarlyvines.com.

Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I grew up in New Rochelle, NY

Q: What lead you to the wine industry?

A: I caught the wine bug as a high school exchange student in France when I was 15 years old. As part of the cultural exchange, the family I stayed with taught me how to read a label and some basic differences between wines of different regions. As a 15 year old, that definitely piqued my interest! When I went back to France for a semester in college, I really became passionate about wine. I started spending more time in wine shops talking with the ‘cavistes’ and learning about wine. During the semester, I did an internship at an industrial gas distribution facility in Nanterre, a gritty suburb of Paris, where the truck drivers reveled in teaching the young American about wine. They mostly drank Côtes-du-Rhône, for which I have maintained a strong affection, since I consider it to be the quintessential French workingman’s wine – honest and unpretentious.

Q: What went into choosing the location of Gnarly Vines?

A: I live in Fort Greene and wanted to open in my neighborhood both because I hate commuting, I like to reduce my carbon footprint and most importantly, I wanted to invest in my neighborhood – both economically and socially.

Q: What do you like best about your neighborhood and community?

A: Brooklynites, particularly those from Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy, tend to be open-minded and adventurous. They love to be turned on to different wines with different flavors from different regions. They’re not out to impress anyone with an expensive, recognizable label, but don’t mind spending a bit more for a special or unique, differentiated bottle they love. They generally only care about how the wine tastes and particularly the quality/price ratio, which plays to my strengths.

Q: What do you think makes your business different from other wine merchants?

A: It’s so cliche and so simple – Gnarly Vines has a knowledgeable staff that’s courteous to our customers and a broad selection at fair prices. Everyone who walks into our store feels welcome and comfortable.

Q: What do you think are the common misconceptions about wine, and/or organic wine specifically, that you would like to set the record on?

A: The biggest misconception about wine is that the well-known brands are better wines. Generally, the opposite is true. The best wines are made in small quantities and therefore can’t be marketed on a large scale and distributed widely. As for organic wine, the term ‘organic’ has largely been hijacked by big business. What’s most important is whether or not someone is a responsible steward of the earth. There are many organic winemakers who are reckless in their environmental practices; they simply do it without the use of synthetic products. On the other hand, there are many winemakers who may use small amounts of synthetic products, while exhibiting tremendously responsible stewardship of their land. There are also many small winemakers who simply don’t have the means to go through the certification process and who probably don’t care about it anyway. As such, we prefer the terms ‘sustainable’ and ‘natural’ winemaking to ‘organic.’

Q What are the salient challenges that face your business?

A: I think most business owners would agree that training new employees is difficult because it takes so much time and I end up having to watch someone work slower than me and usually less accurately while it takes me away from doing my work. On the other hand, I can’t do it all myself, so I hope that my investment in training pays off in the future. Also, cash flow is always a challenge for a young business. There’s so many things I want to do to grow – buy more inventory, build more shelves, hire more people, advertise more, build an e-commerce site, etc.. – so all the profits get plowed right back into the business.

Q: What are the greatest rewards of your business?

A: First and foremost, it’s being able to make decisions without asking anyone’s permission or approval. It’s so much more efficient than trying to convince someone who may see their role as playing devil’s advocate to see things your way. Pride of ownership and loving coming to work everyday aren’t bad perks either!

Q: Does your business have any environmentally sustainable operation practices? If so, what are they and have you seen any rewards?

A: Gnarly Vines is extremely environmentally conscious, and becoming more and more so. Our waste carting company recycles cardboard, glass, metal and plastic. We spent over $50k on an energy-efficient roof-top, HVAC split system and we only leave our door open when it’s between 55-75 degrees so we don’t waste energy cooling or heating the street. We have a strong emphasis on ‘sustainable or stricter’ wineries. Gnarly Vines recently introduced two ‘bag-in-a-box’ wines, a red and a white, from the Cotes-du-Rhone. This packaging represents an 80% reduction in carbon emissions, versus glass packaging when you factor in the amount of fuel required to manufacture glass and ship glass bottles. Fortunately for us, despite the low-rent stigma of ‘bag-in-a-box’ wines, our customers are generally very secure and environmentally conscious and don’t mind at all. Gnarly Vines also supports the environmental efforts of other Fort Green organizations: We’ve sold compact fluorescent bulbs at zero profit as part of a local campaign called Green Fort Greene, by the Fort Green Association, and we sell reusable Home Grown and Locally Owned bags from the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project at zero profit.

(Interview conducted by Vanessa Knight, Manager of Social Ventures at the Center for the Urban Environment. As an educational guide to a more sustainable New York City, the Center is dedicated to educating individuals about the built and natural environments. For more about our work visit www.thecue.org)

Tags: Urban Environmentalist

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 gnarly // May 19, 2009 at 3:57 am

    I love the gnarly vines wines. I know that rhymes!