NEW YORK — Wine tastings and computer programs are not an immediately obvious pairing, but the two coexist harmoniously at the recently opened Vestry Wines in TriBeCa here. Owned by two former software industry players, Mark Armenante and Young Ae Sohn, the store boasts a competitively priced selection, focusing on bottles from smaller, unknown producers in Italy and Southern California.
“We used to work really hard, but then you had to have a release, and we always released with some wine and good food,” explains Armenante of the connection. “We retired two years ago and we said, ‘Let’s pursue something we really love,’ which is great wine.…We started meeting some people in the wine business and it turns out they were a lot more fun than software people.”
In particular, the duo became friendly with Shelley Lindgren of famed San Francisco restaurant A16, who, along with the store’s general manager, Jim Kuhner, helped curate Vestry’s selection. Sommelier Gregory Condes, formerly of Gordon Ramsay, mans a bar and stools in the center of the store, offering themed tastings every week and helping to guide novice customers through the bottle-filled birch racks.
Indeed, the store’s owners don’t claim to be oenophiles.
“I love wine, but I’m not what you would call an expert by any stretch of the imagination,” admits Sohn, who blames meeting Armenante for her grape habit. (“Before then I was just this innocent person who rarely even had a beer.”) “I essentially wanted to create a store where somebody like myself who really likes wine but is not educated could come and taste some things without any sort of intimidation.”
To make things even easier, Armenante and Sohn applied their computer backgrounds to create a software program that will be installed on in-store kiosks, arriving soon, that will allow customers to keep track of their purchases, rate their favorites and provide feedback enabling Condes and Kuhner to make recommendations: in essence, a Netflix-esque digital cellar.
“But you can’t return the empty bottles and get more wine,” smiles Condes.
— Vanessa Lawrence