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By Jon Campbell
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It's hardly a shocker the wine industry is synonymous with wealthy white males, yet there's nothing like a statistic to bring it home: According to the San Francisco Chronicle, of the 900 wineries in California, only seven are owned by African Americans. I think history and tradition has a lot to do with it, says Lee Campbell, manager of the recently opened wine shop, Harlem Vintage. "Grape wine is something that comes from Europe . . . There's certainly a class issue of it being a luxury item."
The brainchild of local resident Eric Woods and his partner Jai Jai Greenfield, Harlem Vintage's mission not only aspires to change that statistic by promoting vintners of color, but to provide a sorely-needed convenience to the neighborhood. "I go into some of my customers' homes, and you'd be floored by the fact that these people have to go 50 blocks south for a decent bottle," says Campbell. "It's ridiculous."
Despite some misconceptions, choices at the shop aren't limited to African American winemakers like Vision Cellars and Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons, although Greenfield says they do try to move beyond the Berringer to smaller vineyards that are "off the radar." They're also aiming to educate patrons with free tastings and steer them toward more interesting but less-familiar optionshence a quality Gewurztraminer placed closer to the entrance than a bland Pinot Grigio. Designed to evoke "the style of the Harlem Renaissance," Greenfield says, Harlem Vintage resembles a comfy living room with warm wooden floors and candlelit shelves. Many talents of the 1920s first performed in this type of setting.
Apparently, even residents grappling with the changing neighborhood and the hike in real estate prices have welcomed the store's presence. Harlem Vintage's impressive clientele-focused approach may also be part of the draw. "I tend to ask the consumer what they think about this bottle, see if they like it," says Greenfield. "If not, I'm not carrying it. Simple as that."