Local wine shop focuses on personal touch and relaxed atmosphere

by Anitra D. Brown

New Orleanians have a new place to buy a great bottle of wine or their favorite craft beer thanks to Troy Gant and Louis Keyes, co-owners of Second Vine Wine.

According to industry statistics, wine shops and bars are a $620 million a year industry in America. There are nearly 10,500 individuals working in the industry at more than 1,000 wine shops and wine bars across the nation.

To be sure, the wine shop/bar industry has grown in line with the popularity of wine in the past few years as people look for a venue to be exposed to a wide variety of wines.

To that end, Gant and Keyes are making their mark on the Tremé, Marigny and Gentilly areas in close proximity to their Touro Street location. And in a few months, Keyes says phase two of their business—a wine bar/lounge in the large room adjacent to the shop—will be up and running.

Keyes prides himself on helping the customer discover what they appreciate most about their favorite wine or spirit.

“What type of wine do you like?” “What was the last bottle you bought?” These are just a few of the questions he will hit a customer with before recommending a buy or conducting a tasting.

Large living room furniture adorns the front of the space. Keyes says Second Vine is designed as a comfortable spot where wine novices can relax with no pretense, and where seasoned wine enthusiasts can also challenge their wine knowledge and discerning palates. But even if you are not an aficionado, don’t worry. There is no need to use “wine language to express your deep knowledge about wine unless you just want to”, Keyes says. In fact, this writer went in only knowing that she doesn’t care for fruity, sweet wines so she will drink white wine, but it can’t be too sweet. Still, she prefers reds like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon so long as they don’t leave a bitter taste—the way some reds can. With a little help from Keyes and after a tasting, she spent just under $25 on two selections—one, a Cabernet Sauvignon that Keyes called “the best value in the house”, and the other was a Moscato that surprised her taste buds. She has never been a big fan of the wine because of its almost trademark sweetness. But this one was pleasant, without tasting like it was made in a soda factory.

In the months since opening, Keys and Gant say business has been good, adding that they are learning more each day about the customers that walk through their door and the Marigny neighborhood Second Vine Wine calls home.

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the reception we have received,” says Keyes.

Second Vine Wine features different wines each week and month. The winery also highlights wines, craft beers and spirits with a connection to the state or city, such as former New Orleans Saints Mike McKenzie Orange Moscato and selections by Robert Karcher, who operates his family’s winery in France while his brother Christian Karcher makes his home in New Orleans.

Both Keyes and Gant have extensive backgrounds in the wine and spirits industry. Gant joined Remy Cointreau, USA in 2001 as the Louisiana State Manager. His knowledge of the local market dynamics played a key role in establishing the vision for the retail wine store in the Marigny and Tremé neighborhoods.

Keyes was a senior global business executive in the food and beverage industries for Fortune 100 companies, including P&G, Seagram, Nestle and Disney. During a 16-year career at Seagram, he was vice president of Marketing and Brand Management for California and European wines, Champagne and North American Whiskey portfolios while based in New York, Napa Valley and the Champagne region of France.

And it was those experiences that helped the pair realize the calling for their own business venture.

Keyes says that locally, many of the wine and spirit distributors are not as attentive to the small bars and restaurants scattered throughout New Orleans as they are to those doing business in the French Quarter, downtown, along Magazine Street or others locales more closely associated with the city’s tourism industry. To that end, in addition to retail sales to the everyday consumer, Second Vine Wine is also working to build relationships with the owners of small and medium size restaurants and bars throughout the area. The businessmen hope to use their unique expertise and knowledge to provide consulting services, help them create wine lists, as well offer training opportunities for their wait staff.
“We saw the short fall in the trade,” Gant says. “Where the larger distributor doesn’t pay much attention to small and medium accounts, we see a place to make our mark.”

For more about Second Vine Wine, visit the website at www.secondvinewine.com or stop by the store at 1027 Touro St.

The New Orleans Tribune

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