These Cool Local Bottle Shops Champion Unorthodox Winemakers

Discover small batches, quirky blends, biodynamics, and “drink-now” bottles from an irreverent group of somms and wine sellers.

By Shane Mitchell

Published on October 23, 2021

The labels are a dead giveaway: Gentle Folk “Rainbow Juice.” Maloof “Where Ya PJs At?” Schmitt Frei Korper “Kulture Rot.” Dirty & Rowdy “Clothing Optional Orange Enz.” These aren’t the wines your grandparents sipped at dinner parties, or bought at a pricey auction house to stash like a dragon’s hoard in their temperature-controlled cellar. 

A new generation of sommeliers and wine sellers are championing the small batch, quirky blend, biodynamic, orange, and “drink now” bottles produced by their nonconformist peers, who have gleefully shed the gravitas that once characterized imbibing the divine grape. Some even moonlight as sake or bourbon specialists.

The places these wine professionals inhabit are big on community, with mascot pets, sustainability and ethics codes, and in-store tasting tables where customers can snack on paired goodies. Most have affordable wine clubs and online ordering platforms. Occasionally, the next-gen bottle shop also serves as a drop-off for a friendly neighborhood fishmonger, or as a backalley portal to a ham bar. They might even sell artisan frozen pizza on the side.

Here are 14 in North America where we’re shopping now.

Baltimore, Maryland

Owned by restaurateur Lane Harlan, whose Fadensønnen beer garden is around the corner, the name of this airy white “workroom” on the second floor of a brick townhouse in Baltimore’s Old Goucher neighborhood references a poem by Lebanese American artist Etel Adnan. Angels Ate Lemons is hyper-focused on natural wines, sake, cider, mead, and an artisan-baked frozen pan pizza collab (a far cry from Totino’s, thankfully). Ring the buzzer for entry, and join daily pours. Follow the staff’s advice on building out mixed cases, or join one of the monthly subscriptions, starting with the People’s Cup ($40 for two bottles) for beginners' palates.

2223 Maryland Avenue; +1-443-955-4817

New Orleans, Louisiana

Bacchanal is a hybrid wine bar and shop in the laidback Bywater neighborhood.

Bacchanal calls itself a wine laboratory, but everyone in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward knows it’s really a speakeasy at heart. Yes, they even got raided once, and that’s saying something in a city famous for excessively lenient beverage regulations. Come here for the now-sanctioned backyard parties with live jazz performers, but first browse through the wine shop for pours by the glass or bottle, and build-your-own cheese plates from the cooler. The wine list is heavily skewed to smaller producers of Old World varietals, with the occasional detour to South Africa and Oregon. 

600 Poland Avenue; +1-504-948-9111

Portland, Oregon

Sommelier Dana Frank is the pro behind this neighborhood bar and “bottle library” in bike-friendly Southeast Portland, where you can pedal past and grab her daily selects to go, or park your Linus Roadster and pop a cork on the new outdoor patio facing Clinton Street. Pair a clay amphora skin-contact Trebbiano or a Pinot from Bow & Arrow in the nearby Willamette Valley with snacks from Olympia Provisions and Little T bakery. The bar is big on social activism, and regularly schedules awareness events for causes like the Chúush Fund or a raffle to boost Oregon Vineyard Worker Relief. Bottles in the shop are global, skew natural and biodynamic, and often sell out warp speed fast, including rarities from Australian cult winemaker Tamara Irish, but also much closer to home, from Kate Norris of Division Winemaking.  

2615 SE Clinton St.; +1-971-229-0290

Oakland, California

Josiah Baldivino and Stevie Stacionis are the husband-and-wife team behind Oakland’s Bay Grape, where the motto is: “We want to make wine less douchey.” That explains the day-glo pink flamingo lawn ornaments stalking through the rosé selection and a sweet mutt mascot named Napoleon (the shop sells T-shirts emblazoned with his adorably scruffy face.) They turned an adjacent “parklet” into Bay Grape Beach, where you can quaff wine by the glass, can, or bottle, along with Cypress Grove Purple Haze chevre, Torres Black Truffle potato chips, and La Quercia Prosciutto Americano. The wine selection embraces both Old and New Worlds, but at their newly opened satellite in Napa, pop-up winemaker tastings lean heavily local. 

376 Grand Avenue; +1-510-686-3615

Colonia Juárez, Mexico City

This natural wine shop in Mexico City is barely bigger than a corner bodega, but what the place lacks in size is made up for in expertise: Jake Lindeman and Alonso Maldonado stock a tightly curated selection of bottles by Mexican winemakers like Silvana Pijoan of Vinos Pijoan in the Guadalupe Valley, and other friends from Europe, including “pur jus” biodynamic grower Alice Bouvot of Domaine de l’Octavin in Jura. The owners of Escorpio (Spanish for the zodiac sign Scorpio) also reach across the border for wines made by Soto Vino’s Amada Miller and Nicolas Frank in Texas Hill Country. 

Versalles 96, Cuauhtémoc;

Ridgewood, New York

Nothing but grape, or “zero/zero,” is one of the key criteria for the bottles at Marie-Anna Tribouilloy’s atelier. She’s a co-owner of the nearby Ops pizza restaurant, where the “vin vivant” list sticks to the same principles. Most of the French-leaning labels at Forêt (trans. forest) are by small producers dedicated to low intervention and native yeasts, many Tribouilloy knows personally, so while the quantities in stock are miniscule, that’s sort of the point of the intimacy here. Unfiltered box wine from Anjou that will change your mind about box wine. Sparkling hard cider from Normandy. Lots of orange pet-nat. Magnums for soirées. 

6838 Forest Avenue; +1-718-456-1150

Charleston, South Carolina

Sit and sip awhile in the wine bar at Graft, and listen to the boozy playlists.

In a city where sweet tea is considered mama’s milk, the 21-and-up crowd gravitates to Graft for their adulting beverages. Created by two young sommeliers, this shop is sited in a low-rise brick warehouse off Charleston’s upper King Street. Femi Oyediran, who emigrated from Nigeria to attend the College of Charleston, received his on-the-job training in the wine program at the Charleston Grill while also moonlighting as a DJ. He now spins the shop’s signature monthly playlist with titles like Free Refills and Wild Ferment. Born on the peninsula, Miles White is the youngest child of a famous Southern biscuit queen. The pair’s wine bar serves by the glass from a list with categories like “Oh My God” and “#Roséseason4ever,” along with tinned seafood and cheese plates. (And yes, Mama Callie’s biscuits.) The bottle shop selection, heavy on Old World labels, ranges from under $20 blends to triple-digit Barolos. 

700 King Street,+1-843-718-3359

Toronto, Ontario

Krysta Oben and Nicole Campbell are the titular coven, a former sommelier and wine buyer, who have made their natural wine shop a women-friendly safe space in Toronto’s Trinity-Bellwoods neighborhood. (Men are welcome, too.) Strict licensing laws in Ontario don’t make it easy to create a signature list, but as importers, they’ve managed to obtain treasures from small American producers—Martha Stoumen, Forlorn Hope—that aren’t available at state-run stores. Bottles are broken down into categories like “Freaky” and “Weekday Bangers,” and they also carry non-alcohol wines: Acid League’s Nightshade is a go-to for Sober Sundays. Yes, they have Canadian labels, like Pearl Morrissette’s “Irrévérence” from Niagara, and A Sunday in August vintages from British Columbia. 

1247 Dundas West, +1-416-546-2151

Austin, Texas

Owners Christian Moses and Adam Wills opened this natural wine shop in East Austin’s Sixth Street arts and entertainment district, where dogs are welcome in bars and where, when the wind is just right, the scent of brisket smoke wafts from Franklin’s Barbecue and Micklethwait Craft Meats up on 11th Street. It’s a satellite project to their more mainstream Hotel Vegas and Volstead Lounge venues, and the selection here ranges from playful to bragging rights. The proprietors might recommend a hand-harvested, old vine Sassara Esotico “natural born” blend from the Veneto for a hot night on the Riverwalk, or a smokey Marto Al Dente 2019 from Rheinhessen to go with a Bad Larry Burger Club sandwich in the new outdoor bar. Lolo even shows love to Lone Star friends such as Southold Farm + Cellar out in Hill Country. 

1504 East 6th St.; +1-512-906-0053

Denver, Colorado

The name says it all. Tami and Joe Tumbarello worked with a local architect to create the curvaceous shelving for their emporium in Denver’s Berkeley neighborhood, and the pair’s selection is just as organic, from Superstition Meadery’s “Safeword” mead to Savage & Cooke’s “Second Glance” whiskey. Small Batch also stocks local craft beers from the likes of Knotted Root Brewing and WeldWerks. The wine list leans to California reds and French whites, but also gives a nod to Colorado’s emerging wine industry with unfiltered bottles from Wild Capture

4340 Tennyson Street; +1-303-993-8600

Cincinnati, Ohio

Last year, Paul Victor took ownership of a shop originally established in 1989, and the certified sommelier is carrying forward this cozy mainstay in Cincinnati’s White Oak community. In other words, don’t fix what isn’t broken, but spruce it up a bit and infuse it with new energy. He’s a fan of The Strokes, so walk in on “Tunesdays” and you may hear a post punk-inspired playlist paired with albariños, or an acid jazz ensemble from Japan for browsing the sake collection. Victor also signed onto the Gotham Project return-and-reuse initiative, because bottles compose almost 50 percent of a wine’s carbon footprint. 

5872 Cheviot Rd; +1-513-923-1300

Polanco & Condesa, Mexico City

Co-founded by chef Marco Carboni of Sete and Sartoria, this modernist bottle shop and wine bar, with branches in Mexico City’s Polanco and Condesa neighborhoods, focuses almost entirely on the Hispanic winemaking world, plus a couple of other Old World regions, including France. (But then, France once occupied Mexico for six years, when Napoleon III invaded in 1861.) The purpose here is to explore the country’s own vineyards, especially Chenin Blanc blends from Tecate and Nebbiolos from Valle de Guadalupe on the Baja California coast. 

Polanco: Polanco 8; Condesa: Ámsterdam 297; +52-55-8064-0361

Brooklyn, New York

Sommelier André Hueston Mack, who formerly supervised the wine list at Per Se, has opened this highly specialized shop in Brooklyn’s Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood. Grapes represented here mostly hail from the major regions—Piedmont, Tuscany, Burgundy, Rhone, Champagne—so if you feel like splurging on a Brunello di Montalcino or a Chambertin Grand Cru, he’s got you covered. But generally, this is a fine place to browse more affordable and esoteric bottles, like a Basque-style hard cider or a Loire Valley pinot noir. On Saturdays, the shop hosts the weekly sustainable CSF fish share from Mermaid’s Garden and recommends pairings; right next door, Mack has also opened & Sons, a 20-seat ham bar, with a tasting menu celebrating American-style cured meats. 

594 Rogers Avenue; +1-718-975-0344

Nashville, Tennessee

In a town that sips a lot of whiskey, this bottle shop naturally has a serious collection of bourbon, rye, and single malts. With branches in East Nashville and Sylvan Park, owner Will Motley has also built a widely diverse wine list, from mostly family-owned domestic producers, as well as many natural labels from small importers. He carries barware from Cocktail Kingdom, loaves from Pump Street Bread, a global selection of tinned fish, Goodio chocolate bars, and other pantry items. He doesn’t ship—danged Tennessee liquor laws—so you’ll have to walk in next time you land in Music City. 

1001 Woodland Street; +1-615-228-3311

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