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Novice Wine Store Owner Tries to Make Mark in Bustling Manhattan Valley

By Emily Frost | May 2, 2013 1:18pm | Updated on May 2, 2013 2:03pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — After 10 years of wanting to open a family-run wine store, Joseph Hargrave finally realized his dream this spring.

Hargrave, 70, opened Manhattan Valley Wines in March, drawing his inspiration from wine stores in Harlem.

And though new to the wine business, Hargrave, who opened the shop on Columbus Avenue between West 108th and 109th streets, knew to be a trend setter in the area, he'd need to pick an under-the-radar location that was about to take off.

"I know that this is an up-and-coming neighborhood," said Hargrave, who owns the shop with his sister and brother. "It's just a matter of time. It might not be to the level of 97th Street [and Columbus], but that [commerce] is going to move up. We're here at a good time." 

The former owner of a small first aid supply company in the Bronx, Hargrave knew that since he was still learning everything about wines, he had to surrounded himself with experienced people.

Michael Brooks, 40, who owns Bed-Vyne Wine in Brooklyn, is his consultant and buyer; Jamel Freeman, 31, who has been studying wine for years under Brooks, guides customers.

Brooks has created a special guide system for wine buyers. Instead of providing tasting notes, Brooks created icons posted next to each bottle to identify different wine characteristics, like "sweet," "organic," and "low-sulfate." 

"Some people can't verbalize their tastes — this is a way to help them," Brooks said of his system.

At the heart of the store which has a streamlined interior with three rows of bottles in the middle and two floor-to-ceiling bookshelves — is its large selection of wines under $13. There are more than 80 choices, which Brooks said appeal to the nearby student population at Columbia University

People are growing a little bolder with their purchase, Hargrave said, as they come back for more recommendations of the store's small batch wines. 

Hargrave said atmosphere is very important to him, too. To help set the mood, he plays a range of music in the store, from Caribbean to New Orleans jazz to R&B.

"I'm huge on customer service," he said. "[In time,] I'm going to know everyone's name who comes in."