Shaped by Expertise, Community Wine & Spirits Has a Unique Customer Experience in Store

Photo by Nicholas Knight Studio.

Offering inviting views from the outside and a warm, welcoming experience once through its doors, Community Wine & Spirits (140 10th Ave. btw. W. 18th & 19th Sts.) may be new to the neighborhood–but it’s made a mark in the mere three months since arriving. Chelsea Community News recently posed some questions to its founder, to suss out what’s so special about the in-store offerings.

Scott Stiffler, for Chelsea Community News (CCNews): Welcome to the neighborhood. Why did you decide to open a retail store? Why in Chelsea, and why in this particular location?

David Weitzenhoffer (David): I’ve done just about everything else but this—Sommelier, Importer, Wine Making, On-Line Wine Clubs… This is what is next !  I love helping people find the wine or spirit they are looking for even if they don’t know what that is. And Chelsea because CHELSEA! I actually started looking in Brooklyn; I hadn’t really spent much time in west Chelsea recently and when I got to 10th Ave. I was blown away by the development, the people walking their dogs, the big 10th Avenue sidewalks, the food, the overall vibe.

CCNews: During your 25+ years in the wine business, you’ve been a sommelier and former high-end restaurant wine director. How has that, and other work experiences, informed the look, vibe, and content of Community Wine and Spirits?

David: The restaurant experience lent two key traits to the store. 1. A sense of hospitality. When you walk in our store, we want you to feel comfortable to ask questions, or not ask questions, and comfortably find things on your own. 2. I’ve been very fortunate to drink oodles of the world’s greatest wines. I almost find it hard to believe the things I’ve tasted over the years. The restaurant industry is certainly most responsible for my access to those rare wines and people who drink them. It’s what shaped my expertise.

Photo by Nicholas Knight Studio.

CCNews: Tell us a little about the thinking, and function, of how wine is arranged in the store.

David: Working for an online wine club I began to delve more into the data of who was drinking what kind of wines and what the friction points were when it came to shopping for wine; conversely I was also looking at what works for people.

We organize our store by body weight—not grape and not really by region. The thinking is there are just too many wines. America has over 10,000 wineries. Just America, and they all make many different kinds of wine. It’s overwhelming, and in NYC often claustrophobic. So I designed a very open store, where wines wouldn’t climb the walls. A desert mural is painted across the wall to give a sense of openness and calm. Rock like structures pepper the room to tie into landscape. The body weight is a simple, understandable characteristic that makes sense to consumers whether they are looking for something for food or just to drink with a friend. It’s also the very first trait sommeliers looks for when they blind taste.

So it works for beginners and connoisseurs.  More importantly it leads to exploration. If you like pinot grigio and it sits in the light, white wine section next to a verdicchio are we saying you will also like Verdicchio ? The answer is yes. If you like Oregon Pinot and it is not next to French Pinot, but it is next to New Zealand Pinot Noir we are saying you will also enjoy trying a Pinot from New Zealand.

Photo by Nicholas Knight Studio.

CCNews: First-time customers may be surprised to find an interactive, immersive installation (“The Looking Glass”) on site. What does it add to the wine-buying experience, and how has it been received by customers?

David: I’ve taught lots and lots of people about wine, from general classes, to wait staff, to collectors. Nothing I can say beats handing someone a glass of wine while they stand in the place where it comes from. That is the idea behind the Looking Glass. Let us take you to the place so you  have a sense of what it is like in various regions. And then the user controls the journey. No one is giving them a lecture.

So on one level it could be educational. On another it may change someone’s mind about what they want to buy. Still it is perhaps just fun.  And I love that last element. Interactive features should be actually interactive, but they should also be able to be whimsical. Maybe you don’t leave with a bottle from a region you visited but you enjoyed your time in the store. I think that is a win for everyone.

CCNews: Why did you decide to partner with Callen-Lorde? What do you, and they, gain from the relationship?

David: Callen-Lorde does really important work. They provide health services (mental, primary, dental, gynecological, and much more) to the LGBTQ+ community regardless of someone’s ability to pay. We as people need community; we need each other. That Callen-Lorde is just down the street as our neighbors made it easy to decide to contribute 1.0011% (our zip code) of sales to them. When you shop with us you are helping someone else.

CCNews: What can one expect from your public events—the wine tastings and the classes?

David: Fun! All our classes are fun. We generally break them into 5 categories:

—Speaker Series, for instance a book signing Feb 7th with Food and Wine Editor Ray Isle or our Jan 25th Cheese and Mezcal pairing.

—Distillers discussion with spirits brands and the distillers who make them

—Wine 101—big, overarching topics like choosing wine from a wine list

—Wine 202—a specific focus like wine from the Rhone Valley

—Wine 303 – typically focused on a single producer, often more expensive and more nuanced discussion

CCNews: What wines have proven popular with your repeat customers?

David: Pertois Moriset is probably our most popular Champagne–from a small producer who grows their own grapes. $64.

DeForville Nebbiolo is our top-selling red, at $24 a bottle.

Lucien Crochet Sancerre is our top-selling white, at $39 a bottle

As a category, Oregon Pinot Noir might be our strongest section. We have a lot of wines from the Pacific Northwest, as I grew up in Seattle and it’s what got me into wine.

Photo by Nicholas Knight Studio

CCNews: What are some of the best wines the casual consumer might not, but should, be aware of?

David: Vietti Arneis from Piedmont, Italy. Medium bodied, bright, summer melon, and fresh flowers (it’s also where I lived and worked while in Piedmont). $31 a bottle

Cellar Credo “Miranius  100% Xarello from Penedes in Spain. Pear, and salty citrus. $22.

Chateau de Chaintres Villes Vigns Samur Champigny, from the Loire Valley. It’s made with Cabernet Franc. Not a heavy wine; more medium light, we’d say. It’s a remarkably complex wine  with roses, dried herbs. The wine is very compelling for the entirety of the bottle. $31

Esporao Reserva from Alentejo in Portugal. This is a big spicy, leathery red wine made mostly with Portuguese grapes but with a healthy dose of Cabernet Sauvignon. I think possibly the best value in the shop. $30

CCNews: Please talk about anything you’d like our readers to know, not covered in the above questions.

David: We are just starting local delivery this month. Try us out! We’ve been here just three months, and the neighborhood has been so good to us; the enthusiasm and the support mean so much to us. We will continue to evolve and work to be something special both for Chelsea and the wine and spirits industry. In the New Year we will expand our Interactive shopping experience with video cubes in our windows featuring digital artists each quarter and allowing customers to control the cubes via their phones, we will be launching wine and spirits monthly clubs, and we have just begun selling Italesse glassware as the exclusive NE retailer and Flagship store. We’re thrilled to be doing all this on 10th Avenue between 18th & 19th.

To Visit Community Wine & Spirits on the web, click here.


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