Armed with only a corkscrew and his unflappable enthusiasm, Bob Ransom could make a New York wine lover out of just about anybody. Since the 2000 launch of Vintage New York, his SoHo-based vino-vending tasting bar, retail space and locavore snackery, a decade ago (and, later, its Upper West Side sister shop at 93rd and Broadway), Ransom has been one of the greatest champions of grapes grown, crushed and fermented in the Empire State.
“We felt that if we could create an image for New York wines and push past the fashion barrier we were up against—an image of hokey, down-home country wine that didn’t have a lot of respect— then we could create an opening. And I think we did.”
In two of Manhattan’s most sophisticated nabes, Vintage proudly showcased wines from all three of the state’s grape-growing regions (Long Island, the Hudson Valley and the Finger Lakes, in case you’ve been hiding under a barrel), including Ransom’s own winery label, Rivendell. The alarm sounded in October when the SoHo shop shuttered, and by end of year the Uptown outpost stuck a cork in it, too. Ransom said the very city economics he’d hoped to tap had done him in: “the cost of doing business in Manhattan—it’s exorbitant. The rents, the insurance, it’s almost impossible for small businesses. Being in SoHo gave us panache and style and energy. Unfortunately, we didn’t create a business that could be sustained. It hasn’t made money in 10 years.”
Even though Ransom says it wasn’t lack of interest that wrung him out, it’s difficult for lovers of local wine not to feel disappointed by Vintage’s closing. Still, Ransom insists that lack of fans wasn’t the problem: “There was no question that we were beloved by the customer base and we were every one of our winery suppliers’ biggest customer. [But] the industry isn’t big enough necessarily for such a small part of the market.”
It’s a blow one might expect would stew Ransom in a barrel of sour grapes, but it doesn’t seem to have stained his ardor for the wine biz. “Not necessarily everybody could do the kind of thing that we did,” he says. “It was very egalitarian. A rising tide floats all boats.”
Photo credit: Ruth Fremson