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Empire State of Wine

Empire State of Wine

111 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011
212 888 2297
empirestateofwine.com
Hours:
M-W 11am-8pm; Th-Sa 11am-9pm; Su 12pm-8pm

Eddy Le Garrec is the vinous hero that New York needs and deserves. To step into his store, Empire State of Wine, is to step into a different dimension; one where gouging is a forbidden practice, 90+ point wine is affordable for anyone with twelve dollars to spare, and bottles that are impossible to import are stacked for sale. Eddy himself bubbles with impatient energy. He knows that the quality and price of his product are unprecedented in Manhattan. Eddy has cracked the code of selling affordable wine in the United States, where a five-euro bottle often ends up costing twenty-five dollars.

During the hour we spent in conversation, Eddy gave me a peek behind the curtain of his business. We were constantly on the move as he nudged me along with a gentle hand, gesturing to emphasize his words, but I found that in addition to his passion, there was something more inscrutable, perhaps a world-weary or melancholy note. As it turns out, Eddy Le Garrec has lived a life of emotional highs and lows. From LA to Vegas to Miami, and then New York, his is a story worth hearing.

Born in France, Eddy traveled to Los Angeles at the age of twenty-five. “I had a contract with a restaurant for one week and while I was there, an incredible thing happened. I won the green card lottery. I was lucky. Stupid lucky. So I said okay, I’m staying, and I fell in love with the country.” Eddy’s family growing up was in the restaurant business, and he found himself in the right place at the right time to thrive in the US. “It was the 1990’s and the beginning of the wine boom, where Americans were growing interested in collecting and learning about wines.” Eddy then casually mentioned that he worked at the legendary L’Orangerie. “I waited on all of the Hollywood stars. I have a story for every single one.”

Next came a move to Las Vegas where he followed the same chef who had brought him to LA. “I stayed for two years and directed the opening of several restaurants and hotels. It wasn’t what I loved but looking back, it goes to show nothing is ever a waste of time. I also learned to play poker. But I don’t do that anymore.” Unfortunately, Eddy also made some mistakes in his love life, bad enough to elicit a pained look on his face even today. It was time for a fresh start. After two years of Vegas, Eddy ran off to Florida.

“When I moved to South Beach, there was no real wine culture in Miami. I realized I could start up my own brick and mortar, and W Wine was almost immediately a success. That was in 2006. What’s amazing is that I modeled my store, and even this store today, around this Vegas model. It is open, not intimidating or stuffy. The warehouse look is what I want. Customers come in and it makes my day when they say they’ve never seen a wine store like this before. You’ll also see I have the expensive stuff up front that people will walk past to reach the more affordable options, and when they get there they are relieved. It is like finding the slot machines.”

The slot machines, in Eddy’s case, are his “15 and Under” series, a bright display he sees as one of his biggest successes. Categorized by flavor profile (Bubbly, Fresh, Crisp, Buttery/Creamy, Light Body, Medium Body, Full Body) and with plenty of information at hand to read, anyone can come in and make an informed choice on a great wine. There might be one or two wines in each category, all handpicked by Eddy for their quality and price. “I used to get angry about people copying this idea,” Eddy told me, “but not anymore because in the end, I know nobody can do what I do, nobody.” Yuriel, one of Eddy’s employees nodded emphatically from behind the register. “Nobody,” he agreed.

Eddy was approached by a Canadian company that wanted to buy out his Miami store. “At first I did not want to, but I took a look at the check and was like wow. But then things did not go so well. Their plan was to merge my store with a separate online platform. I was working all the time on my computer, constantly working, and I was very unhappy. In the end, I and the other CEOs were fired because they needed more Canadians on the payroll. It was a hard time.” At this point, Eddy ran a hand through his thick black hair. “I then went into a depression. It took me five years to wake up.”

During that period, Eddy felt it was time for another change of scene. “I moved to New York and even went back to school where I studied documentary film. One day I will use what I learned. Nothing goes to waste.” But Eddy could not stay far from wine for too long. After a series of real estate transactions, he found himself owner of the Chelsea storefront property that would become Empire State of Wine.

In a stroke of luck that echoed his green card jackpot of years ago, Eddy was granted a liquor license in what seemed like a record time of three months. “Boom, I was in business. Incredible.” This time though, Eddy worked in reverse. He began by building his website. Even there, the aesthetics are meant to promote the sort of open and honest wine culture that Eddy is passionate about. In today’s world of online retail, he has no pretensions about the brick and mortar side of business. But it gives him an opportunity to meet people. “I love helping customers learn about the magic of wine. I also love demystifying it. In the end it is grape juice. Drink it! Enjoy it!”