Crowded displays of wooden crates, narrow aisles lined with bottles, dim lighting—wine shops aren’t usually beacons of contemporary style. While vintage bottles may represent history, they don’t need to be sold in surroundings that resemble stuffy museums. Shop owners from coast to coast are increasingly embracing modern design to be more approachable to their customers.
These wine shops are not only known for their curated selection of labels, but are also reinventing wine retail style.
Crush Wine & Spirits, New York City
Robert Schagrin had a vision when he opened Crush Wine & Spirits with two of his friends, restaurateur Drew Nieporent and real estate developer Josh Guberman, in 2005.
“I thought that the world needed an updated, young, vibrant, ‘not my father’s’ wine store,” says Schagrin, a co-founder/managing partner of Crush.
Inspired by boutique fashion houses like Dior, Gucci and Saint Laurent, Schagrin enlisted architectural firm Pulice Williams to bring his vision of minimalist luxury design to life in a spacious 3,600-square-foot space on East 57th Street. The goal was to incorporate four elements of wine throughout: wood, stone, glass and steel.
“What we fought in the beginning was that people would look in and think it would be too expensive,” says Schagrin. “That’s the negative of opening something very design sensitive.”
Walking into the fully temperature-controlled store, you’re greeted by high ceilings and a 73-foot-long, serpentine backlit wall of wine.
“It sort of evokes the flow of wine when you pour,” says Schagrin. The curve in the wall allows 600 additional labels of wine to be stocked, for a grand display of 3,000 bottles.
Past the polished stone floor lies “The Cube,” constructed of glass and steel, which holds another 2,500 bottles of rare wines.
Then there’s the tasting room, constructed in part with 250-year-old floor joists reclaimed from another New York City loft Schagrin remodeled. It gives the illusion of walking into a barrel of wine. For Schagrin, as a native of the Stuy Town enclave in Manhattan, it also provides a sense of local history.
Another key design element is accessibility in both price and design, which is not always easy in the crowded city. Aisles are four feet wide, making the store stroller and wheelchair friendly, and all bottles along the wall cost less than $60. Bottles that cost more are displayed in The Cube, outfitted with a rubber-tile floor to prevent bottles from shattering if they happen to fall.
“At the end of the day, it took the market a little while to understand what we were about, but it still shows well 15 years later, and we’re approaching venerability,” says Schagrin.
Urban Grape, Boston
Located in Boston’s South End, Urban Grape is hard to miss. Massive windows let in plenty of natural light and give passersby a clear view of the “floating” wall of wine inside.
A feat of engineering and design, the wine wall does more than showcase some 760 labels. From one end to the other, the wall is marked with numbers indicating the wine’s body on a scale of one to 10. One is like skim milk, while 10 is more akin to heavy cream.
“We’ve always said that wine is made in the most beautiful places on earth, but sold in the ugliest places on earth. We really wanted to change that dialogue.” –Hadley Douglas, co-owner of Urban Grape, Boston
Husband and wife duo T. J. and Hadley Douglas opened this shop, their second location, in 2012. They sought to create a bright, open space where customers would linger in the aisles and enjoy the store’s many tasting events. The couple designed the space meticulously, down to the chandelier made from old demijohns, with the help from Oudens Ello Architecture.
“We’ve always said that wine is made in the most beautiful places on earth, but sold in the ugliest places on earth,” says Hadley. “We really wanted to change that dialogue.”
The wine wall is made from white stainless steel that blends into the surrounding backdrop. It creates an illusion of floating bottles that, Hadley says, makes each stand out like a piece of artwork.
The wall’s design was the most challenging area of the shop to build, in large part because it also needed to serve as storage.
“We’re an urban store and lack space, so we designed the wall to hold 13 Bordeaux bottles and about 12 Rhône or Burgundy type bottles,” says T. J. “When we order something, it all goes on the shelf.”
The system frees up plenty of space for the large wooden tasting table at the center of the shop and provides flexibility.
“Every year, we think about if every inch of the store is being used in the most effective way, and we often just rework the whole look of the store where we can and make it work for us,” says Hadley.
The versatility provides plenty of space for everything from assisting customers to hosting special events and tastings.
“It is very much a community hub,” says Hadley. The store has seen everything from first dates to a marriage proposal. “It’s not like stopping by the [liquor] store. You really feel like you’re part of a community when you’re here.”
Built in 1905, the Craftsman house at 1416 34th Avenue was never intended to be anything but a family home. More than a century later, it’s the perfect location for Bottlehouse, the brainchild of architect Soni Davé-Schock and her sommelier husband, Henri Schock.
The pair toyed with the idea of opening a wine shop together for some time. Davé-Schock, a former Austinite, met Schock after moving to Seattle. A couple years later, they opened the shop after receiving a tip about the house from a friend. Plans for a cozy retail space and bar came together quickly after.
“Knowing Seattle’s obsession with coffee and coffee shops, we wanted to create a [similarly] comfortable space that wasn’t intimidating for anyone with any range of wine knowledge,” says Davé-Schock, who also operates her own design firm, Root Culture Lab. In 2010, Bottlehouse opened its doors, selling Old World wines alongside those from the Pacific Northwest.
Making the space work required finding the right balance needed to support a shop, tasting room and bar, all under one roof. The pair created separate rooms and expanded certain entryways. As the business grew in popularity and added food service, the need for fluidity increased.
“The idea was to have bottles everywhere, using them as visual cues,” says Davé-Schock. “From one room, you can see into the other rooms, but it can also be really intimate.”
They kept the general feel of the original structure, peppering in homey design elements, like a fireplace, that adds familiarity and coziness. The space has also been updated with work from contemporary artists, much like you’d find in a neighborhood coffee shop.
“I think that also plays in our benefit, that we kept that sense of home,” says Davé-Schock. “It’s very approachable and comfortable and friendly, so then what’s fun is that we exceed people’s expectations on service.”
Biondivino, San Francisco
Step into this vibrant, impeccably decorated wine shop in San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood and you’d never know that the location once housed an antique store with burnt-out light fixtures surrounded by scorch marks, shabby trimmings and laminate flooring.
When Ceri Smith took over the 350-square-foot space to turn it into a boutique shop focusing on Italian wines and grower Champagne, she gutted it, leaning on her art school background and elements of her childhood to reimagine its design. Without the help of a designer or architect, Smith and a contractor she met in a bar transformed the space.
“I wanted it to feel like you walked into someone’s kitchen—bright, cozy, inviting—where you would want to sit down and have a glass, or bottle or two, of wine,” says Smith.
She coated the floor with white epoxy, added recessed lighting, floor-to-ceiling wine racks and a coat of white paint accented with a lively, modern orange. A chandelier that reminded Smith of vine trimmings hangs just inside the door.
“When the contractor installed the racks, they were up too high for a step stool, and I thought, ‘Uh-oh,’” says Smith. “My friend, Dan Kowalski, who has a home-design shop directly across the street, [suggested] library ladders, and that was that.”
Bottles from Italy are arranged by region from north to south. The shop can display up to 2,200 wines at once, a feat for such a cozy space.
“When I was little, I had this block stacking game with odd-shaped blocks that you had to stack without tumbling,” says Smith, who opened a second location in Palo Alto in 2016. “I used to create rooms from that game—the odd blocks would become furniture—and one day sitting in the shop, I had to laugh. I had basically re-created that in my tiny little box of a shop.”
Park Avenue Fine Wines, Portland, OR
Park Avenue Fine Wines opened its doors in 2016 with a sense of historical import that created excitement for the 8,500-square-foot shop, wine bar and lounge.
It’s the most recent in a long line of businesses that have called this 112-year-old building home.
“That building had been a jazz club for many years during the ’80s and ’90s and was kind of an iconic club, so there was an emotional connection that people had to that space,” says architect Susan Firpo of SL Firpo Design/Craft, who used to hang out at the club when she first moved to the city. “After it closed down, the remodeling [that followed] took away a lot of the character.”
While she didn’t want to solely replicate the feel of the jazz club, she did want people who had visited the club or one of the other previous businesses—including a notable French bistro, Brasserie Montmartre—to be able to emotionally engage with the space again, as did the shop’s managing partner, Neil Thompson.
They restored existing metal work, like a massive two-story fire door on a steel rail. Exposed brick walls add to the shop’s sense of history, and keeps the space naturally temperature controlled.
Also preserved is a six-foot hole in one of the walls, remnant of an attempted robbery.
“[There was] an attempted jewel heist some years ago where the robbers attempted to get through the brick wall to the jewelry store next door,” says Thompson. The plot was foiled when the thieves hit rebar, then vanished.
These historic elements now sit alongside a walnut and laser-cut steel wine-rack system, custom-created by Portland designer Douglas Vincent, alongside matching walnut tables in the bar room and tasting area that add warmth and a contemporary feel.
Firpo says that in the end, the design was about creating opportunity for engagement between the staff and the clients.
“You can walk around the retail shop and pick anything off the shelf and have it opened and professionally served in proper glassware at the proper temperature in the wine bar,” says Thompson.
Purchase a bottle at the shop and you have the option to take it home or drink it on site. Bottles can also be housed in a special locker for wine lounge members—customers who spend $100 in the shop within a month.
At a wine store like this, you won’t have much trouble with that.
Last Updated: May 5, 2023