Chatting With the Folks Behind The Urban Grape and Its Coming South End Addition

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There’s a difference between being a wine enthusiast, namely one who will never turn down a glass, and being a wine connoisseur.

I’m sure you’ve seen the former – we’re the ones at Trader Joe’s picking wines by the typography and images on the labels like we are drunken college students ordering late-night fast food. But it doesn’t have to be this way. That’s why I’m so excited for the award winning The Urban Grape to open a second location at 303 Columbus in the South End on September 20th.

Headed by husband-and-wife team TJ and Hadley Douglas, The Urban Grape has built a reputation for making wine buying accessible. I got a chance to talk with them about the store and their mission – “No Wine Snobs” – in advance of the new location’s opening next week.

The Urban Grape may be best known for being a concierge-style, full-service liquor store featuring 850 wines, spirits, craft beers and a comprehensive sake selection. Part of what makes The Urban Grape so different from your average wine store is their ‘Progressive Shelving’. Wines are grouped by body type – light, medium or full-bodied expressed on a scale from 1 to 10 – instead of by varietals or regions.

The thinking is: a Chardonnay from France and a Chardonnay from Napa actually taste nothing alike. Instead of being shelved together, at The Urban Grape, the medium-bodied French Chardonnay is grouped with other white wines that are similar in style and expression, despite being different varietals grown in different regions. The full-bodied Napa Chardonnay will be shelved elsewhere with other similarly styled wines. Once you discover your palate’s preference, it’s easy to shop within your “number.” The result is reduced shopping intimidation and easy palate exploration.

Great for the South End and Local Businesses

As long-time South End residents, Hadley and TJ are ecstatic to be opening a store in what has historically been an empty storefront. To open in the South End, TJ and Hadley had to secure a second liquor license, an intimidating and expensive process. But, they easily secured the approval from the Ellis Neighborhood Association, who voted unanimously to support the application. Residents participated as well, asking the city to grant the license. TJ and Hadley plan to support South End development through their business. In fact, the soft launch on September 19th will benefit the Childe Hassam Park, which residents are trying to renovate and re-open.

Hadley and TJ are passionate about supporting local businesses. Case in point, they were one of the first retailers to carry the full Boston-based Bully Boy product line, plus local food purveyors are featured every Saturday at wine tastings. Owing some of their early success to support lent by other local businesses like Lineage in Brookline, they view it as a ‘Pay-It-Forward’ situation.

For nearby residents, expect events and educational classes at The Urban Grape. For example, Peter Gago, winemaker for Penfolds, recently named the Worldwide Winemaker of the Year, will be on hand at the store launch on September 20th. Also – plan to fight for a spot: The Urban Grape’s first listed event “Two Chef Tables and a Microphone” sold out on the first day the tickets were available.

To get your wine education on, interested visitors can attend free tastings every Thursday, Friday and Saturday featuring 16 wines available to sample. The Urban Grape staff is trained as a wait staff would be, on hand to answer any questions, understand what you are tasting and anticipate any needs you may have. Hadley also recommends expanding wine knowledge through The Urban Grape’s Sunday night events, or through a more formal program with the BCAE or the Boston Wine School. If you’re looking for more first-hand experience, you can visit local winemakers like Travessia Wines in New Bedford or Westport Rivers.

Hadley and TJ have no plans of stopping, either. When asked about future expansion, Hadley says she and TJ are exploring additional opportunities. For now, I’ll be content with the two locations – I can’t wait to check out the new Urban Grape on September 20th. Nothing’s worse than schlepping down Rt.9 in rush hour to find the perfect bottle of vino.

P.S. For the beginning of fall, Hadley recommends keeping a Terre Gaie Prosecco ($16) on hand for ‘life’s small victories’.