You can almost set your watch by the way sommelier Patrick Watson has opened businesses in and around Cobble Hill: Six years ago he and wife, Michelle Pravda, cofounded Smith Street’s beloved artisanal-minded wine shop Smith & Vine; four years later they opened their wonderful cheese shop, Stinky; two years ago they mixed it up with cocktail lounge JakeWalk; and now, right on schedule, along comes Brooklyn Wine Exchange.
The 1,600-square-foot shop has much in common with its siblings: hyper-knowledgeable wine geek staff, grapes you’ve never heard of, and kick-ass $12-and-under options. But it has its differences, too. Nearly twice the size of Smith & Vine its stock includes a whopping 40 selections from the Empire State.
The biggest difference, however, awaits across the polished concrete floor toward the back of the room. Gambling on Brooklyn’s love of learning, Patrick, Michelle and partners Joe Mastriano of Tango on Montague Street and coffee roaster Chris Modica of D’Amico’s, have devoted almost half the space to what they’re calling “the Learning Center.” For years now, both Watson and Pravda have earned extra cash and indulged their vino curiosity by teaching classes. But with Smith & Vine barely big enough to hold its stock, courses were often off-site. Now, with ample, long tables that seat up to 40 they’ve launched weekly sessions in Brooklyn Wine Exchange’s big, back room on everything from wine basics to biodynamics to Châteauneuf du Pape.
And while the info in Watson’s head could surely fill years of curriculum, monthly guest lecturers include the likes of Channing Daughters‘s winemaker Christopher Tracey, author of Sweet Wines James Peterson, Provençal rosé producer Morten Hallgreen, and sommelier David Lombardo of Landmarc and Ditch Plains fame.
Classes are essentially free; the twist is that first dibs go to members of the Learning Center’s online component, who pay $180 annually (or $100/6 months, or $60/3 months) for access to extra in-depth info and the privilege of maintaining a personal wine database-which, if you think about how much wine classes can cost, is a pretty good bargain (Kevin Zraly, for example, charges 1,000 clams for eight sessions). Then again, just stop by the shop and you’re sure to learn something, like the day I eavesdropped on a detailed chat about German riesling. “There’s always something new to discover, whether it’s a region or a grape,” says Watson. “I don’t think my learning ever plateaus.”