What’s better then spending each day surrounded by some of New York’s finest wines? Spending each day surrounded by fine wines and your loved ones. At Manhattan Wine Co. owners Matt Tornabene and Kerrie O’Brien prioritize the customers above all else. The husband-wife combo strives to bring their passion and knowledge of to all of Chelsea, one bottle at a time. Matt and Kerrie took some time out of their day to talk to us about the origins on Manhattan Wine Company, their appreciation for wine, and what it’s like to run a company with your significant other.
When and why did you decide to open up a wine store in Chelsea?
Manhattan Wine Company started as a full-service wine storage facility in nearby New Jersey in 2006. We have been actively managing our clients’ inventory, and in many instances, helping them build their collection and expand their wine knowledge since the very beginning. We’ve been deeply involved in the fine and rare wine business for over a decade and have travelled to the world’s most important wine regions. We opened our wine and spirits shop in West Chelsea in the summer of 2015 in the historic Terminal Stores building, which spans the entire city block between West 28th and 27th and 11th Avenue and the Westside highway. While we’re rooted in the classics, we’re also excited by wines from unexpected places and are constantly tasting and exploring. Opening the shop has helped us share our favorite wines with consumers, not just collectors. There’s no excuse for drinking bad wine in this remarkable wine city we live in with some of the nation’s greatest and most historic importers headquartered right here in NYC. We feel our dynamic neighborhood is the perfect headquarters for us to share our passion for wine with the city and beyond.
How do you decide what kind of wine to bring to the store?
Wine is and should be about pleasure, so first and foremost, the wines we purchase must be delicious. A quick measure of a great bottle is how fast it disappears once you pull the cork. We have tasted nearly every single bottle we sell in the shop, and in many instances, we’ve walked the vineyards with the winemakers and worked with their importers for many years now. We’re not interested in stocking wines to simply cover categories or check boxes. We find tremendous value in France and Italy and are particularly focused on these two countries, but also feature wines from the US, Germany, Austria, Spain, Hungary, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, Slovenia and beyond. We gravitate towards wines that are made without a lot of manipulation and show a clear signature of their place of origin– what the French call “terroir”. We want this sense of place to be the focus, not a forced recipe in the cellar. And above all, we’re looking for bottles of wine & spirits that provide intrigue and value at every price level.
What is your forever favorite bottle of wine?
It’s impossible to say this. Depends on how I feel– what I’m eating, who I’m with, where I am in the world. Some of my favorite producers are Domaine Simon Bize, Denis Bachelet, Philippe Jouan, Bruno Clavelier, Olivier Lamy, Jean-Marc Roulot, R&V Dauvis sat, G.B. Burlotto, Bartolo Mascarello, Beppe Rinaldi, Domaine de Belleviere, Domaine du Collier, Champagne Marguet, Suenen, Pierre Peters, Foillard, Lapierre, Guy Breton, Stephane Tissot, Cave Caloz, Luigi Ferrando, Antoine Arena, Lopez de Heredia, Vieux Chateau Certan, and on and on. There’s a remarkable wine for every occasion so I can’t really say what my one favorite is! Sorry!
Instead of relying on points and scores from the critics, get out and taste for yourself! Find hardworking, honest retailers and sommeliers and utilize their wealth of knowledge and passion for the subject. A good wine salesperson will try to understand your taste preferences, style and budget and make recommendations accordingly. Open yourself up to grapes or regions you may never have heard of. If you want to go deeper, start reading books & websites and listening to podcasts – an informed buyer is the best buyer. Let the adventure begin!
On your web site, it said that you only bring the best of wines from all over the world. What is your most extravagant bottle of wine?
There’s likely a bottle from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in stock– it doesn’t get much better than that! Burgundy is without a doubt our biggest obsession, and even though DRC is out of reach for most of us, few can doubt its pedigree and the immense pleasure it can offer.
Your wife and your brother work alongside you. Was it important to make it a family business, or did it happen by chance?
I met my wife Kerrie in the wine trade in 2012. At the time, she was a beverage director at the recently closed DBGB for Daniel Boulod’s Dinex restaurant group. Kerrie has been a buyer in the city for over a decade and has travelled all over the wine world. She is a certified Sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers, and shares this insane passion for wine with me. She helped me organize a Burgundy dinner at DBGB during La Paulee week in2013, and we quickly fell in love. Soon after, she hung up her somm shoes, shipped out to Europe to work a few harvests (Etna and Jura) and we got engaged in Modena, Italy at Osteria Francescana. Upon return from our life-changing trip, Kerrie began working for Manhattan Wine Company. She’s the mother of our two children, a buyer for the shop, and does all she can to keep me in line and keep our customers happy! She’s amazing, and it’s a dream to be able to work with her every day.
My older brother, Billy, started working for Manhattan Wine Company in 2009 a few years after we started the storage business. Billy came from a decade plus of working in finance, and received his MBA from Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management. We’ve always been best friends and he also does everything he can to keep me in line and focused. Billy was instrumental in helping us raise capital to start the business in ’06, and since 2009, he’s served as our CFO and business partner. Billy is the ying to my yang and certainly wired a bit differently than I am. He brings tremendous pride and professionalism to our company and is an integral part of everything we do. He works out of an office we have in Richmond, VA near where we grew up and where he lives with his wife and three children. There’s nothing better than working with my brother and wife to chase our dreams. We’re building a business that we hope to pass down to our children and the next generation.