Harlem Vintage first opened its doors in the fall of 2004 when two college friends, Jai Jai and Eric Woods, decided to fill the neighborhood need for quality wines. While Eric grew up with a taste for wine, Jai Jai became a wine-enthusiast in college, and later on Wall Street, where she would have to host and order at client dinners. Their mission is to sell a selection of wines that reflect Harlem’s rich history and to educate Harlem “one grape at a time,” in a very comfortable environment.
Questions for Jai Jai Greenfield:
Harlem Vintage is a wine store that opened on October 30, 2004. The intention was never for me to be an entrepreneur, but I had a lot of friends in Harlem, went to church in Harlem and my dad was born and raised there, and when I saw all that was going on there, it wasn’t hard to come to the conclusion that there was a need for more boutiques and retailers. I love wine and am very passionate about Harlem and these factors created this perfect storm where I knew opening up Harlem Vintage was what I was supposed to do.
2. What inspired you to open Nectar Wine Bar?
A lot of it was just luck in that we were sitting on three years of success at Harlem Vintage and the Nectar space had remained vacant. We gain a lot of clientele from our neighbors’ customers who peak their heads in, grab a bottle of wine, and the idea of having a Subway or some other business that might not contribute to ours was disheartening. At a previous job, I had done some consulting work for wine bars located in airports and I realized that we could do something very similar next door, thus Nectar was born in April 2008.
3. Do you have any specialty seasonal wines you carry?
We are known for something we have called the $100 case, which is 12 bottle case we put together to match the season. It’s a great way to always have some wines in the home, not think about it and it even comes with a tasting note. It really has been a success and it’s great for us because we can showcase wines someone might not have otherwise picked—we can promote more expensive wines, but they are way discounted through the case special. Our customers often just call up and request latest $100 case, and it’s also great for newcomers who are unfamiliar with the shop. We always try to keep it seasonally focused. For instance during winter, the cases are more red-focused, with some heartier whites to compliment heavier, richer food such as stews and soups.
Aside from the $100 cases, a lot of Prosecco and Malbec in terms of styles. We also have a wine called Indaba, from South Africa, which we’ve had since opening that is quite popular. We like to carry wines that not only cross the price point, but really reflect where it comes from and what it should taste like. I think wine is somewhat resilient in the economy, people might not go out to eat as often, or buy as many bottles, but they are still buying wine.
5. Aside from Harlem Vintage and Nectar, what is your favorite Harlem hot spot?
I LOVE Settepani, it’s like my office—if I need to grab a bite to eat, but sit and think uninterrupted, I go there. Sylvia’s is also like my kitchen for my two boys; I love that I can just drive right by and grab some dinner. Hue-Man Bookstore is also really great and has a terrific story time for the kids.
6. What is your favorite part about being a business owner?
That’s a tough one, because there are so many things. I like seeing something that we’ve created from the ground up—a lot of entrepreneurs buy or inherit their businesses, but this is something we completely created. It’s also the ability to love what you do so much that it can transcend any difficulties that you have and being an entrepreneur is definitely difficult.
7. Anything else you would like to add?
Every Saturday we have a wine tasting from 4:00-7:00pm with a different theme, whether it’s region, grape-focused, wines in the pinot family and more. It’s always a good time and our distributors and those who serve the wine always remark on how friendly our customers are. People come in, taste wines and mingle and it really creates a nice neighborhood vibe.
At our next tasting, which will be on Saturday, February 4, we are highlighting wines that come from our Winemakers of Color Collection.
2235 Frederick Douglass Boulevard
Nectar Wine Bar
2235 Frederick Douglass Boulevard