In 2019, Brian Heiss was managing a wine shop in Fort Greene but wanted more responsibility and control. A musician with a number of years working in wine retail, he approached two musician pals, Steven Reker and Matt Nelson, who also worked in the wine business, and asked them if they wanted to open up a new natural wine shop with him. They agreed.
After a long hunt, they found a space near the corner of Classon and Greene avenues in Clinton Hill, an area Heiss knows well, having previously attempted to open a restaurant and wine bar in a space on the same block and living nearby. “I didn’t want to be anywhere else,” he said.
The trio signed a lease in June 2020, three months after the beginning of the pandemic and applied for a liquor license soon after. The small space needed a lot of work, Heiss said, but it was worth it to be in this location. In October 2020, Radicle Wine was born.
“It’s been employee owned since the beginning and will always be employee owned,” Heiss said about the store. “Anyone that works here will have a percentage of the business.”
The name stems from the term ‘radicle,’ the part of a plant that forms the root and allows it to grow. Heiss, who studied biochemistry in college, thought the name fit the new store’s ethos. “I love the concept of my first successful business being the thing that anchors my future and provides strength as it grows,” Heiss said.
Radicle stocks only natural wines, but that phrase can be vague these days. Heiss said the wine in the store focuses on “biodynamics, organic viticulture, and no-intervention wine,” and he said he thinks of the wines he and his team put on the shelves as consisting of only “grapes and time.” You can find wines from all over the world in the store, although their focus is wines from France, Italy, and Central and Eastern Europe (Heiss specifically loves Georgian wine, which gets extra love).
“I love our selection and I take a lot of pride in being able to get great wine into our neighbors’ hands and glasses,” Heiss said.
It’s been a long year. Opening wasn’t easy. The pandemic slowed things down, as expected, and initial plans for events at the store had to be postponed as restrictions around COVID-19 continued. But that hasn’t stopped locals, who can often be seen lining up outside, from embracing the shop.
“It’s a strange feeling trying to grapple with so many of my friends’ bars and restaurants having a really tough time while the shop is doing so well,” Heiss said. “We’re trying to help out in any way we can.”
As restrictions begin to loosen and life returns to semi-normality, Heiss is looking toward the future of the shop. The community they have built around the store continues to grow, whether it be those who hang around to chat with the congenial staff or those who bounce around the shop listening to the store’s great soundtrack (being musicians, all three owners have deep record collections). Radicle doesn’t feel like a traditional wine shop, stuffy and uninviting. The atmosphere is easygoing and exploratory, more approachable to a non-expert.
Plans are already being considered for the year ahead. First and foremost will be tastings, which they plan to introduce as soon as allowed. “Having something open for our neighbors to try is so important to us,” Heiss said. “It starts a conversation and allows people to try things they might not want to do a whole bottle of.” Plus, there’s a full stage in the basement (they are musicians, after all), although they are still figuring out how to best use that space. “There’s a lot of possibilities,” he said.
[Photos by Susan De Vries]
Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Brownstoner magazine.
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