As part of our Q&A series, Morningsider brings you exclusive interviews with neighborhood “Insiders.” This week, we interview Nobu Otsu, owner of The Winery.
A successful entrepreneur as well as a certified member of the American Sommelier Society and the Wine and Sprit Education Trust, you may be surprised to know that Nobu Otsu is not just a wine professional, but an interior designer. After studying commercial design at Kanazawa College in Japan, Otsu went on to major in interior design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. He then began his career as an art director for advertising in Tokyo. It was not until later that Nobu moved to Harlem to explore new and different opportunities.
Upon moving to Harlem in 2006, he established The Winery in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance. Now, six years later, his business is booming and has doubled in both revenue and size.
Aside from owning The Winery, Nobu also works as an interior designer for residential and commercial spaces, an adjunct assistant professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and enjoys exploring new business ventures at any chance he gets. Speaking of, you can hop on over to Harlem Bespoke to read about Nobu’s latest venture, Jado Sushi and Wine Bar!
Questions For Nobu Otsu:
1. Tell us about The Winery.
The Winery is a very special wine store specializing in artisanal, small-production wines from producers who carefully craft wine with artful skills and a respect for the environment.
We like to enjoy wine as a part of our day-to-day lives, so we keep the price under $20 for most of our selection. For those who want something special, we also offer undiscovered top-notch wines from major appellations.
The Winery is a community based store. To help make this community a better place to live and work we have committed to support local community and non-profit charity organizations which focus on the arts and education, including:
- Apollo Theater Foundation
- Dance Theater of Harlem
- Studio Museum of Harlem
- Iris House
- Friends of Morningside Park
- Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association
- Many private and public schools in Harlem and the Upper West Side
2. What inspired you to open a wine shop?
I enjoy drinking wine with meals each day, but unfortunately I don’t have the luxury of spending top dollar for great wines. Access to delicious, affordable, everyday wines is an absolute necessity. But, boy, a simple thing like this is so difficult. Wine stores were usually so intimidating; I’d just grab a bottle that had an attractive label and was within my price range and leave. It’s like buying CDs without listening to them. Sometimes you get great ones, but most are disappointing. So, I decided to create a store that I want to shop in, and that I can be proud of owning.
3. We know that you’re an interior designer by trade, but would you now also consider yourself a wine connoisseur? How did you learn about the wine business?
No, I am not a wine connoisseur at all. It’s one of those things that the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Every day is a learning experience for me.
I look at wine as a branch of the arts. It is the expression of the winemaker and his/her environment such as the location, weather and culture. It is much like how a painting is the expression of an artist and his/her environment. For me, coming from an art and design background, the wine business (in concept) is not too different from the art/design business. I treat each wine with respect. I display them like artwork in a gallery, giving each enough space to be independent.
4. We noticed that many of your wines are environmentally friendly – some are organic, biodynamic while others are sustainably grown. What are some of the environmental and health benefits from drinking this kind of wine?
I prefer organic food and wine for myself, simply because I don’t want to unnecessarily ingest any more synthetic chemicals than I already do on a day-to-day basis. Also, I am not too sure about how genetically engineered produce affects us in the long-run. I grow vegetables myself and you’d be amazed to see how different commercial produce looks compared to what I grow in my garden. Commercial produce looks like it’s on steroids.
I particularly like the romanticism of biodynamic farming. It’s a philosophy; a step beyond organic; which was created by the Austrian philosopher and scientist Rudolf Steiner in the early 20th century. In this philosophy, grape vines are cultivated and wines are produced according to the cycles of the universe. Phases of the moon, for example, affect grape growing and winemaking a great deal. Whether you believe it or not, I think it’s cool.
5. What is your favorite wine? And what is your best-seller?
As you might guess, I can’t answer the question. All wines I carry at the store are my children.
The best sellers are definitely wines of value prices. However Drusian Prosecco, priced at $18.99, sells extremely well also and was voted the best Prosecco by the NY Times. You will understand why once you sip it.
6. We heard that The Winery frequently offers wine education tastings and events. Do you have any coming up that you would like to share with our readers?
We host a free wine tasting every Friday night from 5:30 to 8 pm. It is casual, educational and, best of all, fun. Through the wine tasting sessions you will be able to learn the reasons why you like or dislike certain kinds, which is the first step to learning about wine. Anyone can drop by at anytime during these tasting hours.
7. Aside from The Winery, what is your favorite Harlem hot spot?
I love the Studio Museum of Harlem, especially on Sunday when they offer free admission (thanks to Target), and on their opening parties. I’ve never seen such a diverse, energetic art crowd anywhere else in the city. The quality of the collection is incredible and unique in each and every exhibition.
I also love to stroll on the side streets of Harlem where I discover hidden architectural jewels and community pocket gardens.
257 West 116th Street
New York, NY