On the day I visit the Village Wine Merchant in Sea Cliff, I find myself sharing the store with a couple of women visiting from Kentucky.
“Wow,” says one to the other, her accent as sweet as any Port on the shelves she’s browsing. “Isn’t this the most beautiful shop?”
“Oh yes,” says the other. “It’s stunning. Feels just like an old bookshop.”
Michael Amendola, the shop’s director of sales and marketing, hears these sorts of compliments a lot. It is not hard to understand why. The Village Wine Merchant is absolutely gorgeous. Immediately upon entering, I find myself enchanted by all of its dark wood accents and beautiful cabinetry.
“You say bookshop,” says Amendola to the women, “but I think we’re more like an old record shop. You come to me and I can tell you, ‘Hey, if you like this band, you’re going to love this.’ ”
Both comparisons are fitting. Each reflects the quiet, intimate magic of the small shop right in the heart of Sea Cliff.
“We’re a really small operation,” says Amendola, who — with Frank Scavone, the principal owner, and Angela Michal, a Sea Cliff native who manages the store in the mornings — is one of the shop’s three partners. “A lot of stores on Long Island are these big, impersonal warehouses. The staff members really don’t know the wines. We wanted to create an atmosphere that’s much more personal and enjoyable.”
In this, the Village Wine Merchant has certainly succeeded. Customers stream in and out of the store during my visit, among them, more than a few regulars. Amendola greets them by name. “We really pride ourselves on being part of the local community and knowing our customers,” he says. “We want to know their palates. We want to know what they like.”
To this end, the Village Wine Merchant hosts (at least) two free events each week. On Tuesdays, they host what Amendola calls their Educational Series, a night of free tastings following a specific theme. Recent themes have, in homage to the holidays, featured sparkling wines and Bordeaux. On Fridays, they host more casual tastings.
“I know that the wine world can be really overwhelming for people,” says Amendola, “so I’m happy to step in as a guide. That’s why we do so many free events. I want to give customers an opportunity to taste. I want to give people a chance to taste on their own, to ask questions, to have an experience. From there, they begin to teach themselves, to get a sense of what they like. Then, I can introduce them to even more. It allows me to offer a really specific service to our customers.”
It is a service Amendola is particularly well-qualified to offer. He’s worked full time in the wine business for the past 14 years.
“Everything here is curated,” says Amendola, his desk positioned beside shelves that display local wines — from Shinn Estate and Paumanok, to name two — beside wines made further afield in Croatia and Slovenia. “We don’t buy based on brand. We care most about authenticity. There’s a strong lean in here for small suppliers and family farms. I tell people it’s like buying tomatoes. Everyone knows the best tomato you’re going to have is one you either a) grow yourself, or b) have your mom grow. If you don’t get it from there, maybe you get it from a neighbor’s grandma or a farm stand. The last place you’ll find it is a grocery store.”
It is a tremendously thoughtful comparison, and Amendola delivers it with characteristic enthusiasm. “I just find that the small family producers care more,” he says. “The wines are more interesting.”
They’re are also surprisingly affordable.
“We’re really invested in educating people,” says Frank Scavone, the Village Wine Merchant’s principal owner. “This is the kind of store that people would look into from the outside and think is really expensive and intimidating, but we’re not.”
And it’s true. The Village Wine Merchant is a shop as beautiful as it is warm and inviting, and as passionate about the wines they sell as they are about the people to whom they sell them.