Sommelier Brings Wine Expertise to Downtown Hotspot
Grant Reynolds is the newly appointed wine director at Charlie Bird restaurant, working to keep their wine selection fresh and innovative
In less than a year, Charlie Bird has distinguished itself as a popular downtown destination amid the sea of new restaurant endeavors, thanks in large part to its resident wine director, Grant Reynolds. He's helped the restaurant, self-described as "Italian influenced, American executed, and entirely New York," find a balance of upscale food and wine with a downtown atmosphere.
Reynolds has been involved in building their impressive wine list since the start, after moving to New York in January of 2013. Originally from Lake Placid, New York, Reynolds has spent the last several years dividing his time between Colorado and Europe. He ties his love for travel and creative spirit to the wine he chooses each season.
"I've always said, the best way to learn about wine is to drink it," he wrote in a piece for the food blog Eater. "Personally, I've worked for free on endless occasions in various parts of the world simply to learn about and taste wines that I wouldn't otherwise have access to."
When he was 16, Reynolds traveled to Italy as a part of a study abroad program. There he was introduced to the culture and the love affair that Italians have with wine. One of his early memories of wine was when he was drinking grocery store Barbera, which he explained was the "equivalent to slugging a warm Bud Light and watching Nascar ? and it was great. Perfect for an American high school kid who'd just landed in northern Italy for a year abroad."
While living in Boulder, Colorado, Reynolds' charm and impressive knowledge of wine and hospitality caught the eye of Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey. Soon he began volunteering at Stuckey's Boulder restaurant Frasca, absorbing all the information he could.
Working at Frasca and learning from some of the most notable American sommeliers, he realized he wanted to do something to further his career. He began studying for the Court of Master Sommelier Exam. The exam was established in the United Kingdom in 1969, and was named the premier international exam by 1977.
Candidates must complete all four levels of the exam to earn the title of Master Sommelier, and only 211 people have ever earned this diploma. (Reynolds has since decided not to finish the last level of the Advanced Sommelier exam at this time because he wants to focus his energy on Charlie Bird.)
After passing the third level of the Advanced Sommelier exam, Reynolds traveled to France to work the harvest at Domain Dujac, and then spent some time in Copenhagen working for three months at the restaurant Noma. Once his visa had expired, he started to wonder what would be next for him.
"At that point, I was pretty indecisive," he said about this point in his life. "I had a job offer in London, I could have continued to work at the job I was working at in Copenhagen, and then of course New York was an easy move to make. Since I am from Lake Placid, New York would allow me to be closer to home."
After arriving in New York he had reached out to some of his stateside restaurant and wine connections, this led to his meeting with Charlie Bird owner Robert Bohr. He knew he wanted to a part of the Soho restaurant, which prides itself on its urban Italian aesthetic.
"I was super, super broke after living in Europe past my visa but met up with Robert [Bohr] literally my first day back," Reynolds said. "Our meeting drew me in to being in New York; more than anything I decided to stay to pursue working with Robert here at Charlie Bird."
They have some exciting new things to look forward to this spring, including a new outdoor patio. Reynolds told us they are using the same designers from Leroy St. Studios who worked on the restaurant's interior. Due to its popularity, Reynolds explained that the additional outdoor seating will "really grow our capacity to meet the rising demand."
In keeping with their goal to be an accessible New York eatery, Reynolds and Bohr approach their wine list in an unconventional and laid back manner by crafting a list of around 150 types of wine, with nothing over $250. He told Wine & Spirits magazine "Money is huge in terms of making someone comfortable with their selection."
A favorite option among customers is the ability to purchase a half bottle of wine, allowing the flexibility to enjoy several options throughout a meal. Despite their reputation of being one of the new, trendy downtown eateries, Charlie Bird is working to prove its longevity.
"Great restaurants are ones you associate with a neighborhood or time period, they are timeless and not just a poof in the air," Reynolds explained. "We keep our focus on remaining causal, and offering food and wine that are delicious and simple."
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