A historic blacksmith shop converted into a boutique wine retailer on Main Street in the Village of Nelsonville, New York is drawing curious customers. Blacksmith Wines is so inconspicuous—there’s not even a sign identifying the business—that it can be hard to find. But determined customers are seeking out its priceless inventory protected in temperature-controlled rooms. “There are hundreds of wine shops, but only a small number of them provide a deep library of back vintage wines from the world’s greatest wine regions,” says Mark Mancinelli, owner of Blacksmith Wines. “We felt there was enough space in the market for that kind of shop.”
When Mancinelli got his retail liquor license in 2017, he worked alone in about 300 square feet of space at another Nelsonville location. Mancinelli then purchased the H.D. Champlin & Sons Horseshoeing and Wagonmaking building, originally constructed in 1858. Although on the National Register of Historic Places, the one-time thriving business, which includes a 1,800-square-foot ground floor space in addition to a 1,000-square-foot cellar, had been unused for more than 30 years with no heat, insulation, electricity, or water.
Infrastructure improvements shored up the building so it could archive world class wines; an unstable foundation was underpinned with concrete, and an insulated brick wall was built on one side of the shop. Additionally, a temperature controlled glass box was installed against the insulated wall for wine storage. Two 2-ton units installed in the attic control the wine room temperature and supplement the naturally cool sub-grade space, which has 40 wine racks.
After 8 months of renovations, Blacksmith Wines quietly opened at 286 Main Street in 2017. The building’s historic character was maintained, including a dentilated brick cornice, an original hand painted sign below it, and a central wagon door. “We didn’t want to interfere with the historical nature of the shop by sheet rocking the walls or disrupting the aged and distressed finishes on the floor, walls, or ceiling,” Mancinelli explains. “We scrubbed, cleaned, and matte lacquered everything in the shop to lock in all the existing finishes.”
The building provides a context to showcase rare vintage wines and some spirits. A small kitchen was installed in the back and Mancinelli eventually plans to apply for tasting dinner permits. “Many of the estates we carry are steeped in history, usually Old World European estates,” he says. “When our wines are presented in a room with 130 years of history, it emphasizes the meaning of purchasing a rare vintage wine with a specific taste from a unique location, and a deep historical lineage.”
Since other wine and liquor stores already serve the area, a condition of Mancinelli’s license is the average price of any 750-ml. wine bottle sold should exceed $100.Prices range from about $30 to $20,000 a 750-ml., dominated by expensive collectible wines above the pricing threshold. “We try to price hard-to-find wines at the lowest Wine-Searcher prices among legitimate U.S. retailers,” he says.
For consumers who travel near and far to visit, the store operates by appointment in addition to its standard 12 p.m.-5 p.m. hours Monday through Friday. “People mostly go through our list online and they send us the wines they’re interested in seeing,” Mancinelli says. “Then they come in, and it’s like a library or jewelry store experience with gems behind the glass. Many customers are quite serious about inspecting the wine.”
Focused on building a team, Mancinelli recently hired Kristie Petrullo Campbell, former chief sommelier at Jean-Georges in Manhattan, as store manager and his nephew, Nicolas Mancinelli, as information technology and operations manager. Petrullo Campbell is a wine educator with private wine management, event, and consulting experience through her Petrullo Wine Company. “She is world class in every respect and will provide an element of hospitality to the store,” Mancinelli says.
Campbell specializes in wines from Burgundy, Rhone Valley, Germany, and Austria, while Mancinelli focuses mainly on Piemonte and Bordeaux wines. If a customer plans a visit, they get one-on-one attention. “We’ll give them a tour,” Petrullo Campbell says. “There are a lot of last minute additions but the majority of what they want is already known.”
While the shop is steeped in history, modern technology is vital. “Being online is critical to bringing people into the store,” Mancinelli says. “Our business is split between people who call us and want us to ship things to them and people who stop into the shop. After a few shipments and some dialogue with us, they want to come to the store.”
With his retail team in place, Mancinelli is busy sourcing wines from wholesalers, distributors, and private collectors. “You never know what a distributor is going to unearth for you or who the private collectors are that are about to sell something,” he observes. “You have to develop a sense that even though you don’t have something you want, eventually you’ll be able to find it, and you have to hunt it down.”