Chappaqua Wine & Spirit Company: Kirk Sprenger

Chappaqua Wine & Spirit Company: Kirk SprengerIf you’re an oenophile, your nose knows that the glass is full at the Chappaqua Wine & Spirit Company, tucked into a fresh, new eco-friendly space with an accessible vibe ripe for tasting and inquiring. Even if your grape expectations are modest, this gem establishment uncorks the finest esoteric varietals (especially off-the-beaten-path French finds) specializing in what’s best. Getting your drink on won’t necessarily drain your wallet, as the selection of vino is big on quality and not necessarily high ticket items. Owner Kirk Sprenger also shelves small batch and boutique wines from Spain, Argentina, and California (try a Biker zinfandel); champagne and sparkling sips; sake, port, and dessert wine; biodynamic, sustainable varietals; and premium liquors (Peace Vodka from the Catskill Mountain vineyard located at the original Woodstock site).

Open 15 years, Mr. Sprenger used a loan from Community Capital NY to leave behind the gloomy interior of dark burgundy carpeting and floors stained gothic-brown of the original store to relocate and refit the smaller, light-filled far more suitable shop next door. Mr. Sprenger began his career as a wine aficionado in 1980 as an assistant manager at another Westchester wine shop, and has spent more than 25 years as a behind-the-counter sommelier in the county. The new build-out brought a whiff of rent relief for Mr. Sprenger, as well as overhead reductions in the cost of insurance, heat, and electricity. Freed-up revenue was poured into new inventory, expanded labels, and an ecommerce website, www.chappaquawine.com, designed to help customers in California and the Midwest put a cork in it. Within 48 hours of placing an order, UPS is knocking on the door, whether you’ve clicked on a perfect romantic red to match your cozy dinner for two or downloaded a couple of cases of chianti for your catered office party. In-store business in the lighter, brighter space is also on the rise. Apparently, the upside to the downturn in the economy is the comeback of  BYO wine. Chappaqua Wine & Spirit Co. happily raises a glass to the local restaurants where store-bought bottles are welcome.

How did you get into the wine business?
My parents taught my siblings and I that food and wine go together. I grew up tasting their pairings.

How did you get your business off the ground?
I began in 1980 as the assistant manager of a wine shop and fell in love with the business right away. I went on to manage another Westchester wine shop, and then came to the Chappaqua Wine & Spirit company first as a manager, then partner, and then in 2002 I bought the original owner, my partner, out.

How did your business evolve?
I was in the adjoining space next door and had way too much space that wasn’t utilized. I asked the landlord to take back 1200 square feet of back room, but when this (new) space opened up next door, the sensible option was to move. Community Capital helped me make the move, build out this store and refit it to be my new location. I left behind dark burgundy carpeting, shelving and floors stained dark, and a full awning that made the interior very dark and gloomy. I put the hardwood floor in, whitewashed shelving, added an over-the-door awning to let in sun, and used corks as a window display, all to make it warmer and more inviting. By relocating to the smaller space, I was able to cut down first and foremost on the rent. My insurance dropped. My heating and air conditioning cost dropped. I sunk the freed-up revenue into new inventory, expanded labels, and an ecommerce website.

Your advice?
If you don’t try, you don’t get. And everything is negotiable.

In hindsight, you wish you knew?
More about leases and negotiations with landlords. Retail is a constant learning experience. I learned a lot from the previous wine shop owner I worked with. He was very sharp, very business-oriented. He taught me to be on my game.

When did you know you’d arrived?
With icon status. Towns like Chappaqua have certain icons and we’re one of them, still here after 15 years.

What’s next?
For the last two to three years my website hasn’t generated enough added revenue. I brought in a wine industry consultant to help me generate the internet side of my business. Internet wine sales are growing and we want a piece of the pie. We needed a better website to enable me to add a lot more inventory. People living in the Midwest, even California, might not have certain wines available to them based on the region they live in. Californians are subjected to 98% California wines in their local shop and may not be able to find some of the bordeauxs or wines from Spain that I’m now able to provide them via the internet and via UPS.