Kilolo Strobert has been in the wine industry for more than 15 years, working at the likes of wine shop Le Dû’s Wines, hotel Le Parker Meridien (now Thompson Central Park New York), Zagat and more. Her latest project takes her back to her roots, with the reopening of a Prospect Heights wine shop where she had her first job in the industry. Strobert has partnered with Max Katzenberg (previously of Olmsted, Maison Yaki and Blue Hill at Stone Barns) on revitalizing Fermented Grapes, an approachable and lively wine shop on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights with a more than 20-year history in the neighborhood.
At Fermented Grapes, you’ll find natural, organic and biodynamic wines, with dedicated sections for female, Black and Indigenous winemakers. If wine isn’t your thing, there is also a diverse selection of spirits from New York-based distillers. Stop by and chat with Strobert herself for a wine recommendation—no matter your level of wine knowledge, she’s sure to make you feel right at home and confident in your selections.
I had the opportunity to connect with Strobert to chat about Fermented Grapes and her advice for wine novices. I’ll let her take it away from here.
Abigail Abesamis Demarest: What can people expect to find at Fermented Grapes?
Kilolo Strobert: You can expect to see a well rounded selection of wines and spirits from all over the world. I want an emphasis on beverages that are well balanced and, no matter at what price point, a great value. We also focus on wines and spirits made by BIPOC and female producers.
Demarest: Can you talk a little bit about the history of Fermented Grapes in Prospect Heights and why you decided to reopen it?
Strobert: I was the first full-time employee who worked in the store, and the owners were female; one of Jewish heritage and the other African American. I knew, from the get, that Fermented was a special place. There were two unicorns in residence, and they were owners to boot! I was very aware of how rare of an experience this would be for me—getting the opportunity to experience wine from a diverse female ownership perspective. The decision to be the next owner was a no-brainer. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to continue as the next owner and put my own spin on the store.
Demarest: What is your approach to purchasing wine and curating wine lists?
Strobert: Retail is for the people. Whoever walks into your establishment is looking for anything and everything, so your mindset as a curator or buyer needs to be first and foremost about diversity, within product and category. I may have 30 different Rosé options, but price range and flavor profiles need to be varied.
After being in the hospitality industry for over 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to foster amazing relationships with various importers and distributors, and taste a variety of products. In conjunction with my own goals for the shelf, I lean on their expertise to help me keep up with consumer buying habits and trends. But no matter what, I make sure I can stand behind what’s in the bottle.
Demarest: How do you make your wine shop approachable for wine novices?
Strobert: I consider myself a translator. I don’t believe wine and spirits vernacular was created for the novice. It’s been a blessing that I am multilingual. I speak “old world” and translate it to the “everyday.” I’m also a native New Yorker who grew up with veggie burgers, chicken Parm heros and sunflower seeds, and I was classically trained at Johnson & Wales University. I keep all of these experiences in mind when listening to what a consumer is looking for.
The layout of the store is based on how I’ve seen people shop for wine and spirits. There are sections for red, white, rose, orange and sparkling wine but then there are rows dedicated to specific varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, because that is how people shop. Also, we organize by price point, from inexpensive to expensive. This way you really get to browse for what you are looking for.
Demarest: What is your advice for people who are new to wine and don’t know what they like quite yet?
Strobert: Come to Fermented Grapes and let us pick your brain. We have a number of wines that we consider starter wines. If you can’t get to the store or wait for us to launch our retail site, I suggest that every time you purchase a glass of wine or a cocktail at a restaurant, take a picture of what you thought was super tasty. Then, when you walk into a store, ask for something like what’s in the picture. It helps the salesperson make your next purchase something you’ll hopefully really love.