On October 5, 2010, Mimi McLaughlin and Jeff Marron opened Saugatuck Grain & Grape in Westport, Connecticut, directly across the street from the Metro-North station. And though the train provides their bread and butter, the shop has since become a destination. "When we first opened," says Jeff, "people walked in and said, 'Wow, this is a beautiful store.' Now they walk in and say, 'I need bourbon and was told that this is the place to go.'" In addition to being an extension of Jeff's liquor cabinet, Saugatuck Grain & Grape also seeks to extend its customer's comfort zone by broadening its palate.
"I went in to this saying I'd never be swayed by points," says Mimi, the Saucier Spice of the two. "There are no shelf talkers on the shelves. I'm the big mouth here," she added and laughed. "With a few exceptions, the wine on the shelves are what I think the customers want. We've brought in varietals that I know people haven't tried...I feel comfortable putting in what people call 'off varietals'...comfortable that they'll come back."
Originally, Mimi worked in fashion, but then she became interested in wine and took a class to learn about more than Pinot Noir, her father's varietal of choice. Quickly becoming an obsessed collector, she then became a wine buyer at Salt Water Grill, and for three years, every Tuesday, Mimi tasted wines. "The best teachers in the world are those who sit in front of you and sell you wine," she says. And then she began working at La Farm, where she met Jeff, who had a lot of experience in retail notched along his belt. Five months later, this space became available, and for the year that it took to collect permits and develop the shop's interior, the couple, who are now engaged, made the unpopular decision to take a year off from work so that they could commit to solidifying their relationship before working together 24 hours a day.
"It's complimentary and it helps to like each other," says Mimi, speaking of their lives together at the store. "I'm not talking about love," she adds and offers Jeff a knowing look. "I've learned to give way."
"This wouldn't be what it is without Jeff," says Mimi, "it would have just been a wine shop. We didn't know our audience." They simply got into the trend of brown spirits and let the customers lead the way.
Soon, there will be a wine bar opening inside the store–a welcome reprieve for the weary commuter. As far as the wines on the shelves go, they rotate them month to month. "We have smaller producers, so there's not much product from each seller," says Mimi, adding that Elizabeth Spencer's wines sell quite quick. Of our Chateau Lamartine, she says, "We can't keep it on the shelf." Pitch Cabernet Sauvignon, Relic Syrah, Passopisciaro and Jelu are all big sellers; the folks at Saugatuck Grain & Grape prefer wines that distinguish themselves.
[Where: Saugatuck Grain & Grape, 40 Railroad Place, Westport, CT 06880]