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Who Are the “Wine Jockeys” Pouring Pét-Nat for the Club Kids?

December 05, 2022

Story: Arielle Gordon

photo: Brian Finke

Wine

Who Are the “Wine Jockeys” Pouring Pét-Nat for the Club Kids?

December 05, 2022

Story: Arielle Gordon

photo: Brian Finke

Go inside the nightclubs and pop-up parties swapping vodka-sodas for Vouvray.

Just past 8 p.m. on a brisk Sunday evening in Ridgewood, Queens, a man circled the backyard of the nightclub Mansions, doling out psychedelic mushrooms from a wine glass holder draped around his neck. Down the block, purveyors of natural wine were showing their freshest wares at the annual RAW Wine Festival, but almost everyone agreed that the best pours—and vibes—were at this unassuming corner lot, tucked behind a Western Beef supermarket. Downtempo beats ushered attendees to the dance floor while a middle-aged Georgian winemaker looked on from a table nearby, equally befuddled and amused. 

Welcome to Bêvèrãgęš, a quasi-monthly “wine party with music” hosted by a group of DJs and restaurant veterans. Together with several bars across the U.S., Mexico and Berlin, they’re part of a movement to introduce wine to club kids—on their turf. “I think the community is tired of cheap beer and cocktails,” says Sean Schermerhorn, the general manager of Mansions, a new “natural wine bar and club” from restaurateurs Jason Scott (Spaghetti Tavern) and Eddy Buckingham (Chinese Tuxedo) that might be the only spot in New York to pair trance music with old-vine moscatel

Schermerhorn, a DJ and proud sommelier school dropout, first tried his hand at combining natural wine and nonstop dancing by managing the wine program at the 2021 and 2022 editions of Sustain-Release, a celebrated dance music festival held each year at a summer camp in upstate New York. While it might seem disjointed to see a bar stocked with $260 bottles of German riesling while experimental cumbia seeps in from the carpeted dance floor, for Schermerhorn, the connection is simple: “Drinking wine is fun and dancing is super fun,” he says. “I feel strongly about trying to demystify wine and make it accessible and approachable.” 

Natural Wine Night Club

At Mansions, rather than shouting descriptors over the booming sound system, the venue added “emotional interpretations” to its wine menu. Pablo Matallana’s old-vine, skin-contact listán blanco is described as “Smelly Volcano Island Juice,” which sits alongside “Gay 4 Gamay” and “Tropical Ménage.”

Bêvèrãgęš, which pops up at venues across the city, takes a similarly cheeky approach to wine culture’s deeply rooted exclusivity: “That’s why we’re called Bêvèrãgęš with all the accents over it—you don’t even have to learn how to pronounce any of these wines or any of these weird Italian disco tracks, you can just enjoy it,” explains Fernelly Sarria, one of the group’s so-called “wine jockeys.” The pricing model also aims to make choosing wine in a club environment both seamless and affordable. They offer either a flat rate of $50 per bottle, which Mansions also adheres to, or an all-inclusive price of around $75 per person for unlimited pours. 

“With the lack of transactions [throughout the night], paying for wine is not the problem now; you can just enjoy yourself and enjoy the music,” says Sarria. In other words, they’d rather you focus on techno than tech sheets. “We have all that information if you want us to talk about it, but we’re not going to shove it down your throat,” explains Jacob Nass, Sarria’s partner in Bêvèrãgęš.

For Sarria and Nass, who met working at New York’s renowned wine bar Wildair, the party began as a pandemic side project that was part wine delivery business, part dance party. They later joined up with brothers Hank and Jake O’Donnell to launch the Bêvèrãgęš concept at Magick City in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, this past July. Since then, they’ve held monthly events, including a collaboration with their spiritual predecessor, San Francisco’s Bar Part Time, at The Lot Radio in October. 

Natural Wine CLub

When asked about the inspiration for Bêvèrãgęš, Hank O’Donnell acknowledges that the concept of a wine-fueled dance party isn’t exactly novel. “We didn’t invent wine and music going together; I think that was the Georgians,” he says, referencing the republic of Georgia, one of the world’s oldest wine-producing regions. He took more recent inspiration from Nazas, a wine party in Mexico City, while Nass cites Berlin’s Bar Sway, helmed by international DJ Jamie Tiller, as another guiding light. With the rise of bars and parties like Mansions and Bêvèrãgęš, it’s clear that America’s club kids might be ready to consider what exists beyond the well drink, too. “After all,” Schermerhorn says, “what would you rather drink two pills deep than a super fruity pét-nat rosé?”

About three hours into the party at Mansions, I’m drinking the most delicious Georgian rosé I’ve ever had (possibly enhanced by Lisa Stansfield seducing me in the background) while chatting with Lila Holland, the wine’s distributor. Holland, along with her partners Jen Abbott and Tara Hammond, make up the New York arm of Black Lamb Wine, which supplies wines to both Mansions and Bêvèrãgęš. Holland compared parties like this one to her experience interning in Napa Valley, where workers would throw on dance music, open some wine and blow off steam during harvest season. Great wine, after all, is hardly meant to be confined to white-tablecloth restaurants or viticulture courses. It’s meant to be shared with friends on an endless night out, enhanced by the effervescent energy of its surroundings. “I don’t think that having fun means that you’re not learning about what you’re drinking,” says Holland. “It’s just a different way of experiencing it.”

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Tagged: culture, trends, wine

Arielle Gordon is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Ringer, Bon Appetit, Pitchfork and more.