Many of us are searching for connection right now. And, in the pits of the darkness of this pandemic, small, intimate moments of joyful social interaction have a lot of power.
Marquis Williams, 31, is a self-identifying “curator” of wines with a wine club service perfect for the current, socially-deprived landscape. Though Highly Recommended launched two years ago, it has remained relatively underground and has taken on new meaning during COVID as Williams’ wine events have been forced to slow down. Each month, Williams—who has helped develop wine lists for New York City hotspots such as Scarr’s Pizza and worked in wine shops across the city such as Wino(t), Good Wine and Atlas Wines—releases a list of roughly 6-10 different wines from makers around the globe that he texts (or emails) to his diverse network of customers, many of whom have joined via word-of-mouth.
Though there are countless wine clubs to choose from such as Orange Glou (which sends a curated selection of orange wines), Eric Wareheim's Las Jaras Wines club or winemaker Martha Stoumen's version—what sets Highly Recommended apart is its feeling of intimacy and flexibility.
The model is like so: while there is no cost to join the club and receive Williams’ lists, you can pay-as-you-go and choose a minimum of two bottles each month, but you can also “subscribe” to automatically have bottles sent to you, with money withdrawn from your account. Those who subscribe get 10% off their orders. When joining the club, customers fill out a survey and Williams and his team keep records of their customers’ purchase preferences to figure out what’s “their jam” going forward.
Customers can either opt for pick-up from Good Wine in Park Slope or have them delivered on Mondays through Fridays. Williams, who was raised in Harlem but recently moved to Bed-Stuy, has clients that span the five boroughs and beyond.
“I’m here to shake it up. I want more colors and genders [in wine]. It’s not only one type of person, race or class who likes wine. Everyone can enjoy a great bottle,” he says. The idea is to make it approachable and fun for everyone—the most expensive bottle on the current list is $40.
Setting up his club in this manner makes Williams less an intimidating sommelier dictating what you should drink and more of a person that his customers feel like they can trust and have an ongoing dialogue with. “They’ll text me—people who I’ve never met—being like, hey, I can’t get wine from you right now, but I’m in this shop. And I’ll be like, let’s just Facetime and I try and help them figure out what they’d like...I’m very casual,” he shared in an interview with Time Out New York.
In a list supplied to Time Out New York for the July 13th through August 8th period, Williams includes bottles of wine such as ones by makers such as Christina, Colline de l’hirondelle or Meinklang. He adds suggestions such as how long to let certain bottles breathe, tasting notes and a “fun facts” section of a PDF sent via text or email. “I want to speak my vernacular, if you get it, you get it. [The wine industry] is changing more now. More people are starting to see wine as something they can understand or access,” he says.
He’s not afraid to use exclamation points liberally on his list, which in and of itself feels radical in an industry that has historically been marked by a certain aura of pretension, holding knowledge over customers’ heads, and, as a recent New York Times article detailed, the ways in which it has specifically dismissed and ignored Black wine professionals.
“I come from the projects in New York. If I can do it, anyone can do it,” he says.
Learn more about Highly Recommended, here.
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