The Twelve Wines of Christmas
When you strip away all the hype, all that showmanship, the holidays are really about connection. They’re a time to rest easy and visit with friends and family. And the same could be said for wine; often considered intimidating, it should be about having fun and connecting with others. That’s the notion Femi Oyediran and Miles White had in mind when they opened Graft Wine Shop last March in Charleston, South Carolina. The business partners, who met working at downtown stalwart Charleston Grill, decided to make their mark on the city’s burgeoning wine scene with a bottle-shop-meets-wine-bar that emphasizes social connections. Tucked off cool-kid upper King Street, the shop is home to some 250 bottles that Oyediran calls its playlist (each must earn its place, but they tell a collective story). Of course, there’s always a literal playlist bumping tunes—Oyediran was a music promoter, performer, and DJ in a past life. We sat down with him to talk about the twelve wines he’s keeping stocked this holiday season.
“People don’t relate to wine on the same level sommeliers do. People connect with personalities.”
How did you first get into wine?
It’s funny; when I started working at Charleston Grill I had no interest in wine. I just needed the money. (And the food was dope.) I would clock out and live my life, and then show up to work again the next day. [GM] Mickey [Bakst] will say he wanted to fire me those first three months. I started studying wine because I wanted to get bumped up.
And the sommelier there, Rick Rubel, was a major influence.
Rick picked up on what I was doing and offered to help me out. He said, “Get a few other people who work at the Grill and we’ll open up some bottles on Saturday.” It became a blind tasting group that lasted five years. That really served as a platform for me. We were tasting anywhere from eight to ten wines every week. When you do that for years, you build an opinion about what you’re doing.
When did you and White first start talking about opening a shop?
[In February 2016] Miles and I had lunch with his dad. I went on this rant. I was like, “Man, I’m getting out of here.” Being an aspiring wine professional three years ago in Charleston, it wasn’t fun.
What about the wine programs in restaurants?
How many restaurants do you go to and there’s a dedicated sommelier? The irony was that the restaurants with a good reputation for wine, like Charleston Grill and FIG, you weren’t able to get those wines in town. You had to order them from New York City. It was really [White’s] dad who pulled the curtain aside and said, “You guys should pursue something.”
Like wine, music is a big part of your identity, and you fuse the two at Graft. Do you find similarities between the two?
Being a music fanatic is like being a wine fanatic. That sensation of turning a friend on to an artist you love, it’s the same thrill as being in the dining room and turning someone on to a wine that’s really great.
What are your goals with Graft?
Wine is a weird commodity—the industry is broken. What other product do you buy and you don’t know anything about? We wanted to solve that. We thought making a wine store really social would be big. Being a wine shop is cool, but people don’t relate to wine on the same level sommeliers do. People connect with personalities. So we promote the idea of getting familiar with us, the people who work here. We also wanted to blend the cultures of wine and music, throwing records on the wall because it creates a sense of familiarity. It feels like home.
Oyediran’s top bottles:
BÉRÊCHE ET FILS BRUT RÉSERVE, NV
The Champagnes from Bérêche easily rank among Oyediran’s all-time favorite wines. The circa- 1847 family estate is managed by its fifth generation of growers, brothers Raphaël and Vincent Bérêche, whose work has earned their family domaine much buzz. “There’s Champagne, and there’s Bérêche,” Oyediran says. ($53)
DOMAINE HENRI ET GILLES BUISSON SAINT-ROMAIN ROUGE SOUS ROCHE, 2015
“This is a great pinot noir,” Oyediran says. “Imagine your favorite drum solo from your favorite band at that one live show. Put it in a glass.” ($50)
A TRIBUTE TO GRACE ROSÉ OF GRENACHE, 2017
“Rock star winemaker Angela Osborne makes the most beguiling Grenache,” Oyediran says. In fact, the New Zealand native moved to California in 2006 with the single goal of crafting stunning expressions of the grape. ($30)
EDUARDO TORRES ACOSTA VERSANTE NORD, 2016
“This is a love letter to Sicily,” Oyediran says. “If you drink chianti, pinot noir, gamay, this is your gateway drug to very bad things.” (In the same realm but at half the price, he’s also a big fan of Le Vigne di Eli’s Etna Rosso 2015.) ($55)
RADIO-COTEAU SAVOY CHARDONNAY, 2014
“Part of my job of being a sommelier is placing bets and trying to find a wine that will make multiple people happy,” Oyediran says. This wine is one of them. ($66)
MARIE COURTIN EFFLORESCENCE BLANC DE NOIRS, 2013
This bottle is from small-batch winemaker Dominique Merau, who grows grapes in the red-hot Côtes de Bars region of Champagne. “It’s gorgeous,” he says. “Her Champagnes have stunning aromatics and textures.” ($83)
CHÂTEAU LE PUY EMILIEN, 2015
Château le Puy, just east of St-Emilion, is “quite possibly one of my favorite Bordeaux estates,” Oyediran says. The Amoreau family has grown grapes there for some 400 years. “The wines are always mesmerizing.” ($48)
CHAMPAGNE VADIN-PLATEAU RENAISSANCE, NV
Oyediran calls this “some of the most amazing, value-driven Champagne.” It’s made with 100 percent pinot meunier, a Champagne grape that’s just recently stepped out of blends and into the spotlight. “It’s bone-dry and beautiful.” Plus, the grower is certified biodynamic, a holistic farming method that follows a celestial calendar. ($42)
HEDGES FAMILY ESTATE RED MOUNTAIN BLEND, 2013
Hedges Family Estate Red Mountain Blend, 2013 Oyediran digs this deep ruby cabernet from the family he dubs “the keepers of Red Mountain.” He adds, “This is where you need to go to visit wine country.” ($30)
TXAKOLI AGERRE, 2017
“Is this wine or the best water I’ve had in my life?,” Oyediran says of this crisp Spanish white with light effervescence. “It goes down dangerously good.” ($23)
ENFIELD WATER HORSE RIDGE CABERNET SAUVIGNON, 2015
“My friend John Lockwood makes this wine,” Oyediran says. “It’s a super sexy cab—that’s all I’ve got to say about that.” ($69)
SZEPSY ÚRÁGYA FURMINT, 2015
“Historically, Hungary was one of the most famous regions for wine; it was the wine of kings,” Oyediran says. “For some reason the wines made there have been forgotten by the public, but you can get some amazing-quality white wine.” For those who like them with richness—chardonnay, burgundy—Hungarian wines “will be one of the best discoveries of the year,” he says. ($45)