More than five years ago, Henry’s Wine & Spirit opened the doors of its tiny storefront in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, and it has been embracing vibrant, terroir-driven, and low-intervention wines ever since. In that short time, the shop’s eponymous proprietor, Henry Glucroft, has grown Henry’s selection from under 50 wines to nearly 1,500, established strong ties to the city’s top importers, and even opened a sister bar (Petra) and cafe (Sunrise/Sunset), both of which serve some of the wines he sells. Today, in a city full of great wine stores, as industry insiders and locals alike will tell you, Henry’s is one of the best places in all of New York City to buy natural wine.
The shop is small—so small that there is really only enough space for a few people to shop there at a time, and even then, it can require some fancy footwork. Space (both physical and mental) comes at a premium in New York City, and at Henry’s, the wine comes first. That gives the shop a refreshing pragmatism and focus: it’s defined by the bottles it stocks, and there’s generally not a whole lot of room left for much else, including pretense. As Glucroft jokes, “If Apple stores book the most dollars per square foot, we have the maximum good juice per square inch.” He’s probably right.
Henry’s stands in sharp contrast to the wine emporiums of Midtown Manhattan. Customers shouldn’t expect a comprehensive collection of what, conventionally, many would consider “benchmark” wines, and it’s not a good place to study for a Master Sommelier exam. In short, you may have to buy your dad wine elsewhere. Maybe that’s why Henry’s can sometimes be overlooked. By way of recent example, the shop was (shockingly) omitted from a local publication’s erstwhile ranking of New York City’s “absolute best” wine stores, along with several other careless exclusions. But perhaps the lack of mainstream attention to date isn’t such a bad thing; there’s always fresh wine on offer at Henry’s, and the selection never feels picked over.
At Henry’s you’ll find bottles from top natural producers quickly gaining widespread appeal (e.g., the full lineup from Sicily’s Frank Cornelissen, including the single-vineyard versions of his “Munjebel Rosso” cuvée and the highly-coveted “Magma Rosso,” as well as abundant offerings from Catalonia’s legendary architects-turned-natural-winemakers, Partida Creus), cult favorites that can be nearly impossible to track down (e.g., new releases from Alice Bouvot’s Domaine l’Octavin in the Jura or Deirdre Heekin’s La Garagista Farm + Winery in Vermont) and still other uncommon treasures from regions you might not have tried (e.g., the single-varietal skin contact whites released by the Czech Republic’s Milan Nestarec or the offbeat reds being produced just over the U.S.-Mexican border by Bichi Wines). Ordinarily, Henry’s also typically sells wine at some of the lowest markups in the city, and, to the extent they’re made and available, in magnum or larger format sizes.
Like many of the producers it features, at Henry’s the entire operation is small and hands-on. Not only is he personally responsible for buying wine for the store, but you can even sometimes catch Glucroft personally driving customer deliveries. In deciding what to carry, he focuses on wines that he’s excited to drink and share with others. “I’m more drawn to lower alcohol wines with unique characteristics and few flaws,” Glucroft tells Sprudge, “ideally made with the least amount of chemicals or intervention beyond the hard manual labor it takes to get the grapes into our glasses.” Through that approach, the shop strikes a very difficult balance in the rapidly-expanding world of natural wine: Henry’s values wines made with minimal intervention and is not afraid to take a chance on regularly-neglected producers, regions, or varietals, but he is far from a purist. “I have no objection to the use of minimal sulfites during bottling by small producers,” he tells me, “particularly when much of the wine we drink has to travel so far, and those producers stake their livelihood on the ability of their wines to make the journey.”
Likewise, only a handful of people work in shop, and it’s easy to become a regular. As a result, Henry’s has become the center of a community of Brooklyn natural wine drinkers. Every other Tuesday, for instance, down the street at Petra, Henry hosts an event he calls “Special Bottles.” There, for $40 a head, he pours between five and seven especially uncommon or interesting wines for a small group of no more than twelve people—whoever RSVPs first. Guests usually taste the wines blind and guess whether each comes from a certain region or fits into some other category—e.g., “Jura or Not” or “Bojo [for, Beaujolais] or Not.” At the end of the night, usually when no more than a glass of each bottle is left, the wines are revealed, and they rarely fail to surprise: one night, a special bottle that stumped everyone was Yaacov Oryah’s 2014 blend of Roussane, Marsanne, and Semillon, an Israeli natural wine sourced from a vineyard near the Dead Sea.
There’s one more thing you need to know about Henry’s: Glucroft hides rare and sought-after bottles throughout the shop on obscure shelves, including behind other bottles, in cabinets, and who knows where else. There’s no strict organization to the shop (even if some sections are loosely grouped by region or style), so finding them can be tricky, but at the risk of giving away a secret, I will pass along some advice from the man himself: to find the truly rare stuff, “You gotta look up.”
The Glug Report (@the.glug.report) is a pseudonymous freelance journalist based in New York City. This is The Glug Report’s first feature for Sprudge Wine.
Photos by Liz Clayton for Sprudge Wine.