It was just like any other day at Le Caveau. I walked into Eric Brown’s Chamblee wine shop, and he grabbed a glass from the shelf. “You have to try this.”
It was a white wine by Oriol Artigas in Catalonia, Spain. The wine was a blend of Pansa Blanca and Pansa Rosada, two varietals I didn’t know existed by a producer I’d never heard of in a region I never think about. I Googled the name of the wine—one other store in the United States sold it, and it was 900 miles away in New York.
Visits to Le Caveau always started with a taste of something, and Brown poured the wine like it was business as usual. And yet, it wasn’t. The previous afternoon he had announced that after seven years, he would not be renewing his lease and the shop would be closed by end of the July. Everything in the store had to go, and within hours, customers had swept through and picked over almost every bottle and accessory, all marked down by 20 percent. By the time I arrived the next morning, most of the shelves had been emptied.
“Of course it’s emotional when you’ve been doing something for seven years and all of the sudden you stop,” Brown says. “But this is going to be a positive thing for myself personally and for what we want to do going forward. This isn’t something to get somber about.”
Many of the wines Brown sold were organic or biodynamic, a style that he was hip to long before they became trendy. Grocery stores today pitch “free-range” and “organic.” Likewise, wineries pitch “low sulfites” and “grown without pesticides or herbicides.” Brown calls these “real wines,” believing they express their roots and their sense of place better than something mass-produced and sprayed down with chemicals. At Le Caveau he trusted small vignerons like Rhone’s Herve Souhaut, Jura’s Philippe Bornard, and California’s Dirty & Rowdy to convince us.
From New York to San Francisco to Hong Kong, I’ve seen entire wine lists built on the names Brown fought so hard to sell here in Georgia. (It’s a long process to get a producer to sell in a new market.) Over the past seven years, he helped cull that same devotion among his customers.
“The reception has been amazing. Nobody [in Atlanta] was bringing these wines to the market, and so there just wasn’t a lot of exposure,” said Brown, who was quick to assure me that sales were not a factor in his decision to close. “We were seeing growth. I’ve just been wondering how we could do something bigger and with a wider reach in Atlanta and/or the Southeast.”
Does he know what that is yet? Not really. “I still feel like we have some work to do, and we have to figure out the best way to do it. Is it the traditional retail setting? Is it a wine bar? Is it something else? I honestly don’t know.”
I’m happy for Brown, but I’m sad to lose Le Caveau. The store was the definition of individuality, a bright splash of color in a market where wine selections are largely uniform. Brown was intensely knowledgeable and personal—to the point that he might casually plan a trip for you to Germany, where he lived for three years. But what really set Brown apart was his unbending sense of commitment to his view of good wine. He pushed our tastes to unexpected parts of the world. From Spain to France to Italy, he took a look at well-known regions and sussed out the unknown bottles and varietals you didn’t know you wanted until you tried them. He took risks, and we drank better because of it.
Before leaving, I looked over what was left on the shelves and saw something that I didn’t expect to see, even at Le Caveau: a Jura Chardonnay by Les Dolomies. I last had it three years ago at a dinner in New York. The nutty, funky-fresh wine sang with everything from a salty beef tartare to creamy burrata on toast. I’d been searching for the wine ever since. Online searches had come up short, unless I had plans to cross the Atlantic to a store in Alsace, France. But here it was, in Chamblee, Georgia, four bottles sitting on the rack. I grabbed three, but if that last bottle is still there, you should go get it. It might be your last chance to try it.
Evan Mah is the former food editor of Atlanta magazine and now the managing editor for international wine critic James Suckling.