This story was originally published by IthaCulture.
By Taylor Rescignano & Ian Stone
Bottles of all shapes, sizes and prices adorn the walls of a narrow shop in Downtown Ithaca. Exposed brick walls, repurposed wood doors and an experimental jazz album playing conveys a shabby-chic, Brooklyn-like vibe. The Cellar d’Or isn’t your stereotypical wine store: each bottle of wine and cider has a story.
Mark Grimaldi and his wife, Olivia, founded The Cellar d’Or in 2013. After Mark worked the New York City wine scene for nearly a decade, the Grimaldis found their way to Olivia’s native city of Ithaca.
“We were up here visiting,” said Mark Grimaldi. “We saw this place for rent and decided to inquire about it. Then we just got the ball rolling…it just came together, sort of like a miraculous happening.”
The shop specializes in fine—but not necessarily expensive—wines, hailing from unique regions and equally unique grapes.
The Cellar d’Or carries all the classic staples that have withstood the test of time, from regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy. The owners source locally from the Finger Lakes, which is home to over 100 wineries and cideries, and they also follow trends.
“We try to stay up with small producers, new producers, and classic wines,” said Grimaldi, who tastes nearly every single wine before it enters the store. The only wines he doesn’t taste are the ones that come from his most trusted vineyards that consistently make high-quality products.
In addition to the Grimaldis, the shop is operated primarily by a select few handpicked staff members including shop manager Eden Mayora, who fell into his job almost accidentally.
“I would try to put new things in his hands,” said Grimaldi. “I just saw this fire and passion that reminded me of me when I was first getting into wine.”
Mayora was a student at Tompkins-Cortland Community College with a background in the restaurant business. After taking some wine classes and stopping into The Cellar d’Or multiple times a week, he caught what he describes as, “the wine bug.”
Now somewhat an expert, Mayora believes that he functions as a “caretaker for people’s journey into and through wines.”
Customers come into the store and often ask Mayora if they ‘have any dry red wine,’ or ‘what’s good.’ Instead of simply picking something for them, he tries to understand what they are really interested in drinking.
“I respond to those questions with ‘No, I want to know what you want,’” said Mayora, “So I can give you something that has character and maybe more of a risk, but also have more potential to fit what you want better than me just picking the homogenized bottle.”
The wine bug is contagious, as noted by Rob Hickson, another Cellar d’Or employee who has been working in the shop for two months.
Hickson started working in the wine industry part-time while he was attending Central Connecticut State University, and moved to the Finger Lakes to expand his knowledge of production and harvesting, specifically.
“I wanted to get my hands dirty a little bit,” said Hickson.
He said that there is a significantly younger clientele at The Cellar d’Or than he is used to seeing in Connecticut. With the strong college presence, he sees more young, budding oenophiles coming in for free Friday tastings, event tastings, or just to buy a bottle of wine.
“This is my first time here,” said Catherine Isom, a senior at Cornell University. She’s currently enrolled in one of Cornell’s wine courses that she’s “obsessed” with, but believes that she needs to supplement her classwork with outside tastings to remind herself of what she does and doesn’t like.
Mayora often finds himself goofing around to try to make the customers more relaxed and shake off the wine-snob stigma. At the same time, he wants customers to respect and understand the craftsmanship behind each bottle.
“We definitely see this as drinkable art,” said Mayora. “You have families who have been caring for the same plot of vines for generations…That is ridiculous, and I think the more that we can communicate that to everybody, there more I think that we start to get a more genuine appreciation for the art.”