The Gilded Grape’s Mary Pino Feels Seen After Winning Retailer of the Year

When Mary Pino learned that she won the Retailer Award from the New York Wine & Grape Foundation this year for the work she does at the Gilded Grape, her Brooklyn wine store, she felt like years of hard work were being recognized.

“I opened the Gilded Grape with the goal of sharing my passion for New York wine and spirits with my community in Brooklyn,” Pino explains of her store at 727 Church Avenue in Brooklyn. “I wanted to be a part of that because I grew up there. But I also wanted to have a clearly defined purpose for my life and business, and I saw opening a shop there as a wonderful opportunity.”

The New York Wine & Grape Foundation created the Unity Awards in 1990 to celebrate, recognize and encourage cooperation among grape growers, wineries, researchers, retailers and others who contribute to the advancement of this dynamic industry.

The Retailer Award is presented to a wine store that does an exceptional job  educating consumers about the quality and variety of New York wines.

Pino opened the Gilded Grape in 2016.

“I am an accountant by trade, and it’s a wonderful industry,” she says. “But after 15 to 20 years working in finance, I was burnt out. The Gilded Grape is a passion project, but also a business. It is rewarding to find a career that offers both.”

New York Wines & Spirits for Every Palate

Pino always aimed to stock primarily New York wine and spirits in her 600-square-foot shop. To be as informed as possible,  classes to supplement the wine knowledge she’d gleaned as she became more and more interested in wine in the decades prior to opening the store.

“I made it my mission to personally share my knowledge with the customers who come in here,” she says. “I would ask them what they liked, and I began to realize if they loved full-bodied California wines, or restrained French wines or fruit-forward Italian wines, there was always a way for me to find them a wine made in New York that would suit their palate.”

Pino is careful to stock wine from throughout New York State’s wine regions.

“There is such a variety of terroirs in New York,” she observes. “From Long Island, the Finger Lakes, the Hudson Valley, Western New York and even wines being made right here in Brooklyn, there is something for everyone.”

During COVID, Pino doubled down on her mission to carry all New York products and now says that about 80% of the store’s stock features a rotating selection of New York wines, spirits and ciders. She also recruited her husband, Rifaat Hamou to the team.

“I realized I couldn’t do it alone,” she admits. “And he is as passionate as I am, so it works for us and our customers.”

While the linchpin of their business is the local community of wine lovers who have come to rely on their thoughtful advice, the thriving neighborhood brings in customers from much further afield. Pino sees that as an opportunity.

“Our wine club has become an increasingly important part of our business,” she says. “And for the first time last year, I noticed that people who had visited us from out of state were starting to join the wine club. This year, I’m hoping to really get more New York wines to people from out of state.”

To do that, she has hired a social media manager to get the word out, and she will continue to promote the club via email blasts and online.

“It’s such a good deal,” she says. “You can sign up for one, two or three-month subscriptions, and the more you sign up for, the deeper the discount. Plus, you get 5% off of everything in our store.”

Each month features two wines that Pino hand-picks, with the club member choosing their preference ofwhites, reds, rosés, oranges, sparklings or a mix. Tasting notes are included with information about the winery.

There are around 3,800 wine and liquor stores in New York State, but only a few focus on New York-grown and bottled wines and spirits. As more and more people commit to buying and supporting local, we hope that changes. Until then, see you at the Gilded Grape.

Picture of Kathleen Willcox and Robin Shreeves

Kathleen Willcox and Robin Shreeves

Kathleen Willcox and Robin Shreeves' work frequently appears in Wine Enthusiast, Wine Searcher, Wine Industry Advisor, and many other publications. They co-founded Thinking Outside the Bottle, which provides communications services to the drinks industry.