Doreen Winkler, sommelier & owner of Orange Glou wine shop
On her path to becoming an orange wine expert, up-and-coming wine regions, and more.
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Doreen Winkler is a sommelier, wine consultant, and owner of Orange Glou, an orange wine shop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Her career in wine has taken her all over the world, and she’s developed wine programs for some of New York City’s top restaurants. Over a decade ago, she started developing wine lists that focused specifically on natural wine, and since then, has become an expert in orange wine.
In in 2019, she started the Orange Glou Wine Club, a subscription that focuses on a curated selection of orange wines. In 2021, she opened a storefront that also hosts events, and later launched the Orange Glou Wine Fair. I chatted with her about her path to becoming an orange wine expert, up-and-coming wine regions, and more.
Brianna Plaza: Can you start by telling me a little bit about your background and how you got into natural wine?
Doreen Winkler: My background is as a sommelier. I worked in fine dining for a very long time, and I went from traditional wines, so to say, to natural wines. I was very interested in natural wines for a long time, but a lot of restaurants were not ready for natural wine lists. In 2013 I met this chef who had worked at Noma, and he wanted me to help him create a 100% natural wine list, which 10 years ago, was not a thing. The restaurant was ASKA, and it was a 19-course tasting menu and I had the pleasure of pairing wine with that. It was Scandinavian cuisine, so everything was dehydrated, pickled, and very advanced techniques — the cuisine was extremely challenging. There was one complex smoked fish dish that was really hard to pair with, and I was able to pair it with a nice orange wine.
I just felt like that the orange wine was really making the magic for the pairings. I really knew that after making this list that I never want to do a wine list again that's not natural wine. I was also getting really excited about the orange wine category within natural wine.
Eventually I knew that I didn't really want to be on the floor anymore, so I started asking around to do some consulting on retainer. You can't really keep wines in the stock for the entire year, so a one-time consulting gig wouldn't make any sense. I pitched it at $1250 a month to make wine lists and train the staff.
On my days off, I would go to places that had orange wine and I was hunting for orange wine. It could be at Ten Bells or somewhere else in Brooklyn. And I just became obsessed with it. I feel like I became really knowledgeable because I was so obsessed with orange wine.
My friends started also asking me about these kinds of wine and where they could get it. At the time, it was really, really hard to find. I thought, "Somebody should be doing an orange wine club." Then I realized, I’m pretty knowledgeable about it. A friend encouraged me to go for it, so that’s how it started.
Brianna Plaza: What drew you to orange wine specifically?
Doreen Winkler: To me it’s the most interesting of all categories of wine, even though officially, it’s still in the white wine category. You can enjoy it cold or room temp depending on the wine. The textures, the tannins, the rainbow of flavors from floral to tropical fruit bomb to savory, salty wines. There’s a lot to think about while you’re enjoying a glass.
Brianna Plaza: People like to describe orange wine with blanket terms like “funky” and “weird,” but there's a lot more nuance to orange wine. How do you educate orange wine drinkers?
Doreen Winkler: I always try the simple route, and I think that my success in wine has always been not talking down to people, but trying to meet the customer on a level they can understand. It’s not about making yourself feel smart, it’s about making them feel good. I usually just say, “It’s made from white grapes, and they’re macerated on the skins. That means the grapes and the skins are crushed together and fermented together. Whereas when you make white wine, you separate them immediately.“ Some people understand that, and some people still ask me when the oranges go in there. But then I go a little deeper and explain red and white wine production.
There are not a lot of places where you can learn about orange wine besides Orange Glou. Early when I got into this business, I was tasting everything. I learned about one country first: about their grapes, and their wine laws, and about the different regions. Then when I felt good about my understanding there, I moved onto another country.
I also have about 15 harvests under my belt, and I feel like it’s a really cool experience that wine drinkers should try to do. One of my harvests was in Australia. Yes, I paid 1500 for the flights, but I had free accommodations and food, and I was learning something. And it’s memories you’ll never forget, good or bad. You’re in a completely new environment, it’s beautiful, and you get to see the grapes growing. Some grapes grow tall, while others grow more in a bush, and you’re down on your knees looking for them to pick them. Then some are so high it looks like a canopy, and it’s hard for me to pick them. You learn something every time.
Brianna Plaza: You started your subscription service in 2019, and then obviously the world changed not long after. Why did you start with an e-commerce business versus going directly to a brick and mortar store?
Doreen Winkler: Well, the store was never planned. That was never what I had in mind. I just thought I’d do the wine club as my little side hustle next to all the consulting that I do. And that's it. I didn't want to offer anything else, but in the pandemic people were asking me if I could do one-off boxes, so things like surprise boxes came in.
The store was an accident. I started from scratch with a concept that has never done before, and it wasn’t necessarily a smart move. I had the balls to open a storefront and it was a huge investment. It was important to grow the revenue stream from the e-commerce side first, and I still have that, because the rent is high on the store.
As things got going, I noticed that a lot of people were interested in events. We have a lot of people that wanted virtual events, but also people that want offsite events and in-store events. It seems like orange wine is just not talked about enough and people still see it as young and exciting and they would like to just learn more about it. During the pandemic, people didn't know how to connect. We had a lot of Zooms, almost every day. But the events are just still a big part of the store. I just had a 50 people Zoom the other day. And then I brought it much further with the Orange Glou Fair that I host each year.
Brianna Plaza: You've worked a lot of harvests, how have they informed your taste profile?
Doreen Winkler: I don't know if it really has changed my profile because I'm very unbiased. Just because I was able to have harvest there, if the wines are not good this year, I'm not going to support them every single year. When the wines are great, I’ll buy them, I'm unbiased when it comes to these things. But harvests are just an amazing experience and you just really learn so much from these experiences.
You start to understand a little bit better the nature of the terroir or how hard it is to make wine. After a rainy night for example, having to go up a super steep hill and then try to pick some grapes and then there's some little stones in the soil and you constantly slide and slip. You learn about how hard everyone is working. I feel like you just appreciate the wine little bit more.
Brianna Plaza: What are some up-and-coming regions or producers that people who drink orange wine should look out for?
Doreen Winkler: I'm very obsessed with the Czech wines. I have a harvest trip planned there this year. I'm very impressed with their quality of wines and overall with their grape varieties. I’m obsessed with the Silvaner grape, which has pink grapes like Pinot Gris or Gewürztraminer.
Everyone's talking about Japan and that's very exciting to see, especially because they have local grape varieties. I am starting to learn a lot about Japan because I originally thought they brought grapes over and did some grafting, but they actually have indigenous grape varieties. We’re getting a batch of Grape Republic wines into my shop very soon.
I also feel like sometimes France really impresses me with really amazing producers. I’ve been also hearing more about the Savagnin Rose grape which is a cousin of Gewürztraminer and a mutation of Savagnin, which is very, very cool. It’s very delicious.