Local lovers of fine drink should know about Ester Wine and Spirits, an Uptown Kingston destination where you’ll find a superb, inviting selection of natural and organic wines to explore and friendly guidance in discovering fresh favorites. Ester proprietor Robert Provenz takes great joy in finding you just the right bottle. “Often a customer will come in looking for a specific bottle they have had, often from a big winery that mass-produces a lot of wine,” says Provenz.
“We take a lot of pride in being able to steer that person to try something new that is honestly made, from the same grape type and same region, but from a winery that no one ever heard of and maybe a few bucks more, but more often quite a few bucks less. Kinda like going to an independent record shop to buy a U2 album and leaving with a War on Drugs album. If you have an open mind, it might work out, we hope.”
Ester’s selections focus on wines produced by small-micro wineries that work with organically grown fruit and do very little manipulation in their wine cellars.
Provenz grew up in North and South Brooklyn, working in hospitality and finding his way to wine. “In 2009, I got hired at a great restaurant and wine bar in Fort Greene, Brooklyn called StoneHome,” he says, “and that began my journey into the world of wine and spirits. After work hours, I acquired some accredited course work, but really learned more at portfolio tastings and industry events. I switched from front-of-house restaurant work to wine retail shops; gaining experience with both angles offered me the tools suited to run a successful wine and spirits program. But the opportunity to own my own business came as a surprise, even to me.”
“We have a lot of fun on the job, but we’re very serious about providing every customer with an experience that leads to great feedback.” – Robert Provenz
In 2014, tired of the city’s asphalt and subways, he headed north to put his learning into action. From the first memorable moment, it was a joy. “We opened to our first customer at 1:30pm on September 12th, 2014,” he recalls. “We sold a bottle of Espolòn Reposado [tequila]. Our name on the front door was and is Ester, named after my great Aunt Est[h]er who lived to 99 years old and was the saintliest lady I’ve ever known. We dropped the ‘h’ to give the name a double meaning, as a nod to the esters, the chemical compounds that distillers work with.”
Ester’s wines are curated according to Provenz’s wide-ranging and exacting standards. “We strive to represent as wide a range of geographical wine-growing regions as we can,” he says. “We try not to make all of our decisions on just our own personal likes and dislikes. Instead, we put our feet in the shoes of a consumer who is fairly new to wine and wants to learn all about the different typicities and terroirs.
Within that parameter, I try my best to have a diverse price selection for that consumer to choose from. They can spend $12 per bottle or $35 and still put together a case that would express a rainbow of different styles and flavors.”
Ester’s selections focus on wines produced by small-micro wineries that work with organically grown fruit and do very little manipulation in their wine cellars, Provenz says: “Think of it as a no-additive consumable, hence, ‘natural’ wine.”
Before Covid, the Ester family of wine lovers gathered for weekend events and tastings, which may have restarted by the time you read this; Provenz was looking to restart them last October.Running a Kingston shop is refreshing for the mass-transit refugee, who’s always found his bliss in bicycling, urban hiking, playing guitar, and enjoying the arts.
“This is a great place to live and work,” he says. “There is no subway here! And the community of friends who also live, work, and hang out in this town is a magical thing that I’m grateful for every day. And just the thought of lunch from Dallas Hot Wieners with a bottle of late-harvest Riesling gets my feet out of bed. I love creative pairings.”
“Our name is Ester, after my great Aunt Est[h]er who lived to 99 years old and was the saintliest lady I’ve ever known. We dropped the ‘h’ to give the name a double meaning, as a nod to the esters, the chemical compounds that distillers work with.”
Stop in the next time you need to restock, whether you’re hosting a special occasion or simply your own cellar; you’ll find that 10 percent off mixed or single cases (with the exception of champagnes) is standard business practice, and you’ll love the vibes as much as the vino. “We have a lot of fun on the job. We play good tunes and joke around, maybe too much,” says Provenz. “But we’re very serious about providing every customer with an experience that leads to great feedback. So far, so good. That’s something I’ve worked hard at and put a lot of thought into over the years.”
That hard work hasn’t gone unremarked. “Incredible selection of minimal intervention wines from all over the world as well as excellent spirits,” writes a satisfied Yelper. “The owner and staff are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful with picking out the perfect bottle for you! Don’t go to Kingston without stopping by Ester!”
“The owner and his wife had maps with the wine regions and foods to complement the wines,” writes another. “It was fun learning about the wines and meeting new people in the area. I like going to businesses where I feel like I’m not just another face.”
Ester Wine & Spirits
57 North Front Street, Kingston