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Wine Talk With Eric Brown of Chamblee's Le Caveau Fine Wines

Brown discusses his passion for "real wines," his picks for quality wines at reasonable prices, the changes in Chamblee's cultural scene, and more.

Eric Brown at Le Caveau.
Eric Brown at Le Caveau.
Matthew Wong/Eater Atlanta

Le Caveau Fine Wines opened its doors in July 2011 in an area of downtown Chamblee that has experienced a commercial and residential rebirth in the past few years. One of the unique aspects about Le Caveau is that owner and proprietor Eric Brown has focused the shop on offering smaller production and biodynamic wines from around the world.

Having been lured into the world of fine wine through early jobs and frequent travels, Le Caveau is Brown's first foray into turning his passion for wine into a profession. After nearly four years, things are only getting better for oenophiles in the area as Le Caveau continues to offer some of the finest wines in town.

Tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to open Le Caveau Fine Wines.

I got interested in wine while working in a restaurant in college. I first got into beer and was doing some home-brewing, but through exposure at the restaurant I started buying wine and thinking about collecting wine. I had lived in Germany as a teenager and was also exposed to wine there. Later, I traveled a lot with my wife and made a point to visit wine producers in various places like Oregon, California, Europe, and Argentina. After a period of time, I realized that I couldn't get access around town to wines that I was really interested in, and this was one of the motivations for opening Le Caveau.

What makes Le Caveau stand out from other wine shops around Atlanta?

We focus first and foremost on small producers and family-owned properties that also tend to be operations that are biodynamic. These are organically farmed wines, as well as naturally made wines, or wines produced with non-interventionist practices in the cellar. I think I'd also say we focus on old-world wines, as a function of that is where the real wines, as I like to call them, come from. This is changing now that there is a movement in California making really balanced, non-interventionist wines, which is something we were hoping would happen. There is also a similar thing happening in South Africa that we are excited about. Since opening the shop I have also worked with my distributors and importers to bring in wines that not many other people in this market have. A good portion of the wines we carry you aren't going to find in other shops around town.

The term "natural wines" seems to be a hot topic in wine and food circles these days. Can you give us a quick explanation of natural wines for those who might not be familiar with the movement?

Honestly, I don't really like the term natural wine. I prefer to think of these wines as real wines. Natural wine is somewhat of a nebulous term; there's no certification for natural wine. I like to use the term real wines, which, to me, means farming responsibly, organically, with biodynamic practices in the vineyards. It's about making wine with little additions in the cellar in terms of enzymes or sulfur, harkening back to how wine-making was done hundreds of years ago before we had these things. This is the heart and soul of what I wanted to do here, and these are the wines that I like to drink. Also, the price points on these wines are such that they can be enjoyed by a good number of people. One of the things that people don't talk too much about is that you can drink natural wine and feel better. They are relatively hangover-free, to a certain degree.

Do you remember your "lightbulb" wine, the wine that made you first say, "wow"?

Burgundy will always be the lightbulb bulb wine for me. Both red and white, but especially red. Having that first bottle of Burgundy with some age on it from a really special place is a life-changer. I still love Burgundy and it's something that I'll always love as it's sort of a magical thing. It might take you years before you have that "aha!" moment with Burgundy, and it might cost you a significant amount of money, but once you do, you never forget that experience and you end up always chasing it to a certain degree.

What are a couple of your favorite budget-friendly bottles in the shop now?

A couple current favorites are the Cellier des Cray Chignin Vin de Savoie ($17.99) an organic white wine from southwest France made by Adrien Berlioz. For a red, the 2012 L'Acino "Chora" Rosso Calabria ($18.99) grown organically in the Calabria region of Italy.

What's an interesting wine region that's hot right now?

One area is the Swartland area in South Africa. What's been going on there has been called the Swartland Revolution, as many producers are now making pure, real wines. Also the Swabia region in Germany, where interesting things are happening with natural wines.

What questions do you get most often from new customers or people who are just beginning to explore wine?

We get a fair number of walk-in customers from the neighborhood or people driving by who see the store and are curious. The casual customers off the street are looking for typical things, usually a California Chardonnay or a bigger California Cabernet. The average walk-in customer we see is looking to spend somewhere in the range of $18 to $30 for a wine they are going to drink in the near future. We also have a fair number of customers who know what we do and are on our email list, which provides them access to wines that might not even make it onto our shelves. Recently, we are seeing more interest from people looking to spend less money, but still have a wine that delivers an exceptional experience. There are Cabernet Franc-based wines from the Loire Valley in France that can age gracefully for 30 or 40 years, become charming wines, and they can often be found for under $30.

How have you gone about developing a relationship with your customers?

We've always been focused on the neighborhood. A lot of our regular customers, in terms of walk-ins, live in Brookhaven, Chamblee, and Dunwoody. We do have a good number of customers from around the state who found us by searching online for natural wine. We have a two-tier wine club, the Le Caveau Terroir Club, which allows customers to have access to two wines we select each month at either $40 or $60 per month. We also do a good number of wine tastings in the shop. During our first year of operation, we did free wine tastings every Saturday where we let people taste wines right off our shelves.

You've seen some changes in Chamblee in the last three-plus years. Where do you see the wine/food scene headed here?

We moved into the neighborhood almost four years ago and there really wasn't that much going on then in downtown Chamblee, so we were not sure about the support we would receive. It's taken a while, but now that Southbound has popped up around the corner, things are certainly taking off in terms of the town becoming a food destination. In general, the immediate area is seeing greater population density. The city is trying to make this area even more walkable, and things are getting better all the time.

What are you drinking these days when not drinking wine?

A good bit of craft beer. And sake. I'm by no means an expert on sake, but I've had a fair number of the styles. We've done some sake tastings here, and there is some pretty magical stuff. I like to drink sake as a break from everything else occasionally. We keep some sake in stock here regularly. I also love ciders; I really like pear ciders from France.

If we hit shuffle on your playlist, what would we hear you listening to these days?

One new thing is this guy from South Carolina, Les Sins. Also some Outkast mix stuff of rare collaborations and tracks called "Greetings Earthlings." I'm also back to listening to a band I remember from when I lived in Athens, Neutral Milk Hotel. And, I'm always sliding in my old bootlegs from the Grateful Dead and Widespread Panic, which are never far from my reach.

Eater Atlanta contributor Dennis Attick

Le Caveau Fine Wines

5256 Peachtree Rd, Ste 102, Atlanta, GA 30341 (770) 837-0710 Visit Website

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