Wooden shelves filled to the brim with bottles of wine from across the globe sit floor to ceiling, lining the walls of Val’s Putnam Wines & Liquors, giving a cozy, rathskeller feel to the shop’s interior.
That ambiance is one reason second-generation owner Jeb Fiorita has elected to keep much of the Greenwich store in the same condition as when his father, Val, opened it nearly 50 years ago.
“We feel it offers some semblance of being… back in the Old World,” he says.
Val Fiorita, who started his eponymous business in 1957, dipped into various fields but always thought wine was a solid investment.
Initially, the store was a few blocks away on Greenwich Avenue, but the elder Fiorita saw an opportunity when a new shopping center was constructed on Putnam Avenue.
“We were the first residents in this spot, and we’ve been here ever since,” Jeb says before adding, “I pray we’ll be here for another 50 years at least.”
From the time Val took a 5-year-old Jeb along on a business meeting, Jeb has always had some involvement in his father’s ventures.
So when he and his father stopped talking shop in the early 2000s, Jeb knew something was wrong. Val fell ill in 2004, prompting Jeb, who was working in finance in England, to return home to help operate Val’s Wines.
“I got to spend some of the most valuable years of my life with him and rebuild something that he had started,” Jeb says of his father, who died in 2011. “(My father) provided the opportunity for me to get an education, to learn about finance and the economy and accounting, and I was able to infuse a new level of knowledge, life and energy into this business.”
Jeb recognized a need in the town beyond what the location was offering at the time.
“You’d come in, you’d pick up your six pack of beer, get your bottle of wine, in and out, quick and go,” he says. “Our town really demands a lot more.”
It’s with that sentiment that the store now offers wine-tastings, events, seminars, in-home classes and tutorials.
“You’re not just coming here to buy something, you’re coming here for an experience,” he says.
To enhance that experience, Jeb has traveled extensively to vineyards around the globe, connecting with the producers of the vintages he sells.
“There’s nothing like that experience, particularly when you’re dealing with a small family,” he says. “It’s been passed down generation to generation. We’re that, in a smaller frame.”
For a recent in-home wine tasting, guests were able to experience some of the culture of Down Under without leaving Connecticut. Val’s paired Australian wines with samplings of crocodile, emu, kangaroo and ostrich. Also on the menu? Camel sliders.
“They were a bit chewy,” Jeb admits.
Whatever the culinary offerings, there is no right or wrong when it comes to the wine.
“If you want to put ice in your Chardonnay, then that’s right for you,” he says.
Jeb hopes to break down the stereotypes that keep some away from the world of fine wines.
“We don’t want to be too flashy and pretentious,” he says. “A lot of people are afraid to ask for things in wine, (because) there’s this sort of idea that there’s snobbery.”
He also hopes to carry on his father’s legacy in Val’s upcoming second location, which is set to open in Glenville this spring.
“I’m going to keep his namesake and his honor,” Jeb says, because there would be “none of this without him.”
Val’s Putnam Wines & Liquors is at 125 W. Putnam Ave. in Greenwich. For more, call 203-869-2299 or visit valsputnamwines.com.