Finding the Fun in the Search for That Perfect Bottle
By Cynthia Hochswender
Photos by: Sabrina Eberhard
Most of the “rustic rural” that used to characterize the village of Millerton is gone now, replaced by artisanal bakeries and vendors of $50 socks. Millerton Wine & Spirits bridges the gap between the old and the new. Although it has the feeling of a chic little boutique or art gallery—making it a perfect mate to similar new businesses that have grown up around it—the store has a history that reaches back to 2007, when dry goods shops like Saperstein’s and Terni’s were still Main Street stalwarts.
Millerton Wine & Spirits was originally called Little Gates and was on South Street. It moved to 34 Main Street in 2011 after store owners Will Little and Andrew Gates and a third partner, Chris Little, finished extensive renovations to the historic downtown building.
Chris Jeans, 52, a native of Litchfield, joined the Little Gates team in 2018, after a career devoted to the wine business (retailer, merchant, and even winemaker, in Italy and California).
Little pondered closing the shop in 2020, as the pandemic was beginning, however, Jeans was certain the store should remain open.
“We were an ‘essential’ business, not just in the COVID pandemic sense but also in the sense that we were providing comfort to our patrons in a time of distress,” he says.
So he bought the business in November 2020 (with silent partner Paul Harney) and changed the name to Millerton Wine & Spirits. He left the shop’s decor as it was, with dark walls, racks that separate wine by nation of origin, tables showcasing local hard ciders and spirits—and two cozy armchairs in the front, so patrons can come in and chat at length with Jeans about what they’ve poured and what they’d like to pour next.
For Jeans, these wine-centric chats are what it’s all about.
“I love the stories, the connections that wine makes between friends and family, the memories it creates,” he says.
It’s not surprising, then, that Jeans doesn’t carry what he refers to as “industrial” wines, the big-name brands. “I might not have 10 chardonnays on any given day,” he says. “I might have three—but they’re specially selected. Let’s talk about what you’re having for dinner and we’ll choose the right wine.”
Although he considers Millerton Wine & Spirits to be a wine “boutique,” it isn’t the elite vintages that inspire him. He wants to sell wines that, “You’d drink with dinner, the kind you keep on the counter next to your best olive oil.”
Like an Indiana Jones of wine, he’s always on the lookout for hidden treasures. Right now, he’s excited about reds and whites from small producers in Eastern Europe (countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, and the nation of Georgia), which he says are delicious and underpriced.
For the more environmentally and health-minded shoppers, he has a selection of natural, biodynamically grown, and organic wines. For special occasions, there are rare delights tucked away in a temperature controlled-cellar. Most of the shop’s wines are kept affordable at less than $25 per bottle. —millertonwineandspirits.com