At Folkways Wines in Croton Falls, every sip tells a story
Jonas Andersen and Natalie Gehrels were about to close on the purchase of a wine shop in Pound Ridge. The couple’s dream of opening a Northern Westchester wine shop focused on natural, biodynamic, small-maker wines was within reach.
Around the same time, a friend of Gehrels and Andersen asked them to connect with Tom and Dawn Christopher, the Croton Falls couple who were starting work on plans to restore the old Hy-Grade Market across from the Croton Falls train station. The Christophers were looking for someone with expertise in restaurants and food halls, expertise which Andersen had.
“We’re buying a wine store,” Andersen told the friend. He would be happy to consult, but didn’t have time to run anything.
At the eleventh hour, the Pound Ridge deal fell through, leaving Gehrels and Andersen devastated. Then Dawn posed a question: what if you bought this wine store? Dawn was referring to Front Street Cellar, the Croton Falls shop she had run out of the 1917 landmark train station building for close to two decades.
“This was kind of the darling of all the wine shops,” Andersen recalled. “It’s a standalone, landmark building; it’s not in a strip mall. There’s more of an experience coming in here.” Suddenly the dream was back, in the form of Folkways Wines, and it was better than Gehrels and Andersen could have imagined.
Together, Gehrels and Andersen bring a formidable skillset to the business of running an artisan wine shop. Northern California-born Gehrels is a designer and artist. Her artist’s eye is apparent in everything Folkways does, from its distinctive branding to the shop's Instagram presence, right through the in-store experience. Andersen, grew up in Denmark, spent his entire career in the hospitality industry, working for companies in Europe, Australia, South America and New York. With Folkways, he saw an opportunity to apply his global experience to a local endeavor where he could form lasting, meaningful connections.
For the past three months, Gehrels and Andersen, who moved to the area from Brooklyn with Gehrels’ 7-year-old son River and the couple’s infant son Atlas, have been working to honor the legacy of running a wine shop inside the historic Croton Falls building while imparting their own vision on the place. That vision is rooted in small-maker wine producers.
“What I’m seeing is a lot of the wine stores work with the five to ten biggest distributors,” Andersen said. “They are very easy to work with. But you also get the biggest and most commercial wines made in the world. The result is that many wine shops have the same stuff. It takes more effort to buy from smaller, boutique wineries.”
At Folkways, Gehrels says, customers have the opportunity to have conversations about how wines are made. “For us, the beauty of enjoying a bottle of wine is contemplating the story behind it,” she said. To that end, the couple seeks out winemakers who have great stories to tell; those who take care of the land and the people who work for them. One of the ‘current obsessions' listed on Folkways’ website is a $24 Beaujolais from independent winemaker Thibault Ducruox. Ducruox’s ‘En En Roue Libre,’ Folkways explains, is “a nod to Ducroux's passion for competitive cycling, as well as hands-off, freewheeling viticulture and winemaking.”
For Andersen, it’s important that customers see Folkways as a place where they feel at ease, whether they are conversing with staff or just navigating the store on their own. “If you need help, you can have a casual and unpretentious conversation about wine and what you’d like to drink,” he said. “I don’t believe that wine should be technical. You should be able to come in and get a great bottle of wine at your price point.”
In addition to wines, Folkways has a room at the back of the shop dedicated to sought-after craft spirits. The space, which will also serve as a tasting room, will hold between 250 - 300 different spirits. Andersen, who developed the flavor profile for Svöl Aquavit and whose background is in developing bar programs, is excited to use the space to host cocktail nights and tastings.
To build community, Gehrels and Andersen plan to offer a variety of programming that brings to life the shop’s mission of exploring the art and culture of drinking. In early December, the shop hosted a wreath making workshop with Heart & Soil, a Newburgh-based flower shop. On December 17, Folkways partnered with local realtor Jessica Broomhead to host a gin tasting event featuring gins made exclusively in New York. On December 18, Folkways will host an afternoon holiday wine, cheese and charcuterie tasting with Sydney Thibault of Tout Le Fromage. The shop also has a carefully curated selection of handmade objects, including chess boards from Tunisia, glassware from Oaxaca, linens from Lithuania and much more.
“I hope that people see it as a fun activity on a Tuesday night to come and get a bottle of wine,” Andersen said, adding that there will typically be an open bottle of wine behind the register for customers to try while checking out. “I hope that people can go home to their spouses and say, wow, it’s cool what they’re doing at Folkways.”
Folkways Wines is open every day from 11:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. The shop offers free local delivery within Westchester, Putnam, and Fairfield counties and ships to most U.S. states.