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Meet the Boston Couple Behind Shaw’s Hot New Wine Shop

Co-owners Hadley and TJ Douglas bring the Urban Grape to D.C. on Thursday, January 25

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The Urban Grape’s co-owners TJ and Hadley Douglas are trailblazers in the wine industry.
The Urban Grape

During their first family trip to Italy years ago, when Hadley and TJ Douglas were enjoying nice wines with their toddler in tow, they could not have imagined they would soon own and operate what is now one of America’s biggest Black-owned wine retailers.

“I come from the nonprofit and philanthropy world, and while TJ was always in hospitality, he had never really focused on the retail side of things,” says Hadley.

The husband-and-wife duo bring their Boston smash-hit called the Urban Grape down to D.C. on Thursday, January 25, selling 800 bottles from 25 different countries under one Shaw roof (1301 9th Street NW). The expansion marks the couple’s first location outside of Boston, where the Urban Grape got it start in 2010, and just the next step in the couple’s plan to demystify wine for the everyday buyer.

“I’ve always loved creating really wonderful, hospitable experiences, whether that was at a McDonald’s or at a Todd English restaurant,” says TJ.

It was at English’s (now-closed) Rustic Kitchen in Boston where TJ discovered his passion for wine as its opening bar manager. “I figured, if I’m going to sell this stuff, I’m going to learn about the products,” he says. But without the funds or time to partake in the Court of Master Sommeliers, he instead started going to tastings in his free time and taking classes from the Elizabeth Bishop Wine Resource Center, a famed culinary program at Boston University originally founded by Julia Child.

The Urban Grape’s proprietary progressive scale system helps novice buyers build their knowledge base and confidence in shopping for wines.
The Urban Grape

As his responsibilities expanded to not only selling, but also purchasing wine for restaurants, TJ gained on-the-job skills that would help later in life.

“It was when I really started buying wines from winemakers who would come into town that I came up with the idea of the progressive scale,” he says.

That unique style of categorizing wines — grouping bottles by body rather than by varietal or region — has become Urban Grape’s calling card. Both reds and whites are listed on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 represents light-bodied wines (with the mouth feel of skim milk) and 10 represents the heaviest, most manipulated wines (with the mouth feel of cream).

For example, for white drinkers, a 1 might be a Txakoli from the Basque region, whereas a Sancerre would classify as a 3, and chardonnays would begin entering the scale at a 5, with longer hang times in the vineyard and oak aging. A 10, on the other hand, would look like a “big California chardonnay, like a Rombauer,” explains TJ.

The Urban Grape’s classification system, the Douglases say, makes it easier for wine drinkers to understand their preferences and explore new wines.
The Urban Grape

“In most wine shops, you’ll find all the merlots grouped together, even though not all merlot is created equal,” says Hadley. “So you’ll have a customer who loves one kind of merlot, but one day decides to be adventurous and grabs a different bottle of merlot, and suddenly thinks they no longer like merlot, or grabbed a bad wine.”

The Urban Grape’s inventory carves out room for BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and women winemakers who don’t always get the same level of representation on wine shop shelves.

“I think that TJ’s lack of formal education is really his superpower,” says Hadley. “He had to make wine make sense for himself, and so he’s helped do that for others, too.”

Urban Grape’s wildly successful wine shop in Boston’s buzzy South End neighborhood, named one of 2023’s best wine shops in the U.S. by Wine Enthusiast, generates annual revenue approaching $7 million. There’s still room for big growth across its e-commerce platform, however, since Massachusetts’ strict wine laws prohibit out-of-state sales. They chose D.C. for its inaugural expansion market, in part, to be able to ship nationwide for the first time. Functioning as its main distribution hub, Shaw will fuel its aggressive goal of becoming the largest Black-owned wine retailer in the U.S.

Its new 4,300-square-foot store, nearly double the size as the Boston original, includes a private events room.

“Shaw has everything we want for our concept — a strong, connected neighborhood, diverse residents, and proximity to the rest of the city and business district,” says TJ.

The Urban Grape opens in D.C. with a long weekend of wine tastings (Thursday to Saturday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.), featuring free pours from La Fete Wine Company, Ward Four Wines, Brown Estate, Longevity Wines and more.