Like many Washingtonians, Pedro Rodriguez and Julio Robledo moved to the city for work. In their case it was to work at a media development non-profit, where they met and became friends. As their friendship developed they began talking seriously about what both had discovered their true passion to be: wine.
Julio made the jump first, taking a job working for a wine wholesaler/importer, followed by Pedro who began working at a local wine retail shop. Their goal was to get to know all aspects of the business before making the even bigger leap of opening their own business. With its international population, the pair knew DC loved its wine (comparatively, DC drinks more wine per capita than 49 other states), and based on their market research, they saw an opportunity. While the city has many great wine shops, Latin American wines were underrepresented.
In 2016, Rodriguez and Robledo opened Grand Cata in DC’s Shaw neighborhood with a mission: to show people that wines from Latin America can compete with European wines, often at a lower price point. Before opening, they tasted around 1,400 wines and spirits, the best 400 of which they began featuring in their shop. In talking with Pedro about what they look for in a wine, he explained their shop strives to feature honest wines that are emblematic of the region from which they come. “I want a Pinot Noir from Chile that tastes like a Pinot Noir from Chile,” said Pedro.
Along with exposing customers to wines from areas of the world they may not have previously associated with wine, Grand Cata puts a lot of emphasis on customer service. Cliff Lewis, the managing catador (taster) at Grand Cata, explained that when a customer comes in, staff strive to engage them in a conversation. “Maybe they’re looking for a gift for someone very important in their life, or maybe it’s just something to sip on their roof that night. For us, it’s about connecting them with our knowledge, and listening to them to make sure we’re giving them what they want.”
Cliff has been with Grand Cata since stumbling into the shop nearly five years ago and being taken by store’s ambiance. Already a wine-lover from his time working for a college friend’s family winery in Pennsylvania, he emailed the owners to ask for a job. Cliff started part-time, then switched over to full-time about six months before the pandemic hit. While the shop’s in-person events, like its monthly wine club tasting parties, have been put on hold, business has remained steady thanks to a loyal customer base.
When asked what has surprised him most since opening his shop, Pedro thought for a moment. “It’s actually our customers,” he said. “It’s been so humbling, in a good way, seeing our customers not only come back themselves, but also when I see them bring a friend with them or recommending us to a co-worker.” And word has certainly gotten out. In 2018, Grand Cata was named one of the ten best wine shops nationwide by Vine Pair and one of America’s top 50 wine retailers by Wine Enthusiast in 2020.
For those in the DC area, we highly recommend stopping by Grand Cata’s flagship store in Shaw or its second location at La Cosecha. Take the time to talk with the staff, and you’ll leave with more than a good bottle of wine—you’ll also get the story of the people and place behind it. Along with wines from Latin America, the shop also features wines from Spain, Portugal, and Italy and a variety of gourmet specialty items.