stirs the Spring,
joy grows like a plant,
abysses close up,
song is born.
Oh, thou, jug of wine, in the desert
with the delightful woman I love,
said the old poet.
Let the pitcher of wine
add its kiss to the kiss of love.
—Ode To Wine, Pablo Neruda
Wine, a word associated with love, travel, passion, and celebration is, as Neruda laments, “the earthly splendor of life,” and I couldn’t agree more. Not to suggest that I’m an aficionada or anything so glamorous, but my husband and I enjoy trying unique wines from all over the world, providing us both with a metaphorical journey to beautiful places like Turkey, Italy, Africa, and Hungary. So it made sense to go behind the scenes and learn more about Blue Streak Wines & Spirits, the company delivering, for free, beautiful wines to my front door the past year.
Blue Streak’s inception proves just as romantic as the wine itself. Before the store was even a gleam in his eye, owner Stephen Spiller and his wife traveled to Majorca while vacationing in Spain. The trip turned life changing, after the couple sampled extraordinary wines. “We tasted these Catalonian family wines, and my wife turned to me and said why can’t we drink these wines in New York?” Stephen remembers. “She said, you’re not working; why don’t you open a wine store?”
It was true. Two years after relocating from LA to New York City in the name of love, but then that’s a story for another day, Stephen had been unable to find a job as an attorney. He thought, why not? Upon their return to New York, all the pieces fell into place. Spending hours walking up and down the streets in developing Long Island City, Stephen contemplated opening a store next to the subway, easy access for commuters on their way home, or in the areas where people actually lived.
“When I came down to the river, which I thought was fabulous, and saw this high-rise and this store area, which was an empty shell, I thought maybe the idea of having a store near where people lived would be a better idea. “ Stephen says. “I contacted the owners and they had no plans for the store at the time so I made my pitch.”
Although the builders used the space for storing tools and equipment, Stephen envisioned his ideal wine store. “I wanted it to be a comfortable atmosphere not intimidating.” In the end, he produced an award-winning design with that exact aesthetic that customers notice and appreciate.
“It’s very typical of certain places in Long Island City that really go the extra mile,” says Michael Brennan, a faithful Blue Streak customer. “We always come to this wine store because they care about which bottles they sell here.” And Michael’s wife, Marina, looks forward to the special offerings, like weekly wine tastings and the wine club.
Stephen credits the Blue Streak team as the anchor for cementing the store’s place as a Long Island City staple—the Cheers of wine stores. “I’m learning from them actually, and it’s fantastic.” Stephen says. “We’re lucky, blessed.” Just as all of the other parts of Blue Streak came together rather seamlessly, so did the staff element. “Those two guys are phenomenal,” says Stephen. “I can’t be without them now. Don’t let them know,” he admits with a hearty laugh.
Those two guys are James Lee and Rob Bralow. The first Blue Streak employee, James has been the “backbone” of deliveries and stocking. With a Sociology degree, James continues his education with a recent certification in Wine & Spirits Education. Blue Streak’s serious wine geek, Viticulture and Vinification Certified, Rob, worked in Public Relations and education before joining the team. “It’s not just about selling; it’s about teaching and introducing new things to people, expanding the knowledge level of the average person.” Rob says. “It’s those education moments that make my day.”
Blue Streak Wines & Spirits makes a point to give back to its beloved community by participating in special events like Taste of LIC, hosted by The Chocolate Factory as well as unique charity events at the store. “It’s a great way for us to really be in the community, “Rob says,” and find different ways to help out and be a part of where we are.”
During the weekends, especially spring and summer, Roosevelt Island’s Fire Fighters Field, Octagon Field and Pony Field come to life courtesy of the Zoggers. Like a rare breed of exotic bird descending the fields in their colorful sneakers and occasional old-school knee-high socks, Zoggers congregate, strategize and ultimately play ball—be it kickball, dodgeball, football, or baseball. Styling team colored tee shirts with cool names like Catchers in the Rye and Purple Reign, the Zoggers, whether on the field or in the local Bar & Grill afterwards, make their presence known. They’re loud, really loud—laughing, talking, and cheering . . . nonstop. And it makes you feel good just being around it, little snippets of laughter sneaking in through open windows or tapping you on the shoulder while walking by on a sunny day. You begin to look for your favorite player or the most engaging team, high-fivers, and talk about the games later, as if you were a part of it all. I had to know more about this phenomenon. I asked around, did a little research, and discovered a wonderful back story as motivational as the Zoggers themselves.
Celebrating its 10th Anniversary, ZogSports remains true to its original mission. “When I conceived ZogSports post 9/11 everyone was asking what they could do to give back,” says founder and CEO Robert Herzog. “I predicted that the whole kumbaya feeling wouldn’t last so I decided to integrate charity and social good into something people wanted to do anyway – play team sports, hang with their friends and meet new people. It worked. Getting teams to think about what charity they will play for and raising awareness is much more important than the $1.4MM we’ve donated. We strive to encourage social good and feel great about what we’ve accomplished so far.” Here’s a copy of Herzog’s letter to the ZogSports family on the 10th Anniversary of September 11th which tells his moving story.
ZogSports offers an impressive sports sampling with 4 different competition levels, creating an appealing and diverse community for everyone from the ex-college athlete to the New York artist. “Zoggers are fun, social New Yorkers,” explains Ali Chanin, Director of Marketing at ZogSports. “Most people that play in our leagues are young professionals in their 20s and 30s.”
And Zog takes care of everything. They find appropriate fields and provide the refs and the equipment, allowing teams to concentrate on the game at hand. Each team selects a charity of choice to play for and ZogSports donates a percentage of league profits to the winning teams’ charities each season. The final piece to the ZogSports puzzle is the social element. “We get the party started,” Ali declares. All of the leagues have organized happy hours after every game. Participants are able to not only hang out with their own team but have the opportunity to mingle with the other team as well—Zog’s version of the end of game handshake.
“Everyone loves Zog,” says Sophie Gorson.” I love the energy, the people, and playing a team sport. Sophie missed playing team sports and heard about Zog from a friend already in a league. Her experience allowed her the opportunity to get in a much-needed workout while becoming a part of a fun community. Favorite Zog sport? “I am particularly fond of dodgeball . . . great way to get some stress out after a long day at the office.”
Jonathan Sosis needed a workout that didn’t include the same old boring gym routine. “I absolutely hate the gym so it made me feel better about having the diet of a nine-year-old.” His sports include football and kickball. The sense of community also drew Jonathan to Zog as he wanted to expand his circle of friends. “Everyone just relies on one another to show up and play each game,” explains Jonathan, “and then win or lose, we go off to the bars to just hang out and have fun.”
Because ZogSports is co-ed, the organization has seen its share of romances too. Zog believes that co-ed teams make the leagues more social. “While everyone likes to win, having co-ed leagues takes some of the emphasis off winning vs. losing and promotes people to play for the fun of the game,” says Ali, acknowledging that it also increases happy hour attendance. “I’ve overheard quite a few guys and girls encouraging their teams/opponents to go to happy hour because they wanted to meet someone they found attractive on the other team.” You might say that they’re the Love Connection of New York sports. Over 50 married couples have found love while playing on a ZogSports team.
With locations in New Jersey, DC, Hartford, Atlanta, and soon Minneapolis, ZogSports is spreading the love. If you’re pumped and ready to join a team or sitting on the sidelines but interested in learning more about this inspiring organization, you can visit their website at www.ZogSports.com. Be sure to connect with them on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter for updates, cool photos, videos, and all things Zog.