By Shelley Hill Young
When Miles White and Femi Oyediran began thinking about opening their own wine shop, they wrote down all the pros and cons of their favorite places to buy a bottle.
“We looked at what we liked about every single one of them and said, ‘How can we bring these experiences and consolidate them into one space’ so that all these things we really enjoy, we can channel that energy here,” Femi says.
“I hope we’ve created something that people like,” Miles adds.
There’s little doubt. Less than a year after the duo who had formerly worked together at Charleston Grill opened Graft on upper King Street, they’ve been recognized as the top wine shop in the Southeast by VinePair, a website that covers the beverage culture. Graft celebrates its first anniversary this month.
“A lot of the reason why we’re on that list is because we created a wine shop that happens to also be a social destination,” Femi says, “so people can enjoy wine and there’s a different energy around that.”
But Femi acknowledges, “it’s easy to get distracted or lost in the allure of lists and accolades.
“You have to think, ‘OK, that’s great,’ but there’s work to be done, and I think you have to have your own goals, your own standards.”
Though Miles and Femi have known each other and worked together, they say opening their own wine shop wasn’t on their radar until what they both refer to as a “fateful lunch” in 2016. They were both at a crossroads. Miles, a certified sommelier, had recently returned from Willamette Valley, where he had been working at the Antica Terra winery. He was looking for a reason to stay close to his family in Charleston. He had come to a conclusion. “If I’m going to stay, I’m going to have to do something on my own,” he says he told Femi.
Femi, an advanced sommelier, was also frustrated. He thought he had hit the ceiling professionally in Charleston and was thinking about leaving. “When I sat down with Miles, I said, ‘Hey, man, I’m getting out of here.’ There’s nothing here. There’s no opportunity here. The wine scene here is, I think, it’s pretty dry. There’s not a lot of energy. There’s not a lot of excitement behind wine. If you and I had a day off and wanted to drink wine, I can’t imagine how we would start having a wine day. Where would we go?”
They started to imagine the place where they would go, and what it might take for them to create it.
“There needed to be spark,” Femi says. “There needed to be someone that grabbed the microphone in the middle of a seminar and said, ‘Yo, are y’all out here? Let’s put on some music and let’s get this party going. Get out of your seats, put your pens down, and let’s make this happen.’
“I think that’s kinda what we wanted to accomplish with Graft,” Femi says.
Three days after that lunch where the two decided to challenge the status quo of wine, Femi got a phone call asking him to meet for lunch. He was told, “There’s a space, there’s a place and there’s some people who would like you to open up a wine shop.”
“I left this meeting, and I called Miles and I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on with the universe right now.’ I was like, ‘Whatever plans that we had, that just got moved up.’”
Femi and Miles ended up walking away from that first offer, but not from the desire to create the place where they would want to go drink wine. They found the Graft space days later and knew, “This is it.”
The Perfect Wine Day
Years before the fateful lunch where the idea of Graft was sparked, there was “the perfect wine day.” That’s where the two developed their philosophy of wine.
“My mother would always have these gatherings, and it was always like invite whoever you want, just let me know how many people are coming,” Miles says. “Wine is always there. …This time in particular, there were a lot of people who were into wine. … We were drinking whatever my Mom had.”
Femi takes over telling the story.
“We were already having fun and we ran out of wine,” he says.
A friend who had worked with Femi at Charleston Grill and was visiting from New York says, “Alright, let’s go to Bottles.”
“We just grab all these bottles off the shelves, and we load up the cart and we come back,” Femi recalls.
Someone texted Miles back at the house and asked him to play the Mike Will Made-It song “23” featuring Miley Cyrus as they entered the house. It’s a raunchy song about clubbing.
“We all come in with our hands full of wine, and everyone is like, ‘yay!’ It was amazing. Everyone was cracking bottles, having a good time. The wine was delicious. The company was incredible.”
Miles weighs in: “It’s all about being together and whatever happens, happens. That was the intention here. It’s one of those days you never forget.”
The point of them sharing the story is to explain that it’s not about what label wine you’re drinking or what grape or region it came from, it’s about the energy created by the people drinking wine they enjoy. Their passion is apparent in the retelling of it.
“If you focus on building great relationships and giving people a great experience serving them good wine, and you create a place that is inviting and is completely, completely in love with the idea of having a good time with good people, that is the focus of Graft,” Femi says. “Good wine is a given. We know we can give you good wine. What else can we do? And answering that question has been our goal and has been our mission.”