Wine & Brothers

The U.S. wine industry produces over 836 million bulk gallons of wine annually and the Syracuse area has its fair share of wine shops, discount liquor stores and even a few wine producers.  That’s not unique to an area of our size.  What is perhaps unique, though, is that two brothers own and operate separate, similarly sized wine shops imprinted with their distinct antithetical personalities.

The Decker boys (Dana and Gary) were raised with 3 other siblings in Galeville, NY.  Gary, the younger of the two, recalls the typical competition between brothers, “We mixed it up quite a bit.  Things got physical from time-to-time but we had a lot of fun.”  All of the Decker siblings worked, at one time or another, in the restaurant business from service to ownership.  So it isn’t difficult to understand how Dana and Gary both ended up in the same business selling the same product.  But that’s where the similarities end.

Vinomania's Gary Decker pictured with a friend
Vinomania’s Gary Decker pictured with a friend

Gary is a funny guy.  A walking joke factory, really.  Vinomania (314 Pearl St. in Syracuse for the past 15 years) is an eclectic place much like it’s owner.  Walk through the door of Vinomania and you are likely to hear James Brown, George Clinton or some other master of funk music pulsating through the house speakers.

The shop is adorned with novelties ranging from classic radios and floating airplanes to old toys and a mounted deer head.  It’s a part of who he is.  In addition to collecting things, Gary also collects people.  There’s a usual cast of characters that can be found hanging around on a Friday afternoon or at the monthly wine tastings.  “It’s a bit of a frat house,” he says.  “A group of guys that share a passion for wine and spirits and a good laugh or two.”

Gary’s approach to the wine merchant business is to “get a deal that I can pass on to the customer.”  Vinomania has a mix of old and new world wine and, most recently, an assortment of imported and domestic high-end spirits.  He gets to know his customers, and in so doing, learns their likes and dislikes.  It helps him in assisting his regulars.  It truly is a mix of passion for the grape and providing a unique, fun shopping experience for his patrons.  His energy really picks up when you talk about the people and the Vinomania community.

Vinomania has an eclectic decor
Vinomania has an eclectic decor

How does his shop differ from his brother’s?  “Dana’s customers drink with their pinky fingers extended.  My customers grip the glass because they can’t afford to drop it.”  I relay that quote to Dana who chuckles and says, “that’s about right.”

Conversely, Decker’s Fine Wines & Spirits (112 Brooklea Dr in Fayetteville for 25 years) is the Dean Martin to Vinomania’s Jerry Lewis.  Dana is a pretty serious guy.  Not without humor, just serious about the business of wine.

Dana Decker of Decker's Fine Wine & Spirits
Dana Decker of Decker’s Fine Wine & Spirits

Walk through Decker’s doors and you’re met with classical music.  The interior is elegant and minimalist in design.  Bright colors and wall-to-wall wine.


Dana sells more than wine.  He sells a lifestyle.  “I have a deep understanding of food and wine and I like to pass that on to my customers,” he says.

I bumped into one of those customers on my way in.  Communications Consultant, Mike Fish, told me that he relies on Dana’s expertise.  “He really know’s what he’s doing,” Mike said.  And he does.  Dana travels annually to Europe to experience Old World wines at the source.

While you can find some good New World wine at Decker’s, Dana almost exclusively deals in the Old World grape.  In fact, he has an entire room dedicated to Italian wine, cordials and spirits.

You can see the passion in Dana’s face when he talks about wine and food.  He subscribes to the belief that “if it grows together, it goes together.”  For him, it is that simple.  “People are hobbyist by nature,” Dana adds.  “Wine and food is a fast growing hobby for many people and that’s who Decker’s attracts.”

Decker's boasts wall-to-wall Old World wine
Decker’s boasts wall-to-wall Old World wine

Two brothers, two wine shops, two totally different experiences.  Both equally passionate about what they do and who they serve.  You only need to decide which experience is right for you.

The brothers Decker are sharing their four holiday picks with us.  Dana recommends 3 Old World wines and 1 New World wine for you:unnamed-2

Gary recommends one Old World and one New World wine and a couple of spirits:


I’d love to know if you have a favorite wine, spirit or a particular region that you are passionate about.

Turnt Up Like James Bond


Agent 007 James Bond is one of the coolest, stylish icons of masculine sophistication that we have ever encountered, no?  Ian Fleming’s character is the perfect representation of charm and wit paired with destructive ability.  Whether osculating with a Bond girl on a yacht or chasing bad guys in an Aston Martin, 007 did it with style and with a statement.

Fleming was intentional in creating signatures for Bond.  The Aston Martin.  The Walther PPK.  The martini.  Flemming knew that the audience would make the associations with Bond’s signatures that he wanted them to make.  A common understanding that Bond was a man of class and sophistication with a license to kill.

We’ve heard him say “shaken, not stirred” 50 times or more.  The martini was Bond’s signature drink.  Like Bond, the martini says elegant and strong.  Fleming went so far as to create a specific martini for Bond – the Vesper Martini – named after a character in the 1953 novel, and subsequent film, Casino Royale.  I’ll get into the Vesper in a minute.

Agree or disagree, I think what we choose to drink in social situations reveals something about us more than we would like to admit.  It makes a statement.  And what we choose to drink while socializing is as varied as the social occasions themselves.  There are literally thousands of drinks, cocktails, spirits and wines to choose from and it can be daunting.  So we fall back on what we know or try something from the bar menu.  Every man, who wants to make a statement, should have a signature drink.  A drink that makes a very intentional statement at that.

Scene from the movie Brown Sugar
Scene from the movie Brown Sugar

Remember the bar scene in the movie Brown Sugar when the main characters, Sid and Dre, ordered drinks for each other?  She orders him a Kettle One, straight, with a twist.  He ordered her a Perfect 10.  The writer wanted us to feel the repressed intimacy between the two characters and did so by having each know the other’s signature drink.  And those cocktails made statements about each.

What are you saying when you order a beer?  That you are down to earth?  A regular guy?  Does a craft beer suggest that you enjoy the finer things in life?  That you savor quality?  If you are in a bar in the dead of winter and order a margarita, does it say I wish I were in Cabo right now?  Do you order wine just to be safe?  Rare scotch to say that you are accomplished and worldly?  Does your drink suggest that you just got out of college or haven’t grown since those days? (hello Red Bull and Vodka).  Or are you indecisive and wishy-washy and just order what everyone else is having?

I’m not suggesting what you should drink or that you drink at all.  I am suggesting that you consider that your choice makes a statement and if you are going to make a statement, make it an intentional one.  For example, in a recent bartender blog, Jordan Catapano explains that a man who asks to see the wine list usually has interest in art, culture, and travel.  But if he orders the house varietal, he may need a bit more grooming.

Ingredients for a Vesper Martini
Ingredients for a Vesper Martini

My signature drink is the Vesper martini – James Bond style.  It is simply a variation on a classic martini which is my fall-back should the bar keep come up short on ingredients.  A signature drink like a classic martini says you know exactly what you like.  That you perhaps are discerning, particular and sophisticated with a slight hint of douche-baggery.

The Vesper Martini
The Vesper Martini

The Vesper Martini, described by James Bond in Casino Royale, is 3 ounces of London Dry Gin, 1 ounce of Vodka and a 1/2 ounce of Lillet (bianco).  Lillet is a dry vermouth made in France since the 1800’s.  It is made of wine, liqueurs, fruits and herbs and aged in oak. The Vesper is garnished with a lemon peel.  Given the 3 ounces of gin and 1 ounce of vodka, you can imagine that it is a potent drink.  Make no mistake, it’s a man’s drink.  And while one or two might suggest sophistication, 3 or more says you have a drinking problem.  So please be responsible with this signature.

Do you have a signature drink?  What do you think it says about you if anything?  I am a curious fellow so please do share.

If you are meeting friends for a drink, what are you likely to select: