“I live life to exceed your expectations.”
Standing from left: Charles, Jack, Louis, and the youngest son, Aaron, who is Doug’s grandfather.Sitting from left: Isadore, Joel, who is Doug’s great grandfather, and Harry Specht circa 1915.
Curating is in Doug’s DNA
Doug Rosen is not your average wine retailer. He has been curating fine wines since he
was 21 and has been working with some winemakers for three generations. “I’m known
internationally as a retailer who works as an importer,” says Rosen, who co-owns Arrowine and Cheese in Arlington, Va.
Rosen understands retail. His family on both sides were retailers for generations. His father and grandfather owned a hardware store in the Bronx, and his grandfather and great grandfather were furriers on the lower east side of Manhattan. Originally from Yonkers, N.Y., Rosen came to Washington, D.C., in 1976 to attend George Washington University, where he majored in political science and speech communication. Instead of pursuing a career in politics, Rosen fell in love with fine wines and specialty cheeses in college thanks to his college roommates.
“At my house, the wine was Manischewitz and the cheese was wrapped in plastic,” Rosen says. But his mother liked to cook and Rosen would often help her. “I always liked cooking with her, I liked putting flavors together and seeing what worked,” he says.
One of Rosen’s college roommate’s father collected Bordeaux and every once in a while his roommate would share a really good bottle of wine. Rosen started to notice the difference between a good bottle and a so-so bottle of wine. Rosen’s other roommate introduced him to Jarlsberg cheese. Rosen liked the cheese so much, he decided he wanted to buy some and that is how he discovered Cheese and Bottle, the store that is now known as Arrowine.
Rosen became a regular customer at Cheese and Bottle, and one day in 1977 he saw a help
wanted sign in the window. He worked there until he turned 21 and this is where he learned how to cut and care for cheese. Then he left to sell wine in Washington, D.C. “At the time, there was a vibrant wine scene in D.C.,” Rosen says. “Stores could go to any region and buy wine and sell it as long as they had an import license.” He worked at Pearsons Wine and Spirits in upper Georgetown; Central Liquors near Chinatown; Larimer’s Market in DuPont Circle, where he learned to cut meat; and Morris Miller Wines & Liquors, near the Maryland border.
Coffee brought Doug back to wine
In 1993, Rosen joined Starbucks and opened the first store east of Chicago. He opened
the Starbucks right on Dupont Circle, not far from Larimer’s Market, running the second
busiest Starbucks in the nation. “I went from having no food-service experience to running a 600-square-foot Starbucks with 2,000 transactions a day,” Rosen says. “I learned a lot but I knew from day one that it wasn’t for me or what I wanted to do with my life.”
Wine remained Rosen’s passion. While he was at Starbucks, he took two vacations with a
friend, Bobby Kacher, who was wine importer. They would drive from one end of France to the other, tasting wine, eating charcuterie and cheese along the way. “I knew that this was where I belonged,” he says. Then one day in 1999 Rosen visited the shopping center where Arrowine is located and saw his old boss, J. Newnan Carter, who owned the shopping center as well as the “Old Cheese and Bottle.” Rosen told him that if anything happened with the wine shop to give him a call. “Three weeks later, he called to say the owners were looking to sell or bring in a managerial partner.”
Doug is the first to bring many great wine makers to America
At the time, the store was selling the same wine as every other store in the region. Rosen’s time at Starbucks taught him the importance of sourcing his inventory and demonstrating proprietary knowledge about his product. Over the years, Rosen has developed a knack for picking wines and the best wine makers before the popular press found out about them. Today, Arrowine is a neighborhood store with an international reputation.
“Without a doubt, I’m the hardest working wine professional in the market today and I say that without any sense of conceit,” Rosen says. “It’s based on who I know, and who knows me and my reputation, my passport, who I interact with and who I’ve introduced to the American market.
“In many cases, I’m the first person to bring these great wine makers to America’s attention.”
Rosen buys wines from makers in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Hungary and France, which he visits four to five times year. When Rosen is traveling, he will taste 150 wines a day. He tastes each wine at least four times a year before buying it for his store, and, if it’s a wine maker he’s never bought from, he will taste their wine even more times before purchasing it. “I only work with wine makers who are that top of their game and are pushing boundaries,” he says.
Growing grapes and then transforming them into wine are two different skillsets, Rosen says.“I believe that when wines are well made, they should be able to translate the specificity of the site, the geography and the weather into the glass.”
Doug’s selections are cutting edge
Consumers need to understand that wine reviews aren’t like the “consumer reports” of wine, Rosen says. In comparison, a reviewer might taste a wine once for 15 seconds and then write the review. “Remember, we aren’t selling durable goods,” he says. “If you buy what I tell you to buy, it will be the finest example of that wine that I can get.”
He admits that customers might not like all the wines he picks, but they will recognize the wine’s quality. “These selections are cutting edge,” he says. “They are wines that customers should want, and they deserve to be tasted and discussed. They are profound and interesting.”
Doug with his daughter Talia, his wife Marla, and his son Aaron at The Inn at Little Washington
Doug’s paternal grandparents Bertha Greenberg and Harry Rosen. They owned Greenberg and Rosen Furriers on Bowery and Division Streets in lower Manhattan.
Doug’s maternal grandparents Rosalind and Aaron Specht. He owned a hardware store on White Plains Rd in the Bronx.
Doug, Perry Soulos and Shem Hassen