East Lyme's Divine Wine Emporium passes to new owners
East Lyme — More than 19 years after creating the Divine Wine Emporium and Learning Center in Niantic, Ken Turcotte has sold his business, with new owners Pete Porrello and Nimesh Sagar taking over three weeks ago.
At 70 years old and having worked 10 or 11 hours a day, Turcotte said he realized his life is going by and it was time to move on.
"I'm not putting all my wine knowledge and everything in a box and putting it away," he said, "and I expect to continue teaching."
Turcotte had been looking for a buyer for a while, wanting to find someone compatible so he could maybe continue on as an adviser for their wine selection. He thought Porrello and Sagar would be good candidates.
Porrello has been with F&F Distributors for the past 16 years, and Sagar has owned Westbrook Package Store for the past 12.
Turcotte said the salesmen that deliver to both Divine Wine Emporium and Westbrook Package Store had good things to say about Sagar, and Porrello — whom he has known for years — has "got a great personality and he works well with people." The new owners both live in Niantic, while Turcotte lives nearby in South Lyme.
Porrello and Sagar said they're looking to add more beer and spirits to the selection. They're keeping on Susan Perry and Meghan Sheehan, staff who worked under Turcotte. The shop is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
A sign out front proudly advertises that the business is now veteran-owned: Porrello was in the Marine Corps from 1973 to 1976, serving in Hawaii, Japan, Florida and off the coast of Vietnam. He said his business background includes previously owning a video store and tanning salon.
Sagar, 39, was born in India and immigrated to the U.S. at age 17, living in New Haven, Waterbury and Westbrook before settling in East Lyme for the schools. He said his first job was in a liquor store, but he didn't know any English yet and therefore didn't know the names of the products. He quit after two weeks.
"I was so embarrassed," he said. But he stuck with the industry, which he enjoys because he likes interacting with a lot of people.
'Building a regional wine education center'
Turcotte opened Divine Wine Emporium in 2002, after spending 25 years working for the wine and spirit distributor Allan S. Goodman.
"When I was hired, I didn't know a thing about wine," he said. But it turned out that's where his passion lay, and he "got frustrated with the fact that most retailers don't know a lot about wine, and they kind of sell it like a can of beans on the shelf."
Turcotte said his wife, Sylvia, thought he "was having a little crisis at age change" when he decided to open up a wine shop at age 51. He had spotted the building at 275 West Main St., then a restaurant. He said the restaurant wasn't doing well but the owners had another restaurant down the street, and his pitch was that as a wine shop and education center, he wouldn't be presenting any competition.
Sylvia had an accounting background but also was on the floor a lot with Turcotte, who described them as a husband-and-wife team.
Over the years, Turcotte has had more than 100 speakers in his classroom, from distributors to import directors to winemakers. He's had in Grant Burge, owner of the eponymous winery in Australia, and a 13th-generation winemaker from the Alsace region of France. He's had in Frankie Williams, a New London native who owns Toad Hollow Winery in California.
Along the way, Turcotte got a Level 3 certification from the England-based Wine & Spirit Education Trust and became a certified specialist of wine with the U.S.-based Society of Wine Educators, both through Johnson & Wales University in Providence. He also has taught his own course, six hours held over three weeks.
"I was building a regional wine education center. I wasn't trying to do a package store," he said.
He has developed a loyal customer base, and Divine Wine Emporium has come in first for the best wine and spirits shop in The Day's Best of Readers' Choice Awards for three of the past four years.
Many of his customers are in the 55- to 85-year-old age range, people who weren't going anywhere in 2020.
"What did they do? They enjoyed wine. Basically, I had the best year I ever had during the pandemic," Turcotte said. Though the classroom has been dark for 22 months, he said he'd be available to work with the new owners in the future.
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