For wine industry veterans Nicole Campbell and Krysta Oben—better known as the biodynamic duo behind Grape Witches—opening an independent bottle shop stocked with organic natural wines was something the pair never dreamed would be possible before the pandemic hit. “With Ontario’s stringent liquor laws being what they were, a retail shop like this would have been extremely illegal in the past,” Campbell explains.
The long-time friends turned business partners have worked in the wine industry for more than 10 years, Campbell on the importing side and Oben as a wine buyer and restaurant sommelier. In 2015, after sharing a few glasses of vino at the RAW WINE festival in New York, the pair came together with a vision to launch a side-project focused on sharing their mutual love of natural wine.
“We found ourselves drinking incredible wines made by really wonderful people, but that experience didn’t translate to the retail shelves at the LCBO,” Oben recalls. “We wanted to make the wines we love—the wines our sommelier friends drink after work—more accessible and approachable to people outside of the industry.”
Under their Grape Witches brand, Campbell and Oben began hosting thematic wine parties and tasting events in unexpected locales across Toronto, taking over bowling alleys, warehouses, garages, and even one memorable nautical bash on Ontario’s largest riverboat. Unlike traditional wine tastings, Grape Witches’ parties attract a young, hip crowd. The convivial evenings begin with lighthearted educational sessions that evolve into bacchanalian dance parties with heavy pours and live DJs.
After hosting a holiday bottle-shop pop-up at their now permanent home along Dundas West back in December 2019, the pair began toying with the idea of opening their own permanent space. Campbell and Oben went looking for a venue to serve as a multipurpose event space and headquarters for their natural wine agency, Grape Witch Imports, and for hosting community gatherings and wine tastings. When the airy, light-filled pop-up space at 1247 Dundas West became available, they felt it was fate. They signed a lease on March 7, 2020, just one week before Toronto went into lockdown.
But while construction delays impeded the transformation of the space, Ontario’s arcane Prohibition-era liquor laws began to change in the wake of the pandemic. With relaxed restrictions on the sale of alcohol, Campbell and Oben began envisioning a new possibility for their space. In an age of physical distancing and limits on group gatherings, their original concept morphed into Grape Glass, an eclectic bottle shop stocking a tightly curated collection of low-intervention wines. Out back, a secluded sun-drenched patio is an intimate setting where visitors can perch while sipping glasses of Argentinian orange wine.
The name Grape Glass pays homage to the storefront’s former incarnation as Milk Glass, a much-loved rotating event space and gallery. Milk Glass held a special place in the hearts of Toronto’s tight-knit arts and culture set, and Campbell and Oben hope to continue its legacy of community building and bringing people together at Grape Glass, when the time is right. “We’d love to be able to use the upstairs apartment to host winemakers and throw beautiful dinner parties,” Oben says. “And the back patio would be perfect for intimate education hours and small outdoor weddings.”
So which wine would a Grape Witch pick if a Grape Witch picked your wine? When asked what wines they’d serve at their first post-COVID dinner party, the pair are in resounding agreement. “Celebrations definitely call for bubbles,” says Campbell, highlighting Nova Scotia’s Benjamin Bridge as one of their favourite wineries for sparkling wines. “We’ll definitely be drinking some magnums when this is all over.”
All interior shots by Justin M. Yong unless otherwise stated.