Expat Diaries: Sébastien Auvet, Vin sur Vingt Wine Bars

By Vicki Denig

Sébastien Auvet is nothing short of a New York wine legend. Born and raised in Paris, Auvet began his hospitality career at the renowned Parisian bistro group, Bertrand. After moving to New York twenty years ago, Auvet is now the proud owner of not one, but eight wine bar locations across New York City and Washington DC—meaning he knows a thing or two about starting a business abroad. Get to know Sébastien, his wine bars, and his biggest pieces of advice via our exclusive Expat Diaries interview with him below.  

Sebastien Auvet photo

What inspired you to move to New York? 

I was always in love with NYC since my grandmother's twin sister was married to a GI after WW2. I was working in Paris, and one of my friends asked me if I was interested in moving to NYC, as her father was opening a super club (Bruno Jamais). 


When did you move to New York and what did you do upon arriving? 

I moved to New York in 2003, and until 2005, I worked at Bruno Jamais, where I started as a dishwasher, then moved up to busboy and ended up as a waiter. I then took a GM position at Le Bateau Ivre, where I really started getting into wine. It is a place that inspired the concept of VSV. I eventually left and joined the team at David Bouley for a few months, until my partners and I opened the first Vin Sur Vingt wine bar in 2011 on the Upper West Side. 


How did your wine journey begin, and was there a specific wine that changed your life? 

Le Bateau Ivre was a big inspiration, and my grandfather was a wine merchant. [For a life-changing bottle], the first time I tasted 1982 Petrus made me understand that wines are not only table wine. 


Tell us a bit about Vin Sur Vingt. What is the focus of the wine bars? Do you have any current specials / menu highlights? 

We opened our first location in 2003. We received very good feedback, as we were the only true French wine bar; after that, we opened a couple of other locations. We are doing around 10,000 cases a year—close to $2.5M! Every location also does a rotating Coravin special.

Sébastien Auvet :

Vin Sur Vingt boasts eight locations across New York and Washington D.C. Conceptualized as a “neighborhood wine bar,” these bistro-inspired locations offer guests the opportunity to transport themselves back to their favorite Parisian wine bars, with authentic cuisine and sommelier-curated by-the-glass pours and bottles to boot.  

Vin Sur Vignt now has a wine shop and wine club – congratulations! How do these entities relate to the wine bar(s)? 

You will never find the same wines from Vin Sur Vingt at the wine shop, but the same winemakers, different appellations, vintages, etc. For example, if you liked the Sancerre from Joseph Mellot, you will have access to the Pouilly-Fumé. 

Sébastien Auvet :

Le French Wine Shop, located at 161 Amsterdam Avenue, specializes in French wines from all of the country’s 13 wine-producing regions. From budget-friendly go-tos to collector-worthy bottles, French wine aficionados will take delight in this well-curated selection. Le French Wine Shop is also pleased to announce the imminent launch of Le French Wine Club, a wine delivery service that will also provide members with on-premise benefits at Vin Sur Vingt locations. To learn more / sign up, click here.  

What are some of your go-to wine regions / who are some of your favorite producers? 

It’s about cycle. We did Beaujolais Savoie, Jura, but at this time, I would like to focus more on Rhône Valley with some classic châteaux/domaines and also young winemakers.

Sébastien Auvet :

Vin Sur Vingt and Le French Wine Shop are pleased to offer bottles from all of France’s wine-producing regions, spanning a variety of grapes and styles. Long-standing favorite producers include Domaine Les Pins (Loire Valley), Domaine Specht (Alsace), Baptiste Aufranc (Beaujolais), and Mathieu Barret (Rhône Valley).  

What are some lessons you learned while building a business abroad? 

The service starts at the door and finishes at the door. In between, we have to make our guest travel/forget about their day for a few hours by trying to bring good energy. 

For additional advice on opening a business in the United States, check out our exclusive interview with Aurélien Dufour of Dufour Gourmet, as well as Lucie Franc de Ferriere of From Lucy.  


Your wine bars / shop are focused on French wine. Do you ever foresee yourself adding wines from other countries? 

We can do everything in life, but I choose the easy path of a French man with French wine. 

In addition to curated French bottles and by-the-glass pours, Francophiles will take delight in Vin Sur Vingt’s authentic lineup of French food offerings, featuring everything from tartare de boeuf to tarte flambées, escargots, moules marinières with frites, and more.  


What's a piece of advice you'd give to an expat looking to start a business in the United States? 

Before opening your place, you should work for someone to learn the culture, service… and this, you never know better than others. 

To follow the journey of French and American expats as they share their experiences abroad, check out our Expat Diaries collection here.  

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