Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

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Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby RonicaJM » Thu Sep 21, 2006 11:19 am

There are 2 small wine shops I've discovered in my town w/ several others not too far away.

Then there is World Market (several hundred wines) close by and Central Market (over 2,500 wines) about 45 minutes away.

The small shops have good customer service and knowlegde and one of them is owned by a sommelier. However, the variety of wines is less.

World Market seems to have a nice selection of wines but the manager isn't too knowlegdeable (but he's very nice).

Central market has very, very knowledgeable staff and of course, any kind of wine you'd want. However, they are kind of out of my way.

What kind of stores do you like to buy wine in?
In vino veritas...
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby OW Holmes » Thu Sep 21, 2006 11:52 am

I buy in lots of places, from the small locally owned shops, to chains like World Market, discount places like Costco, and even Sam's in Chicago. But most of my purchases are from small locally owned places, and really, one locally owned place. I have no idea the number of bottles, but more than I can drink in a lifetime, I'm sure. And I prefer that for a number of reasons.
The principle owner is very knowledgeable, and has learned my tastes to the extent that when he gets something in that he thinks I might like, I get an email from him. He remembers what I have purchased and asks about it later, and often will let me know when the next vintage comes in. Or something similar. I send him emails to hold 3 bottles of this, 2 of that or a case of whatever, and he obliges. He never hesitates to take back a corked bottle for full credit. He invites me to the backroom to sample something he has open. When he sees me in the store, which is a couple of times a week when I'm in town, he always says hello. He never tries to push anything on me that is beyond my economic comfort zone, warns of disappointing bottles, etc. Last time he saw what I had in the cart and suggested an alternative that I never would have tried, at $6 less, and it was great. He special orders wines, even if you don't want a full case. And, he gives his customers a discount for mixed cases. His red-tagged wines are as cheap as anyplace in town, and cheaper than most.
Sam's in Chicago has a better selection, but truthfully I don't need a dozen different 2003 Vacqueyras, and could care less about the huge Chile, Argentina and Australian sections. I use them primarily for Futures, and at my age that is slowing down. Stopped actually. Costco has good prices, but no one to help and the prices aren't that great and the selection pretty crappy. World Market prices are slightly higher than my guys discount for mixed cases, and selection primarily limited to daily drinkers rather than weekend wines or special occasion wines, and they know nothing of my taste, or a lot of their inventory for that matter.
-OW
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby JC (NC) » Thu Sep 21, 2006 12:30 pm

My chief source of wine is Carolina Wine Company in Raleigh (a 80-90 minute drive from Fayetteville so I only go there about once a month or less). The owner likes both red and white Burgundies (two of my interests) so they have a good selection of those. They are also carrrying more Australian, Spanish and Italian wines than previously and selected California Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels. (Limited selection of German wines but some good producers.) I get frequent e-mails from them including special sales. They also have a temperature-controlled storage area and will store wines for up to six months.

I supplement that with occasional visits to other Raleigh-area wine shops, the one wine shop in Fayetteville and occasional grocery store purchases and I'm on the mailing list for several Pinot Noir and Zinfandel producers. When in Washington DC I visit Macarthur's (Bassin's) and Calvert Woodley wine shops. I prefer wine shops that have free tastings daily (Carolina Wine Company does this and I think The Wine Merchant in Raleigh does also). It's always nice to have the opportunity to try something before buying. I haven't done purchasing at discount stores such as Costco or Sam's.
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby Brian K Miller » Thu Sep 21, 2006 1:00 pm

I buy from a lot of sources, too. In the central Valley of California, we have a very good small chain of upper end grocery stores called Nugget Markets that is largely responsible for my growing interest in wine. While their programs have sadly been scaled back a bit, at one point they had tastings three times a week, and I discovered many good wines there. I still buy wine at Nugget.

Living near (or in, even) wine country, I have also been buying a lot of wine at wineries (based on tastings). (See my bicycling/wine tasting threads). It's an excellent way to determine which appellations you prefer and to discover smaller wineries.

I also like smaller wine stores with passionate staff. I buy a lot from Back Room Wines in Napa and Tucca's in Davis, CA. PlumpJack is excellent for Italian wines, and K&L Wines in San Francisco can be a truly educational place to buy wines. Tucca is a lot of fun-he is into wine in a big way, and he'll let me taste things. I trust his taste, too, as he has turned me onto many great wines.

There is also a mid-sized Wine and Spirits store in Vacaville that has some interesting nice wines. Although I shouldn't be buying such expensive wines on my budget, I have to admit that I agree with Wine Enthusiast's rating (98 point) for one wine I bought at Wine and Spirits World-2002 Rubicon. A truly transcendent Cab blend, to me. And, he sells it at $20 below the listed "normal" retail price. :lol: I think Wine and Spirits World has been heavily impacted by the new BevMo store, though. Too bad.

Finally, BevMo has opened in Vacaville this summer. I have been somewhat impressed, actually. Some nice stuff and some good bargains. They have a very enthusiastic employee who used to manage a winery tasting room and has come back from retirement.
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby Carl Eppig » Thu Sep 21, 2006 1:40 pm

Ronica, you are very forturnate to have that kind of wine buying diversity. When we opted to live in the woods, that was what we had to trade off. Here the primary source of wine is the NH Liq Stores. They have improved by light years since we last lived in this state ('77-'82). But they do not have all the little treasures we were used to in Maine coming from small importers, and small distributors. It is not too far to get to the wine fertile grounds of MA and even ME. Then there is the internet!!!

Happy shopping, Carl
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby Kevin Glowacki » Thu Sep 21, 2006 2:31 pm

I buy most things from one store that I go to just about every Saturday and hopefully soon, will be working there. There is a free tasting every Saturday, plus I'm on the email list of the wine buyer. I was a customer at her previous store and just followed her to the new place. She knows more than I'll forget, makes great recommendations at all price levels, knows what I like and don't like and is the most knowledgeable wine person I've met in my two years of learning...okay, maybe my WSET teacher knows more...but I'd bet not by much. She also has some exclusive deals in Atlanta and is always on the prowl for small time producers. A bottle I bought from her last week was a one barrel wine with 23 cases produced by a guy who used to live in the Atlanta area. I have no idea if I'll like it or not, but found it had an intriguing story and wanted to own such a rarity. We'll see if it pays off years from now when I finally open the bottle. Two years in new oak!

I pop into other shops every once in a while just to browse and there is one other specialty store I also go to on occasion, but only if they are having a tasting that I'm interested in. This second shop is more specialized and has fewer bargain selections, but I somewhat know the wine buyer there, but he doesn't know me all that well since its only once every two months that I'm in there.

I look at Costco's selection when I'm there, but the Atlanta ones quite honestly, have a less than stellar selection and their prices are okay in my opinion. It depends on the wine.

Cost Plus is okay, but I find their pricing on the higher side for things above $10. Below that and they are a good place to stop in if I'm in the mood for something that I don't already have.
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby Rahsaan » Thu Sep 21, 2006 2:40 pm

Personally I tend to shop in smaller stores although the real important variable is a knowledgable staff who can tell me how the wines are drinking now, how much decanting time, etc, and people that I trust/like and want to support. For example, in Nyc Chambers and Astor have many of the same wines for the same price but I pretty much always go to Chambers because I like what they're doing and I like the people running the shop. (But then again I'm someone who is generally conscious about where I spend my money in all areas)

If I understand correctly you are somewhat new to wine? So my advice would be to find a salesperson who you like, who is knowledgeable, and who is in sync with your palate, that will be an invaluable resource in explaining why you didn't or why you did like certain things, and more importantly, in suggesting future wines to buy.

Of course you don't want to close yourself off too early, so it is a good idea to check out the diversity of shops in your area, but good connections with people in wine stores can be invaluable.
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby JC (NC) » Thu Sep 21, 2006 3:36 pm

Kevin G.,
What is the name of the wine store and owner or manager where you usually buy? I have friends in Atlanta who are into wine and might be interested in checking it out if they are not already familiar with the shop.
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby Bob Ross » Thu Sep 21, 2006 4:19 pm

Like OW among others, I learned most in my early wine days from one retailer -- I would stop by two or three times a week -- his shop was next to the train station -- and learned an enormous amount in tiny bits of info.

Later on, it's fine to branch out -- and a good retailer will suggest where else you can shop if he or she can't supply something.

Bottom line: become important to one retailer in your early days in wine.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby OW Holmes » Thu Sep 21, 2006 4:25 pm

Bob Ross wrote:
Bottom line: become important to one retailer in your early days in wine.

Regards, Bob


And THAT is extremely good advice. And you don't have to spend thousands to become important to the retailer. Good wine retailers love customers who love learning about wine.
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby Robin Garr » Thu Sep 21, 2006 6:40 pm

RonicaJM wrote:What kind of stores do you like to buy wine in?


An excellent question, Ronica ... thanks for asking it! I'm delighted to see what a good discussion it has inspired.

Thinking it over, based on my experiences in Louisville (mostly) and also in NYC, I think there are two issues that aren't entirely consistent.

First, as others have said, the primary factor is helpful and knowledgeable staff and buyers, who hand-select interesting wines, know about them, and ideally have tasted virtually all of them. There's hardly a better way to improve your wine knowledge (other than hanging around forums like this :) ) than by purchasing regularly from a store like this, and developing a friendly relationship with the people who work there.

Second, size matters, but not as much as all the above. Of course a huge store with several thousand wines in its collection can be a wine-geek's paradise, but it becomes less so if that collection is thoughtlessly chosen, poorly stored, and administered by staff who don't about the wine or don't care.

I've known big stores and small stores that were excellent, and big stores and small stores that were atrocious. But all that said, my current favorites happen to be small but very, very well-stocked stores with owners and staff who love wine, know wine and love to talk about it. At that point, price becomes very much secondary. I probably pay a buck or two more for some wines at my favorite store here, but it's worth it because of the small but very interesting, hand-picked selection and the attitude and knowledge of the owner-operators. Meanwhile, a giant store that used to be great has become a little less so over the past few years, with attrition of knowledgeable staff and changes in selection policy.
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby Kevin Glowacki » Thu Sep 21, 2006 7:02 pm

JC (NC) wrote:Kevin G.,
What is the name of the wine store and owner or manager where you usually buy? I have friends in Atlanta who are into wine and might be interested in checking it out if they are not already familiar with the shop.


Bottoms Up Beverages in Alpharetta. Gina is the wine manager. She just took over back in May.

The Wine Store in Norcross is my second favorite. Keith is the manager there.
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby Glenn Mackles » Thu Sep 21, 2006 7:22 pm

I have bought wine from lots of sources. I live near Washington DC and have a variety of local outlets both large and small. I have also bought directly from producers and over the internet. But at the end of the day I buy the majority of my wine from a small local shop not more than a few miles from my house. The reasons why are expressed wonderfully above. The store has experienced people there. I am known and greeted with personalized recommendations based on my taste. While they may not have as large a selection as a wine supermarket they will go out of their way to order anything I want if they don't carry it. Their prices are generally comparable to the big stores and indeed on some things they beat the big stores. I was in there last evening and the lady there recommended some wine I had never heard of before but I knew she knew my taste from several years of experience so I just bought some without further thought and I know for a fact if I open a bottle and don't like it she will take it all back no questions asked. In fact, I have recommended a few wines to her and she has gone out of her way to get them, not just for the store but for her personal stash.

So my advice, which is worth very little, is try to find a nice small shop with nice knowledgeable people and develop a personal relationship with them... you won't regret it. You will still almost undoubtably buy wine from other sources but building a trust relationship with your local wine pusher is very worthwhile.

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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby Dave Erickson » Thu Sep 21, 2006 7:31 pm

I buy wine where I work. Employee discount, and all that. :mrgreen:

http://www.ashevillewine.com/
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby Jenise » Thu Sep 21, 2006 7:50 pm

Ronica, Rahsaan makes an excellent point about finding a salesperson who's in synch with your tastes. They don't neccessarily need to agree with your tastes, they just need to understand what they are so that the probability of your liking the wine you take home is very high.

And that's not all that hard to do--I'm continually amazed at how many knowledgeable wine sellers have absolutely no ability (or make no effort) to read the tastes of their customers. One woman seller in my town is an excellent case in point: she's very sweet and she sure knows a lot about the producers whose wares she sells, but it's finally apparent that she likes the fruit forward modern styles and for all that we've talked wine once or twice a month for three years now, she has yet to figure out that I don't. So though two salespersons might be very knowledgeable about wine, it doesn't mean they're going to be equally adept at hitting balls out of the park for YOU. Only trial and error can reveal which is which, unfortunately.

The best clue might be to notice who asks YOU the questions and is the better listener.
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby TimMc » Thu Sep 21, 2006 11:29 pm

In my experience you will pay more in small wine shops, but the knowledgable help is light years away from the bigger stores.
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby RonicaJM » Fri Sep 22, 2006 1:52 am

I've been shopping wine stores and found a new one today. It"s one of those franchises, Wine Styles. Anyway, I really liked the store and the staff. They're not as knowledgeable as other places I've been. But, b/c of their small inventory (about 180 wines) they've tasted every wine in the store. Their niche is hard to get wines from all over the world in the $10-$25 price range w/ a few higher end wines.

What do you think about a franchise like that?
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby AaronW » Fri Sep 22, 2006 3:05 am

RonicaJM wrote:There are 2 small wine shops I've discovered in my town w/ several others not too far away.

Then there is World Market (several hundred wines) close by and Central Market (over 2,500 wines) about 45 minutes away.

The small shops have good customer service and knowlegde and one of them is owned by a sommelier. However, the variety of wines is less.

World Market seems to have a nice selection of wines but the manager isn't too knowlegdeable (but he's very nice).

Central market has very, very knowledgeable staff and of course, any kind of wine you'd want. However, they are kind of out of my way.

What kind of stores do you like to buy wine in?


Ronica, here are a few links that might be of interest:

http://www.hitimewine.net

http://www.winebuys.com

http://www.liquorama.net
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby JC (NC) » Fri Sep 22, 2006 9:36 am

Thanks, Kevin G. for the names of wine shops and managers. I will relay that on to my friends in Atlanta.
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby Jenise » Fri Sep 22, 2006 11:56 am

RonicaJM wrote:I've been shopping wine stores and found a new one today. It"s one of those franchises, Wine Styles. Anyway, I really liked the store and the staff. They're not as knowledgeable as other places I've been. But, b/c of their small inventory (about 180 wines) they've tasted every wine in the store. Their niche is hard to get wines from all over the world in the $10-$25 price range w/ a few higher end wines.

What do you think about a franchise like that?


Ronica, on the face of it--hard to find wines in that good price range--sounds great. I'd still want to see what wines constitute "hard to find", though. Could be a euphemism for "wines nobody else wnated".
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby RonicaJM » Fri Sep 22, 2006 2:57 pm

Jenise wrote:Ronica, on the face of it--hard to find wines in that good price range--sounds great. I'd still want to see what wines constitute "hard to find", though. Could be a euphemism for "wines nobody else wnated".


Good point. But I did mention a wine I really like and she said they carried it until the wholesaler started marketing it in the larger stores.

She let me sample another wine, and I really liked it. I guess where I'm at now is whether I should go to the franchise store which I like the owner and store a lot. Or to the small wine shop that is owned by the sommelier (in training) who obviously knows a ton, but her and I don't clique as well.

I'll probably go w/ the franchise and supplement w/ the other. :shock: I think....
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby Howie Hart » Fri Sep 22, 2006 4:27 pm

Jenise wrote:Ronica, on the face of it--hard to find wines in that good price range--sounds great. I'd still want to see what wines constitute "hard to find", though. Could be a euphemism for "wines nobody else wanted".

I don't know about your area, but for me one example is Chinon. The largest wine store in our are had exactly two, neither of which were the ones highly recommended by the forumites here. :x
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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby Remo Perriello » Fri Sep 22, 2006 8:42 pm

Great Thread!

I am going to be a bit biased here, because I own a small wine shop... Let's here it for the little guy!

Everyone makes great points on both sides. I believe two themes that keeps popping up, is service, and listening to your customers. Since I opened my store, I have built great relationships with certain customers. As noted in the thread, I have brought in certain wines for a few of them, because they had it at a party, restaurant, etc, and thought it would be nice to carry. Although, my main focus of my store is to carry wines that are not bastardized. However, I also understand I am not here to force my wine picks on others.

I believe that is what separates me from the bigger stores, along with tasting all my wines, and being quite competive with my prices. Ok,, enough of pitching for myself... LOL...

If anyone is in the New York , Westchester Area, give me a ring!

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Re: Small Wine Shops VS Larger Stores

Postby Jenise » Fri Sep 22, 2006 10:18 pm

my main focus of my store is to carry wines that are not bastardized.


I need you to move to my town! That's great, though, and it's great (for us consumers) that there are finally enough wine stores that some can specialize. Everybody doesn't need to carry everything. How long you been open?
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