Wine Talk

Snooth User: la grande dame

I want to start a Wine Store. Aside from offering predictable wines (some very good ones) what wines (affordable and not) could make my store interesting?

Posted by la grande dame, Dec 18, 2011.

I am about to open a Wine Store and I am at that point where almost all of the Predictable wines have been ordered.  Some of these wines are very good, nothing wrong with being on every other wine store.  However, I would love to be able to offer to my clients wines that are perhaps made on smaller quantities but of very good quality and both, affordable and not quite.  All your Ideas would be researched and followed up. Thanks. A


Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 20, 2011.

My feeling:  Offer wines that you are passionate about.  You will have a hard time competing with larger retailers on price for the "buy them anywhere" wines.  Carrying those can be a convenience to your customer. But smaller labels can set you apart, and the big stores won't offer them or will not be able to do so at a better price--your overhead can be lower than theirs, but your buying power is less. 

Your knowledge of the wines (and the knowledge of your employees) is what counts--and wines that you have tried and liked will stick in your minds.  Then build a system--index cards, a database, your own capacious memory--to remember what your customers liked and order wines that are like those. Share your passion for those wines by getting involved in community events--tastings in store if you can get permits for it, gift certificates for raffle/auction at community events like school fundraisers, for a couple ideas, doing a pairing menu with a local restaurant. 

Like it or not, wine stores develop a reputation for a type of wine or a style, unless they are as big as K& L (even then, they are to some degree associated with Bordeaux because the owners are so into it), so you might as well roll with it.  Whether it's big Cali wines or the opposite (my favorite merchant carries very little Zin, so I get that elsewhere), offbeat reds from the Loire, or a rainbow of great Italian wines from verdicchios to dark dark Nebbiolos, have a strong core competence, while still offering a good variety of satellite offerings.  Don't get so narrow that you are a niche, Italian only (or Spanish or something really off the beaten path) and offer some popular wines so the timid shopper feels comfortable, but anyone walking into a wine-only store is curious about wine--give them something to provoke a question or two. 

I know that's not specific, but with thousands of grape varieties, more growers, bottlers and appellations than that, and all the levels of labeling, the question of what to stock is a philosophical one, in my opinion.

Reply by la grande dame, Dec 20, 2011.

Hello there:


Thank you so very much for your advice.  Believe it otr not, EVERY single word that you typed resonated in my mind just as if you were reading MY MISSION STATEMENT.  The state of MO has a very new type of Liquor License that allows a retailer to taste wines and CHARGE for them.  Prior to this type of liquor license a retailer could offer his wines for tasting but he could not charge for them.  My plan is to have a very strong wine tasting program on a daily basis and a client could walk in, look at my wine tasting list and point at a wine or a flight of wines that he or she would like to try.  As you can imagine, this license is very liberating because it will allow me to share the type of wine that is not known to my clients.  Yes, it would be wonderful if the tasting of a wine would be folloed by the sale of it's bottle or, even better, a case of it's wine but, if not, just being able to share that wine with a client would be wonderful because now, that client will have a wine in their mind, that he or she can purchase next time they visit.

Furthermore, my web site will publish a quarterly schedule and publish our weekley more formal tastings.  I am thinking about the tastings being once a week, on Thursdays from 6:00PM to 9:00PM (what do you think?) I know it is a week day and folks have a full life during the week so, I hesitate about having the tasting during a week day but, on the other hand, my feeling is that people like to keep their weekends open for them to do whatever they want to do and remain flexible.  My vision for these more structured tastings is that on a weekley basis we would taste an entirely different thing.  i.e. next Thursday we would try Chardonnays, the following week Cabernets, etc.  and I would try to schedule the tastings around special holidays, weather, etc.  %The reason that I think this new type of liquor license is very liverating is because now, I would be free to taste a wine that is not necessarily inexpensive, knowing that I can recouperate my investment.

As far as your recommendation of having a strong data base, I could not agree more.  In fact, I think it would be great to send a couple an invitation to stop by and share with me a glass of champagne to celebrate their anniversary, etc.  An invitation to a client that loves beer, to stop by and share a beer with me on his birthday week, etc.  Further, I also want to have one of those plastic bar code small cards that one can attach to ones key chain with a card that would be attached to your file.  In that way, every time that you stop by, you swipe your card (this will be like you, signing in) and everything that you buy that night will be loged into your file.  Of course I will tie doing this to earning loyalty points towards a free bottle of wine or something like that.


As far as your recommendation for giving back to the community, I have always done so even before I became a small business owner but, here are a couple of ideas.  Since my schedule of events will change every quarter, I like the idea of asking folks to either sign our mailing list or droping a business card to be entered in a raffle.  The winer of the raffle will be invited to show up with 5 friends and have a wine tasting specifically designed for him or her, of something that THEY would be interested in trying out.  I also think that it is simply a positive thing to do to at times, offer things that are NOT necessarily wine related.  For instance, I have always been acutely aware of the fact that while many of us are surrounded by bounty and a wealth of exceptional food and wine during Thanks giving, so many other families are not.  Thus, why not encourage my clients to bring non perishable food stuffs during the entire month and be rewarded with a kick butt capuccino or something.

Your perception of my not having buying power is spot on.  However, as you smartly put it, I can specialize on having smaller production wines that a huge retailer would not be interested in having, precisesly because of their small availability.  I think my active and very agressive wine tasting program will be the main thing that could set me apart but, another thing is that every single other wine store here in my city looks very much like a grocery store, but for wine and I plan on having five or six sitting areas where a couple or some friends can kick back and enjoy their tasting.  Every one of these sitting areas will have a small ove sit, a small end table on each side and a club chair or two.  Perhaps an orchid here and there, etc.

My shop will have a strong artisanal cheese program, selected dark chocolates, dry fruit and a small number of gifts related to the industry.  However, I want to be very careful about not loosing my focus and risking becoming a gift shop and not a wine shop but, no harm on having a small number of gifts such as wine openers, etc.

As you recomend, I will have the popular wines because perhaps there will be a client that has never bought anything else other than...say...Estancia.  However, the fun for me will be in discovering those wine makers that are at that level where they are producing incredible wines in small batches, trying their wine and bring them to my clients and reflecting their addition to the shop via our web site and our news letter.  It is precisesly that type of wine maker and wine that I would very much thank every one for stering me towards. Thus, if any one out there has an idea or a wine they love, be it a $9:00 bottle of wine or a $75:00 one because I have never been a snob about wine and do accept the possibility of a wine being fantastic even if its price point is around the $10:00 to under $20:00 window - the thing to remember is that we need to appreciate as what it is.

When you read my reply, is there something that you question or that you would do differently?  If so, please do not hesitate to letting me know.  I do not remember the person that gave me the following advice but, I was advised to always try to hire folks that were smarter than I was because a person cannot know it all.  Thus, while I might be very good at one thing, i need to accept my short comings on areas of weakness and hire up.  Similarly, I poeted this thread to learn from all of you and NOT to inflate my ego by people telling me how I got it covered and every one agrees whit what I say.

Last, but not least, I have been using the name of La Grand Dame Wine Merchants.  However, since I do not open until April 1st I am not fully committed to that name and I want so bad to come up with a name that would show panache.  Any recommendations?  

English is my second language.  Thus, please forgive me for bad spelling or incorrect use of the English language which, oddly enough....I absolutely LOVE.  Cheers:  William 


Reply by la grande dame, Dec 20, 2011.

Dear Foxall:


As long as my reply was and I still managed to forget to ask you something.  In your mail you mentioned you have a favorite wine merchant.  Do you mind telling me what about this specific wine merchant makes it your favorite?  Also, do you think that it is a mistake to offer a selection of beers in a wine shop and that I should invest the effort in making my wine selections smarter?

My original gut instinct tells me to offer a selected number of beer for two reasons, As a convenience to my clients and secondly, from a business point of view in that, if my clients are somewhat like me, while my passion for wine is whar drives me to doing this, at times, I just want a real, real cold beer so, why turn that sale away?  What do you think? 

Fondly:  William

Reply by BigWoodenSpoon, Dec 21, 2011.

Hi William,

How very exciting your plans sound.Your local wine lovers will be fortunate to have someone as passionate as yourself in town and willing to help them in their wine journeys.

One of my favorite wine merchants just put in a refrigerated unit in his store for quality microbrews a few months ago and it's doing quite well from what I hear. Giving your customers options is good, especially if it's something you enjoy as well.

Another favorite shop does both cheese and wine and keeps record of all purchases under my name so I don't have to carry a card around or remember the name of that super gooey brie I had 3 weeks ago.

Doing a weekly e-mail newsletter and updating your website continually is a great way to keep your cilentele informed about events, tastings, specials, sales, etc. BTW, out here in CA, Thursday night is quite popular for tastings, though you might want to start a little earlier, say 5:30 -7:30 pm.

Hopefully the folks you have lined up as Staff share your passion and willingness to make the special effort necessary to find just the right wine for your customers. Someone "just looking for a job" ain't gonna cut it!

As to the name, does it reflect your style and the type of place you envision? Who is your target audience? "La Grande Dame" is nice, but it may sound a little stuffy to a younger crowd. You might want to come up a few possibilties and perhaps invite some of your potential customers to an informal focus group to see what they think? My local wine bar has evolved over the past 3 years into what the customers want to see through the use of surveys, etc.

Another of my favorites here is "Wine Mine" who has $1 tastings on Saturdays, is a treasure trove of great deals and carries over 20 different kinds of dry rose' (our local wine of the moment). The Staff is small, tight-knit, knows their stuff and listens to their customers. Strive to do your very best every day and the people will come, but it may take a little while. May you have Patience & Endurance in all your endeavors.

Wishing you the best of luck!



Reply by spikedc, Dec 21, 2011.

Hi lgd, and welcome,

In regards to tastings i think it's a must. I go to a lot of tastings at my local wine shops, not only is it a great way of trying new wines its also a way of breaking the ice and getting to know your retailer, instead of just browsing the shelves being invited to taste instantly breaks down barriers, I've never felt pressurised into buying anything but more often than not if I like what I'm tasting i usually end up purchasing something. If there are other people tasting knowledge and ideas get shared around and makes the whole wine shopping experience enjoyable.

Most of the time they will have a small selection of wines to taste on a daily basis but they do send out invitations to regular customers for more formal tastings.

Good Luck ! 



Reply by Giacomo Pevere, Dec 21, 2011.

I think i can't tell you some real advices about your wine shop. The biggest reason is because i don't know what's the american wine drinker usually like. Here i have find a lot of well educated wine lovers but i don't know what the wine education of "normal" customer.

I can tell u what i see in italy. Growing number of well educated wine lovers. Few years ago most loved wine was the "fruit bomb" (California, Bordeaux, Tuscany .... ) now i can see more and more people moving to a different style of wine. Now more people wants typical wines, "terroir" wines, i mean wines that speak about its own country. A lot of typical varieties now have a good selling moment. Not educated buyers still pay for label.

About tastings, sometimes bling tasting can be very usefull for your business, of course everyone are a little influenced by his own like/dislike, by label name and price, with blind tasting someone can understand the real differences between the wines and the real value of it.

Reply by GregT, Dec 21, 2011.

You have lots of advice so far so here's some more.

Don't ask people for specific wines - you'll get hundreds of wines with no rhyme or reason to the list. Foxall gave you great advice.

As far as tastings go - you can approach it several ways.  You can advertise your tastings, but don't expect hordes of people to show up - it's a slow approach.  Also, instead of soliciting advice here, do it locally in your community.  Not far from my house there is a wine store that's been there for 30 years.  Good place, decent selection, nice people and a big part of the community.  Two years ago a new place opened a few blocks away in a more crowded area.  They went on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, all the social networking sites and got so much local word of mouth that on the day they opened they were packed with people. I think they had some free wine tasting on that day too.  I guess first day I'd open a dozen wines, charge people $5 to go thru all of them and take it off their bill if they bought anything. 

Going forward, you might want to consider an Enomatic machine. You don't have to worry about the wine going off and you can give people credits.  There's a store here that does that - every time people buy a bottle, they get X credits which they can spend for the Enomatic wines.  Or you can charge for the credits and then take them from the purchase price of a bottle.

Finally, there's another store in the neighborhood that works completely differently.  They open a few bottles and put them on the counter. People know that they can come in and just pour themselves a taste. Totally laid back - he puts up shelf talkers, some of which he wrote himself but most of which are from the distributors, containing the scores of various critics. Then he tracks his sales fanatically. Wines that move get re-ordered, wines that don't move so fast don't. I had a wine with 2 different labels.  He liked one, his sons and family liked the other.  He took them both and put them side by side. The family won.  Their choice moved at more than twice the rate of the other.  They were identical wines.  He does no advertising, no social networking, nothing but offer low prices that go lower the more you purchase.  He took Marques de Riscal for example, first year sold 40 cases.  A few years later he was selling 1500.

Customer service can vary. For me, being left alone is great customer service as long as someone is there on the off chance that I have a question. Other people like to be approached and talked to. Either way can be very effective as long as the customer doesn't feel taken for granted.  Discounts always help - if you do wine tastings weekly, then you'll surely offer discounts on the wines you taste that week. And make the discounts significant so people start looking forward to the experience.

Most customers coming in will have no idea what they want and they'll know very little about wine. I don't think it's at all true that there's a trend in the wine business towards one style of wine vs another. The average customer wants a decent wine for a good price and thinks $20 - $25 is pretty special, so wants to pay about 1/2 that on a regular basis.  And by and large he doesn't want to spend a whole lot of time looking, although most will spend a few minutes to read a blurb or listen to a speil.  You need to taste thru a few hundred wines, pick the best ones at $10 to $15, write a little blurb about them, and put them in the front of the store. Let people know right away that they can get something pretty tasty for a decent price.

Most of all, don't disparage any wine. That's the sort of thing that people find off-putting - the sniffy salesclerk who smiles when someone asks for Layer Cake or Yellow Tail. If you don't stock those, that's your choice but the right thing to do would be to suggest something that the customer might not have heard of, but that's similar. Don't point him to the Loire if he comes in looking for Barossa. Once you get some trust, that's when you start suggesting that they expand their horizons. The snotty factor can work in New York where there's a perverse pride in being treated like crap. But that's only because there are so many people around. In more polite places, it wouldn't work nearly as well.


Reply by la grande dame, Dec 21, 2011.

Hello Greg:

What a terrific e-mail.  I truly appreciate your advice.  Greg, I do want to follow up on some stuff that you mentioned:  You write that one of the wine merchants offers very good prices and that the more a client purchases at his shop, the more that his client would save.  As an example, I like to know if this is what you mean: say that a bottle of wine retails at most places at $16:00, I would offer it at $14:00 but, if a client buys 3 bottles he (she) saves an additional 2% and, if he buys 6 bottles 6% off and if he purchases a case 10% off.  Is that what you mean? (as a concept) - Now, to help me KNOW when I am offering a great competitive price, what is the mark up norm, regarding wines AND, if I want to be known for having great prices, how far do you see your neighborhood wine shops go?  

On that note, when you mention that one of the ways in which I "could" manage the tasting program is by charging $5:00 to go through 10 or so wines and than, if the client purchases a bottle, credit the $5:00 towards their purchase.  Assuming that I am successful at folks coming in to taste some wines, at the end of the day, how do I afford opening so many bottles of wine and giving them for free.  Do I incorporate the expense as the cost of doing business, i.e. it is an investment towards the success of my wine shop AND do I pay for those bottles with the profit that I make from those bottles that I do sale OR, would wine reps give me an allowence for this tastings? 

Further, I was stunned about your example of how one of the wine merchants sold 40 cases of Marques de Riscal during his first year and a few years later he was at 1500.  Do you mind elaborating briefly on what you think he does that helps him (her) be that successful with this particular wine?

I assume that Marques de Riscal is just one of many, many wines that can work similarly and that all I would need is to identify a superb wine at a very good price and Go at it.  But, my question is, of course, what is it that he does (in your opinion) that works so well for him.

Ironically, I am not excited to learn ways in which I can be that successful with my offerings based on my profits.  No, Greg, --do not get me wrong--  I do love profits.  However, what moves me, what motivates me, what I would consider a hands down the success of my wine shop, would be if, slowly but surely, my wine shop became a destination wine shop to a number of clients.  If couples remember that night when they shared their first glass of champagne together or the wine shop where a guy purchases a great bottle of wine, on his way home, to share with his partner.

Lastly, as far as the Enomatic Machine, are there different company's that make these machines or is the machine made only by one manufacturer?  If there are different company's making it, do you have a favorite? How much are they?  Ball Park?  I remember being in Chicago and going to a Whole Foods to do some grocery shopping with a friend and they had an Enomatic Machine.  This machine had an option of being able to purchase the wine in two different ounce glass and, what I noticed as well, was that they had at least 3 or 4 wines that, because of price, I had not been able to buy them as of yet.  Thus, I jumped at the opportunity of being able to taste a wine that retails for around $100.  

Again, I totally appreciate your advice and I like for you to know that every time that I get an e-mail from you guys (gals) I write down what I think that could work for me and I would incorporate the ideas on my business plan.

Greg:  I hope that by my rather basic questions, such as the questions related to mark ups, etc. you do not question my ability to own a wine shop given that even those terribly elementary questions are unknown to me.  What motivates me to open this wine shop is my absolute love of wines, my commitment towards costumer service, my commitment towards my community, my commitment towards learning and my desire to connect with my clients and to have a daily outlet in which I can feel usefull, creative and challenged.



Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 21, 2011.

Glad that the community jumped on this--it'll be really interesting to watch your progress.  We're all wine drinkers here, some are in the business (not usually retail, but a few of those), but I haven't noticed a shop owner.  I think we will all feel a little invested in your success, although it would be too far for me to go to get there!

I'm glad the issue of wine preservation was put out there--doing tasting virtually all the time is impractical, I think, but it would be possible to do something if you can afford a good preservation system.  Wine bars now often have scads of pours of 1 oz "on tap" using such systems, but that's a different model.

Favorite wine store?  I live in Oakland, CA, and am literally surrounded by good wine shops, with three all within about a mile--Paul Marcus, Wines on Piedmont and WineMine.  I shop all three and like them all--Paul Marcus is a little less friendly, but full of good, insightful, reasonably priced wines, with some great off the beaten path wines from Europe.  (Canary Islands?  They have a few choices.)  Wines on Piedmont has a really nice, low key owner and, while small, he has a good range of prices and unusual wines.  He also has a lot of craft beer considering it's not his specialty, and he knows plenty about it. I've got lots of other options, like Vintage Berkeley, a discounter where I used to get inside help, some bigger retailers that are pretty good, and established standbys like Kermit Lynch, K&L, WineHouseSF, direct sales from wineries, etc.  I shop them all.  (I consume approx 200 bottles a year with my wife's help and am usually called on to provide wine for family events and a few meetings and conferences a year, so I have reason to shop around and try lots of things.)

But WineMine is my favorite.  The owner, David Sharp, is like you, community minded.  He's passionate about the wines he carries--he has a small store, so he has to edit it carefully, but he also has to like what he sells.  He specializes in wines that have a little funk--he wouldn't get all biodynamic/natural on you, but he's sold some stuff that smells like wet cardboard when you open it, only to blow off and be really impressive.  He'll carry a range of a kind of wine--say, CdP, since his S. Rhones are a strength--with one being "international" for comparison, and one being old school and one maybe in the middle. He's open to suggestions--started carrying some things I had tried and liked-- and he has the best prices anywhere because he keeps his overhead low.  He hasn't got a great location, so he's really worked to get traffic into the store, but the funky location keeps his overhead waaaay down.  He writes his own shelf-talkers for the majority of wines--even some of the best known--and his descriptions are dead-on, even if you don't like the same kinds of wines he does.  He loves low priced wine--his slogan is "Wine gems at rock bottom prices," to go with the WineMine name.  He apologized for upselling me one time--when I was pretty much asking him to show me something at the higher end if the quality was there.  Gotta love that:  The guy who wants to save you money and sell you wine you will come back for.  Lots of other great things to say about him, and he needs to be great, because he's got a lot of competition in this area--which is why he was voted best wine shop in the East Bay last year for his hole-in-the-wall store. 

Reply by EMark, Dec 21, 2011.


I want to wish you luck in your venture.  You have the passion, and I admire people who follow thier passion.

I have no idea how to run a store.  However, the correspondents above have given you what I feel are excellent ideas.  I would like, however, to strongly endorse the sentiment in the last paragraph of GregT's posting.  As a consumer I want to be respected.  I, and I alone, define what a good wine is for me.  If you do not carry the wine that I am seeking, there is no need for me to be insulted.  (Of course, I don't live in New York City.  So, maybe, I just don't get it.)  If you don't have what I asked for, then I would very much appreciate your courteously directing me to something similar.  If you don't have anything in the price range that I suggested, then let me make my own decision about whether to buy it.

Keep us advised of your progress.  In fact let us know where in Mo you are located.  Many of the Snoothers travel regularly and would love to check out a new resource.

Reply by Carolyn Managh, Dec 22, 2011.

How  about Champagne Cider from Daylesford, Australia

Reply by GregT, Dec 22, 2011.

Grand Dame - markups vary greatly. To be the lowest priced vendor is a very very dangerous game. The only way that works is to turn your inventory really fast.  The velocity will make up for the lower margins.  And you need to keep costs really low.  Usually that means a bare-bones decor, which is fine, and it means turning a lot of product, usually through the mail.  And it means buying large quantities.  If you buy 2 cases from a distributor, you may get 2% off.  But if you buy 50 cases of a wine, you get a lot more taken off the price, which you can then pass on.

So the person I'm talking about has a store that's right off an expressway. In NYC that means he's not in Manhattan.  That means, or until recently it meant, that he's not going to go for high-end Bordeaux and Burgundy and Barolo.  He gets a lot of young walk-in customers who want a bottle to take home for dinner or to a party.  A lot of them are students w/out much money. And a lot of them are local people who aren't wine geeks.

Another thing that people don't talk about but they should is the fact that wine purchases are racially skewed. Same with high-end restaurants.  Look around next time you go to a top notch place and notice the crowd.  Mostly or completely white. That means there's a HUGE and generally untapped market in the Hispanic community and the black community. Now, imagine the typical wine geek.  Remember Niles from Frasier?  What kind of resonance do you think he'll have?  Or some dweeby guy who goes on about "minerality" and "crunchy rocks" in his wine?  I'm fairly well-read and I don't know what those people are talking about. 

So what this guy did was #1, make sure he had liquor, since people shop by brand and that's what most profits are going to come from anyway.  Then, to get people to try wine, he'd put something on the counter every day.  Just 2 bottles so it didn't really kill his profits.  Most importantly - and here's the key - he tailored his selection to his market.  People on wine boards and elsewhere don't seem to understand this basic fact but if you want to get repeat customers from the black and hispanic market, offer something sweet. All the received wisdom that you need highly acidic wines to go with your food?  That's stuff sommeliers are coming up with to make it seem like there's some science behind their opinions.  It's a load of nonsense for the most part.  So stock Muscat de Rivesaltes and things like that.  Greek wines that are sweet.  Hell, Georgian wines.  Guess what?  Those are super cheap and some are quite good and people smile when they try them.  You get 10 guys to taste them and 1/2 of them will say "My girlfriend/wife will love this.  I'll take one."

I make people taste things like Muscat or Torrontes or Malvasia, especially if it has a touch of RS.  People don't know those wines but when they taste them, they usually buy. Once they get to trust you, you can help them try other wines. 

That's how my man got to the point where he's ordering 100 cases of wine at a time from multiple distributors.  He bought himself a warehouse nearby to hold his inventory. His discount goes 3 bottles, 6 bottles, 12 bottles, going down to some 20 or 25% at the case level.  Now, in addition to those wines, he has a huge selection of Malbec and Cote du Rhone and wines from Tuscany. And a few CA wines that don't get a lot of play but that are pretty good values - things like Buehler, Steltzner, etc.  Up front, where he can watch them, he has Opus One, Pahlmeyer, etc.  Because after all, if you think there's going to be no theft, you should really re-thing whether you can stomach the business.  People WILL steal.  They come in with babies in strollers and slip bottles behind the baby.  Better that they steal a bottle that cost you $5 than one that cost you $50, especially as most of them won't really enjoy it anyway - they're stealing for the price tag.

That's only one model though and if the store were a mile away, it would have taken on a completely different form.  And within walking distance from this store are several others, all with different approaches.  One specialized in organic wines, one in Italian, etc.

For a completely different take, look at the website for Chambers Street Wines.  I consider those guys friends and their approach has become the model for many other people.  They like the Loire and Italy and that's what they stock.  Lately one guy has been buying some Spanish wine because an importer took him to Spain a few times, but that's w/in the last 2 years.  They're opinionated and uncompromising. They don't compete on price although if you want to pick up older vintages, like 20 years old or more, that is probably one of the single best stores in the US to do so.  One of the owners worked at Christie's and has a really good Rolodex.  Their selection is more limited and focused but they're very successful.  It's a model that's particularly suited for New York and bigger cities although I imagine it can work anywhere if there's a sufficient wine culture. They don't use shelf-talkers or sell on critic points.  Everything is based on their own taste. 

The downside is that although the owners are truly passionate about their wine and they're also decent guys, the approach turns off a number of people, who won't shop there, which is why I think it's a better approach in larger cities. Still, they have a nationwide reputation these days and they sell more Muscadet than any other store in the US. I shop at very few retail stores but I do buy at retail there. 

Reply by Giacomo Pevere, Dec 22, 2011.

GregT your texts are too long for me!!! :)

Your advices are really deep and definetly in italy works really different. Of course every store here can sell alcholic drinks and that change a lot rules of game. People that usually go to a wine shop here is educated or curious about wine. If u are just interested in a cheap mid-low quality wine u can buy it in every supermarket. Wine shops usually have mid-high range and customers are often interested in some advices.

Very nice understand how US wine shops world are.

Reply by la grande dame, Dec 26, 2011.

OK, One Holiday down, one to go...right?

These last couple of days were very special to me because I started thinking about how generous some people around me have been, towards me, during 2011.  I am an orphan and I was never a part of the foster care system because we do not have that in my country.  So, I vasically grew up on my own.  Don't ask me how?  One thing I know for absolutely certain is that, if I had to do it all over again, I would simply not be able to.  So, I grew up a surviver.  I learn how to be street smart, how to find food and shelter for myself, etc.

The very first decade of my life, that in itself, was my only goal.  I wasn't able to asfford to stop and think of "why" I wasnt loved, or wanted, "why" i had been placed in that situation.  I guess I knew that if I allowed myself to dwell on those things, I would just die of saddness or something.  From ten years old...maybe fourteen years old to mid 20's I changed.  I had this feeling that I could do it all and I didn't need anybody to help me out.  In other words, I was very stupid.  But, in retrospect:  I had to be like that because, first of all, I didn't have any one to help me out so...I got this attitude that I was a strong fully able type of guy.

The problem with an attitude like that, is that it is just pretend!  When one is a kid, one needs a set of parents to give us that foundation that makes us feel self assured.  We get a formal education at school, eventually, we go out on our own and we are prepared to discover life on our own but...We have that foundation that helps us decide between black and while during times of difficulty.  Since I didn't have that foundation, everything that I did, the ways in which I responded to moments of stress, were guided buy gut feeling.  Nothing else.

Eventually I realized that I had just been bluffing and the next decade, Mid 20's to mid 30's I strugled greatly trying to face my demons.  I facedthe fact that I had no brothers, sisters, uncles, a mom or a dad.  That decade was real, real hard.  I kept thinking, OK. yes, I was dealth a real, real lousy deck of cards.  I had a hard childhood.  However, now that I am an adult, I am no longer at the mercy of those that abused me when I was a little kid and now, as an adult, I can gratly influence what my present and my future will look like, as much as possible.  The problem was:  One thing is to say that, and another very different one is to be prepared to pursur that.

I kept falling into traps, I wasn't able to always finish what i started, i didn't have any discipline, i didn't have that foundation that i keep telling you about.  Sooner or later, however, I did find peace of mind.  One of the things that helped me a lot was when I started giving myself a break.  When I started judging myself so severly.  When I realized that I had put myself through the University of California at Berkeley without ever having attended elementary or high school and with English being my second language.

I also started having a better time, when I understood that yes, I didn't have any blood family but, I could find very good friends and make them my family.  Eventually I realized that the better I knew myself, i.e. the better I knew what made ME happy and the more agressibley I pursued those interests, the better chances that I had to meet people that I enjoyed.  It is a very odd thing but, given that I never had anyone teaching me this things, I found classical music, I found wine, I found cheese, I found literature, I found wanting to be involved in philantropy, etc. and, while pursuing those interests, slowly but surely, I met a very good friend here and another very good friend there.  It doesn't really thatke too many.  One only needs a hand full of very, very good friends and, when i found some of mine, I no longer felp incomplete.

For a while there I kept thinking that I needed a significant other but, the truth is, Yes, it would be wonderful but, I didn't "need" one.  What I needed, was a sense of belonging.  I needed to feel that i belongede some where and slowly but surely my good friends provided me with that.  i have always, always been a very noble, very loving, very supportive type of friend but, i had a hard time getting the same thing in return until i started making good friends.  I never pursued my interests thinking...I love classical music AND, if I buy a ticket to the concert, there is a good chance I would meet a friend.  No, I attended the concert because of my love for music rtegardless of my possibilities for finding a friend or not but, they arrived weather I wanted them or not.

I am writing this, today, a completly unorthodox type of post for this site, and an entirely waist of your time, because I have been thinking about how generously you have all given to me.  It is stunning to me how, all of you have POURED your life long knowledge and replied to my questions without asking for my credentials or without questioning me about one or another thing.  You listened to my question, you replied with your knowledge and you have no idea how your support has uplifted me this holiday season.

I no longer suffer during the holidays, I think I have come full circle and I enjoy every day as much as I can.  however, I do pay attention to people that, like you, do stuff for me that shows me your values and your desire to help me succeed.  To all of you I say, cheers!  Let's get ready for a terrific New Year's Eve. New Year's Day and, why not, the very best 2012 possible.  Fondly:  William

Reply by GregT, Dec 28, 2011.

It's a nice post William.  Good luck to you in the coming year!

Reply by BigWoodenSpoon, Dec 28, 2011.

Hi William,

Glad to see you've overcome so much and can move forward with passion and positive focus in your life : )

As to the mention of keeping a few sweeter wines on the shelf, it is sooo true! Because of Hip Hop, on the supermarket wine level at least, I've found that Moscato has been this year's "it" wine.  I'm selling a couple of cases a week of an inexpensive ($5.99:CA) Moscato d'Asti in a pretty, fluted bottle. Also,"sweet" reds have been a trend. In my experience, many but definitely not all of my aforementioned Hispanic/African American/Asian customers are looking for less tannins and more friuty, easy drinking wines at attractive price points. Since you haven't mentioned in which town you're planning on setting up shop, I'm not sure what your community makeup is or if you have a particular demographic in mind. Just show off your positive attitude, share your passion, try to be open to potential customers and as Greg said, watch out for thieves.

Peace & Prosperity,




Reply by PinnacleKC, Jan 9, 2012.


Welcome to the world of Wine sales in Missouri!  My name is Richard Zellich.  I run the Kansas City, Missouri branch of a fine wine distributor named Pinnacle Imports.  I believe you may already be familiar with some of our portfolio, and that you have had some contact with one of the wineries that we represent.

I am always fascinated to talk with people entering this industry.  There is a lot of mis-information in this thread owing entirely to the fact that every state is different (In Missouri for example, you cannot recieve volume pricing from your suppliers.  We are required by state law to offer the same prce to everyone).  Also in Kansas City, you may find that the Vinotech machines are not suitable for your purposes, as Missouri law will not allow customers to serve themselves.

I would really enjoy a chance to sit down with you over a bottle of wine and talk more about what you are planning.  I do not mean that I am looking for a meeting to make a sales pitch, rather I would like to be a sounding board for you as a person who's been in the wine industry in Missouri for well over a decade as a retail wine buyer (at The Wine & Cheese Place and Provisions Market in St. Louis), a restaurant buyer (Sommelier at I Fratellini) and finally as the Branch Manager for a fine wine distributor.

Please feel free to reach out to me via my email address, which is  I look very forward to meeting you and talking about your ideas!

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