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Have you researched your local "boutique" wine store?

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For many years it seemed that the business model of the local wine shop was pretty standard. Then, with the growing popularity of wine came more and more wine stores, namely the "wine superstores" like Total Wine & Spirits (East Coast) and Sam's (Chicago), as well as "boutique" type wine stores like Winestyles (national) or Cork & Olive (Florida). This question is about the latter.

The business model of the boutique "chain" concept seems to turn its nose at the wine warehouses and traditional wine stores in favor of stores where "real people" go to buy wine, typically priced under $20 a bottle. Also, some of these shops include in their business model the pretense that you or I could buy a bottle in their store that was not available elsewhere. That, I believe is true. That being said, if it is not available anywhere else locally, how do you know you are paying a fair price? Herein lies the rub....

This past weekend, my fiancee and I stopped by the local Cork & Olive store in Tampa. Their store consists of a small selection of wines, mostly under $20, composed mostly of foreign, lesser known (or unknown) producers of wine. I've been to their store before but never purchased anything, but this time we were there to use a $75 gift certificate.

The positive part of the experience is that they always have plenty of bottles open for a free tasting. The negative part is that with all of the unknown labels, I got a bad feeling, based only on one wine, from MAN Vintners of South Africa. When I live in New Orleans, I bought it regularly for about 5 bucks a bottle, but locally, they sell it for between $12 and $14, depending on the type. Most of the bottles in the store were in the $12-$15 range. This past weekend, we ended up spending $85 and got six pretty decent bottles, 4 of which we tried on the spot. Only $10 out of pocket, so not bad.

However, when I started researching these wines, they were mostly obscure and low quality producers that are not widely available. I don't feel ripped off, since we tried several of the wines, and most of it was paid for by gift cards. However, I feel like the store is intentionally duping the uninformed consumer into believing they are buying a "special" or "boutique" wine and getting a great value. In reality, they may be buying an overpriced bottle of swill that that they couldn't get anywhere else in town, probably for good reason. It seems a lot of the hype and marketing in these so-called "boutique" wine stores is about consumers feeling like they got a "special" wine and avoided the traditional wine store.

Anyone else have any thoughts on the subject? Or have you actually taken the time to research some of the lesser known wines in the boutique stores? I may have an isolated incident with one particlar chain of stores, but I wouldn't bet on it.

-Kevin

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  1. As a preface, I admit to knowing nothing about state laws on distribution of alcohol, and next to nothing about the supply chain from winery to distributor to retailer to consumer, aside form general economic principles.

    In New York, there are so many wine stores, and many with comprehensive websites listing their inventory, that even obscure bottles are generally available in more than a handful of stores that I imagine they'd competitively priced. If i'm looking for a bottle over $30 or so that isn't widely available (i.e., right now I'm looking for the John Duval "Entity" Shiraz from Barossa, according to WS, 750 cases imported; another the NV Aubry Brut Rosé ), I will almost always shop amongst the stores' websites. On one site, I saw it for $40; at another, I saw an offer of $35.50 for a half case. The difference of 11% is probably as big a difference as you're likely to see for a medium range wine in this geographic market. Neither of these stores are what one might consider a "boutique," but I think prices being mostly a function of local competition applies to bigger retailers and boutiques alike. Sorry, don't know if that answers your question?

    And before I make any purchases, I generally look up them up in Wine Spectator's website (hey, it's not entirely useless!) to give me some idea as to what the wine's "accepted" price is. WS's prices I feel are already on the high end, so I generally would not purchase these wines from any stores whose retail price is much more than 5% of the listed price at WS. At 10%, I'm generally passing entirely, unless as a specific gift purchase. But looking over the store's inventory and comparing them to the prices at WS helps me gauge whether that store's prices are any good, or if there might be relative bargains with regards to specific regions and wines. I make a note of it for furture reference.

    1. Kevin,

      I'll confess I have heard of Total and Sam's, and Crown Beverage and ABC -- but not Cork & Olive, so I cannot speak to their selection specifically. But there is a world of wine out there, beyond the famous wines of (e.g.) Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chianti, Rioja. There are outstanding wines available from regions like Irouleguy, Apulia, Wachau, Alentejo . . . there are wonderful wines produced from grapes like Torrentes, Tannat, Tinta Roriz, etc.

      It seems that you are saying "mostly obscure," "low quality" and "not widely avalable" are all equal, all somehow inerconnected, and that is the only way a so-called "boutique" (small?) store can carry anything "special," which you seem to imply is anything cheap that consumers have never heard of (i.e.: not widely available, obscure and of low quality -- otherwise the "traditional" [big?] stores would carry it).

      While I have no doubt that not every wine carried in every store will be to your taste (or anyone's taste, for that matter; we each have our own likes and dislikes), I have found wines of far HIGHER quality and personal enjoyment abong the "obscure" and "not widely available."

      This is not to say you cannot come across a bad or an overpriced wine in ANY store, but I've long found better wines, better prices and a better selection among the small[er] specialty stores like Vintage Berkeley, Oddlots, The Spanish Table, Paul Marcus, The Wine House -- and even stores like Kermit Lynch (the "grandfather" of specialty retailers), North Berkeley Wine Merchants, and other high-end ($$$$) stores which carry a fine selection of wines in the under $20-25 range.

      That aside, I do have a question for you, Kevin: what do you mean by "researching these wines"? Do you mean looking up to see what scores it got from Robert Parker of the Wine Spectator? Or do you mean looking up the winery's website to learn more about the wine(s)? Or do you mean checking out something like www.wine-searcher.com/ to see what various retail prices you can find the wine being sold for? Or do you mean tasting the wine side-by-side with similar wines and letting your taste buds decide which is the best-tasting wine to you?

      Thanks in advance for the answers.

      Jason

      8 Replies
      1. re: zin1953

        it sounds to me that kevin's issue is the wine store taking advantage of consumers by overcharging for wine few people are familiar with, not for selling obscure wines in itself. i have definitely noticed this practice all across the industry, actually in every industry. businesses make money where they can. you can't get away with selling yellowtail for $20 because everyone knows how much it should cost, but maybe you could sell a $9 corbieres that few people if any know for double its value. and some auto mechanics will charge you $200 for a screw if they think you have no idea what you're doing. i think the solution is simple- be a more educated consumer, do your research like kevin did, and find retailers you trust. there are ethical wine sellers, just like there are ethical mechanics. there are many really great boutique retailers that will expose you to amazing wines that you would otherwise probably never hear about. this business model has proved to be successful, so of course there are imitators emulating it who are just looking to cash in on the trend. i don't think it takes a very discerning eye to tell the difference, yet they're still going to fool a lot of people who aren't aware this is going on in the first place. my one caveat is to be aware that prices can vary tremendously from state to state, so in doing price comparisons, take that into consideration.

        1. re: zin1953

          Hey Jason, I am still reading, but been super busy and haven't been able to respond. I appreciate your detailed responses and since you have no information about my knowledge or experience, it's hard to understand where I am coming from.

          I totally understand that there are a plethora of reputable wine stores that carry lesser known or unknown wines from across the world, but I have a hunch about this particular store. I have previously had a great relationship (and still do) in New Orleans with a store that carried plenty of lesser known wines, but the staff was knowledgable and I trusted their advice. And I always felt I got a fair deal. In the case I talk about in this post, I found a wine that sells for $6 a bottle at a trusted store, but twice that price at this "boutique" store. In addition, I felt many of the wines I tasted were pretty weak. And last, the staff seem to be novices at wine (they know far less than I do) and the turnover is high. That particular store is now hiring, since a lot of the previous employees were students that had moved home for the summer. Not my idea of knowledgable or infomed staff.

          ------"That aside, I do have a question for you, Kevin: what do you mean by "researching these wines"? "--------

          As you mentioned, there are plenty of ways to research wines and I'd bet a majority of the posters here prefer to do some sort of research before buying a $20 bottle of wine. Whether it be a trusted staff recommendation or one of a friend, a magazine rec, or even a tasting; not many people walk into a store blind and pick a random bottle; there's usually some methodology.

          My primary reason for posting was to find out if I am mistaken about the feeling I get about this store, or if possibly I should look at the situation from a different angle. I will no longer shop there because I don't trust the place; I prefer to shop at a place that knows more about wine than I do. My biggest concern was for the people who walk unknowingly into a store, assuming they are getting a good wine for $15, when a trusted wine store would sell a comparable wine for half the price.

          Hope that makes sense.

          -Kevin

          1. re: UptownKevin

            I can relate to a similar store, where I once lived. They advertised themselves as a "boutique shop," but what they offered were "close-outs." This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, so long as the buyer is not seduced by the whole package. This was a stand-alone shop, and not any sort of chain. They defined a niche and filled it, with a bit of loose advertising. Prices were equal to "retail," when the wine was being released, but they were picking it up at "fire sale prices," and making a tidy profit on it. Heck, they did offer impossible to find wines, as most had been taken off the shelves, and much of it was good. The "deal" was a bit less than most of their clients knew, but if both parties were happy, and a winery/distributor moved a bunch of wine that was not selling, maybe everyone made out fine. It is all in the marketing.

            BTW, which shop in NOLA, Martin's Wine Cellar?

            Hunt

            1. re: Bill Hunt

              Ahhh, Bill, I forgot that you've done quite a bit ot travel to NOLA (I see your posts here on CH). I primarily shopped at two places in NOLA, Martin Wine Cellar and Cork and Bottle, in Mid-City in the American Can Company. My friend John C. works at MWC Uptown and before Katrina I managed The Columns as well as lived Uptown. For a short time, I even lived on the corner of Amelia and Baronne, a block from the former location of Martin (it's dangerous being a block away from your favorite wine store).

              I trusted the advice I got from MWC, but as an Uptown store, they catered a plenty to people with more money than I had. However, they always treated me well and helped me find great wine. Cork and Bottle was such a comforting place and most of the wines came from lesser-known wineries. Fortunately, the owner was a hands-on guy and always took care of me. I wasn' t a big spender back then, but I always felt important and never had a bad bottle of wine. Good times....

              -Kevin

              1. re: UptownKevin

                Wow, I do not know Cork & Bottle, even though it is in my b-i-law's business neighborhood. I'll have to give it a go later this month.

                We used to shop the Uptown MWC, when we lived in NOLA, but have spent more time at their Metairie shop, since we moved - decades ago. I love MWC, and have had many wonderful experiences with them. Last trip down, we were doing the "house wines," for a 10 stay in the FQ, with a wino couple. A manager looked in my cart and commented, "since you're buying a bunch of Zins, would you like a horizontal of Turley?" He proceeded to pull out about six SV Turleys from the back and put them into my cart. His next comment was, "these are only for my good customers, so I'll have to go to the checkout with you." When I told him that I was now a tourist from AZ, and only staying for a week+, he said, "no problem. You obviously enjoy big Zins, so they will not go to waste." The average price per bottle was <$35 and we're talking a Duarte, a Hayne and a Dogtown Flats, plus a few others! Wow, what service.

                When I first moved to Phoenix, I went to a big wine shop, that was highly recommended. I had missed buying the Silver Oak '97 Napa, since I was moving, and they had six bottles. I had tasted this at the WS California Wine Experience, and asked the owner to put them in my "stack." His comment was, "can't do it, since these are only for our 'good' customers... " Guess where I never shopped again. Heck, I was spending about $1500 on wine, since my cellar was still in storage and my construction was not yet complete. How I miss the service of MWC!!! Great folk.

                Due to your rec., I will stop in at C&B and buy something from them. Great wine shops are too few and far between.

                Thanks, and hope that you get the feedback, that you are looking for in the original thread. I did not mean to hi-jack it with recollections of other shops and other places.

                Hunt

                1. re: UptownKevin

                  Kevin --

                  In the FWIW Dept., I first bought wines from Martin Wine Cellar when I visited New Orleans back in 1971 . . . IIRC, it was a bottle of 1967 Château Ducru Beaucaillou.

                  I was already in the wine trade in Southern California, and Cedric wanted me to run cases of Coors from California -- where, back then, they retailed for $1.25/6-pack ($5/cs) -- to NOLA where he would pay me $10. Then, he'd sell them for $5/6-pak ($20/case). It was tempting to someone still in college to double his money, but then I started thinking about how many state and Federal laws I'd be violating, and I passed . . .

                  It's sad the Baronne location is closed, but I'll probably pop in the Magazine St. locale when I'm there in October -- just for old times . . .

                  Jason

                  1. re: zin1953

                    I know that this is getting away from the original post's intent, but I have to ask: wasn't it Schwegman's, that first started bringing in grey-market Coors, from Beaumont, IIRC? Seems that they (or another grocer of the time), would run an empty refer-truck to the TX line, fill it up with Coors, and bring it back to NOLA. We're talking early '70s here, so the memory fades badly.

                    One Mardi-gras, I found myself with a case. I planned on consuming it during the week with friends, but word got out on the street, and I ended up selling it all at about $3/12oz can. Paid for the entire week. Also, the cans had a strange little double pop-top - one to relieve the pressure, then one that pushed into the can, no zip-tab. I do not recall any other brewer using that particular method.

                    Soon, I moved to CO, so it was all moot.

                    Thanks for the memories,
                    Hunt

                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      Now that you mention it, I believe you may be correct about Schwegman's. He was one sneaky SOB in the grocery business, but of course, went bankrupt. That being said, Cedric Martin could have been the first with the idea, and Schwegman took the idea and ran. By the time I was old enough to remember, my dad could easily get Coors, so now my age is showing. Thank you too, for the memories.

                      -Kevin

          2. This is the first I've heard of boutique chains.

            In the Berkeley / San Francisco area, the boutique shops are all independent or very small (2-5 locations) local chains. Same goes for some of our warehouse wine stores as well.

            7 Replies
            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Where should i go shopping for wine in SF.
              KLwines or Berkeley? I'll be next to both on saturday/sunday.

              1. re: clayfu

                By "KL" do you mean K&L in SF or Kermit Lynch in Berkeley?

                1. re: clayfu

                  Both Kermit Lynch and North Berkeley are closed on Sundays. Both are in Berkeley, not San Francisco.

                  K&L Wine Merchants *is* in San Francisco, and *is* open on Sundays.

                  The answer to "Where should I go [wine] shopping" depends more on WHAT kind of wine(s) you are looking for than anything else. (IMHO, of course.)

                  Jason

                  1. re: zin1953

                    right. i'll be in berkeley on sunday adn SF on saturday. I might go back to berkeley on monday...(i meant K&L sorry)

                    i'm open to all wines, where would i get the best overall experience in a wide range of wines? say.. 40-150$ bottles from as close as Cali to the great wines in Burgundy? A palce with recommendations you can trust.

                    1. re: clayfu

                      I started a new topic on the SF board for Berkeley / Oakland shops:

                      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/426559

                      Topic on wine shops in SF proper:

                      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/374974

                      1. re: clayfu

                        For Burgundies, go to: a) Kermit Lynch, b) North Berkeley, or c) Premier Cru. (See Robert's new thread for exact locations of these stores.)

                        K&L Wine Merchants has a great selection of California wines and Bordeaux. (Kermit Lynch carries none, only wines they import themselves; North Berkeley and Premier Cru have very limited selections from Calfiornia, carrying -- again -- mostly wines they import directly.)

                        The Spanish Table has a great selection of wines from Spain and Portugal, but that's it.

                        Paul Marcus in the nearby Rockridge district of Oakland has some wonderful wines from all over -- Burgundy, the Rhone, Italy, California, etc. It's not the world's largest selection, but it's well chosen and extremely reliable.

                        Then, don't forget The Wine Club and The Wine House, both in San Francisco. Both carry lots of French wines; The Wine Club has a better California selection.

                        Jason

                        1. re: zin1953

                          Good i have a 5 hour gap between my last interview and my gf's last interview =)
                          luckily my friend is driving me around!

                          hum just realized there's a Wine Club 2.5 miles away from work... ha.

                2. I really think you have to develop some confidence in the ability of your wine merchant to provide you with wines of good quality and price value. You do have to remember that a small, local wine shop is, in general, not able to get much in the way of large volume discounts from suppliers or to be able to work at the lower profit margins of much larger operations. Among the things they may offer, to combat those possible shortcomings, are accessibility, relationship, personal tasting knowledge and wines which have small enough production that they are not available at larger merchants.

                  The reality of the retail wine business, at least where I am, is that large volume stores work on profits between 12% and the low 20% range for most items, as well as having the advantage of lower wholesale cost on items that carry volume discounts. A small shop just can't survive on that small a profit margin, so they look for small quanity, unique wines that represent a 'fair quality/price' value to the consumer. At best, the majority of their wines bring them gross profit in the lower 30% range. Compared with other retail businesses this is NOT gouging, I don't think.

                  That isn't to guarantee that you won't find a wine you paid $30 for at a local shop available at a bigger shop for $25 or maybe less. It happens. The small shop can't always be sure how 'exclusive' his purchases are. And, the hopefully unique product and services that small shop has to offer may or may not be worth the occasional pricing disappointment to every consumer. Hopefully for the small merchant he/she provides enough of value/service/quality to earn your business.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Midlife

                    Well said, Midlife!

                  2. I have not had any experience with "chain" boutique wine shops, so maybe I am missing something. OTOH, I deal with several boutique shops, that offer wines that are not, otherwise, available in AZ, so I purchase from them. I have tried many of their suggestions (if I cannot do a tasting myself), and have purchased many. Have I been ripped off? I have not really worried about these wines being available elsewhere, as AZ has some archaic shipping restrictions (won't go into those, especially as many retailers, wineries and importers view them differently). Now, I have seen shops, that "claim" to be boutique wine shops, that seem to only have lots of wine, that have not sold elsewhere. Costco even has these, from time to time, and often one can find marvelous "deals." I usually do not buy from these. I have also seen several wine "clubs," that try to sell their idea of special, limited production wines, but seem to only have non-classified Bdx., at 5er Cru prices.

                    I care less that the wine is limited in production, rare, boutique, etc., and more that it is good wine. If the price, for my joy, is worthwhile, I buy it and partronize the shop, until they show me otherwise.

                    Probably, I'm just not in the demographic, that your post is addressing, or I have been taken advantage of, and do not realize it.

                    Hunt

                    1. I appreciate all of the responses. In this case, I am speaking of a chain of wine stores that markets themselves as the "boutique" type with affordable wines ($10-$20 range) that can't be found anywhere else. It really sounds romantic to the novice wine buyer, but is it really the best the consumer can do? Why buy a Chilean Cab for $16 when you can get a great one for $9?

                      Sure, these wine places may offer decent wine that can't be found in the area (or other places in the US, for that matter) and some of them may be great wines. But if they are so great, why is it so hard to locate info on them? And are they really worth the price? Maybe; maybe not. In the case I stated above, I noticed a South African wine that I used to buy for about $6 a bottle and was worth every penny. However, I'm not certain it was more than a cheap six-dollar bottle of wine. So imagine my surprise when I walk into the local "boutique" wine store and find it for $13! If you are telling me that a wine store that I trust can sell a bottle for one price, while another markets it as a higher end bottle can sell it for 100% more, you've got to be kidding!

                      There are some wine stores I can trust, but for some reason, this particular one rubs me the wrong way. But before I make any accusations, I prefer to get my facts straight and collect as much info as possible. From the six bottles we purchased on Sunday, I checked several of the wines on the internet and found a couple for about half the price. A couple others I could not locate. It doesn't mean they are bad, but sometimes I get suspicous of the pricing. We tried most of them ahead of time, so I know we got decent wines, though I am not sure they were worth the money (fortunately we paid with a gift card). I guess there's no education like experience.

                      For the hell of it, here's what we purchased, along with the prices:

                      Juliusturm Riesling 17.20
                      Juliusturm Pinot Blanc 14.10
                      Peace Chandonnay 12.90
                      Peace Shiraz 12.90
                      Hincesti Pinot Franc 12.40
                      Vina La Tinguiririca Cab Sauv 15.40

                      The primaray reason I am pursuing this discussion is that I don't want to see people buying mediocre wines for twice the price that they could purchase a similar wine; call it a public service announcement. The other is pure curiosity. In my opinion, the owner of the chain (1) finds really obscure wines and brings them to the consumer for a fair price, or (2) the chain hides behind the obsure brands and enjoys high markups because no one will know the difference anyway. I guess a little more research is in order, but based on my initial gut feeling, I don't believe I'll be shopping there any time soon with my own money. I'll stick to the wine shops that I know are reputable.

                      -Kevin

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: UptownKevin

                        Kevin, I appreciate what you're saying -- and what your "goal" is in writing this post -- but you still haven't addressed my initial questions . . . and your second post raises a couple of more.

                        The BOTTOM LINE is, I believe, for ANY purchase -- wine, appliances, furniture -- "I'll stick to the [wine] shops that I know are reputable."

                        * * * * *

                        One of the most important recommendations I make to my students -- in fact, it's probably my #1 recommendation -- has to do with HOW they buy wine. I tell my tudents they should find a store they like, with a good selection and a knowledgable, attentive staff, and purchase about 50-66% of their wines there. The more the staff gets to know their own preferences, likes and dislikes, the better the store's recommendations to be. Also, they become a "regular" and a "good" customer of the stores, and so will (should) be told when "something special" and "very limited" comes in.

                        But for their remaining purchases, they should always check out other stores . . . not only will they certainly find wines *not* carried at their primary store -- wines they may truly enjoy -- but they just might discover a better store.

                        Jason

                        1. re: UptownKevin

                          Generally, a wholesale wine buyer can get only limited quantities of better-than-average wines at lower-than-average prices. Consequently that's not something any chain can do on as regular a basis as an independent store or tiny chain.

                          1. re: UptownKevin

                            OK..... I tried to 'research' the specific wines listed and found almost nothing on Google or wine-searcher. From my knowledge of the industry that tells me that these are wines that are probably from very obscure sources (one is from Moldava apparently) and likely in very limited distribution. In wine retail that can mean very good things or exactly what Kevin is suggesting. I have had some exposure to a few franchise wine retail setups that promise their franchisees markups that are far above what I have come to know are realistic for the business. They claim to be able to do this on volume discounts, but the truth is that it requires the use of obscure labels which, as Kevin points out, can not easily be price-compared.

                            That said, however, I don't believe that obscurity equals poor quality. Within every price bracket of wine (down to surprisingly low prices) there are signficant quality differences that a good wine buyer can navigate to the benefit of the customer. So the issue is whether or not the customer can find the same wine (or consistently similar quality) for enough less to make an issue of it. As Jason points out, there are major benefits to developing a relationship with a small retailer. Whether there is a significant cost to that will vary as will whether or not the consumer finds the benefits worth the difference.

                            If a consumer is able to consistently find the same wines at significantly lower prices there is a decision to be made. A savvy retailer would not let that happen unless he feels he has a captive market for some reason. There are something like 4,000 wineries in California alone. Throw in the rest of the world (Moldava included) and a retailer has choices, assuming the wholesale structure in his area provides access. So...... if Kevin is right, I think he's made the right decision. It might be nice, though, to tell the retailer so he can try to adjust his strategy.

                            1. re: Midlife

                              Obscurity definitely doesn't equate to poor quality. Two of the best wnes I've had in the past year were a Marco Polo Posip and a Talli Berri Txacolin Beltza.

                              But winesearcher.com does know those wines.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Just curious about gems in general ........... I found 2 sellers of Marco Polo Posip (Croatian, I presume), but no listing under Talli Berri, using Pro version. Did find searchier listings for what appears to be a Basque region wine called txacolina, though. :o

                                Re Posip: I've tried only a very small number of Eastern European wines and found them to be rather 'raisin-y or medicinal'. What's Posip like?

                                1. re: Midlife

                                  White txacoli (pronounced "chocoli") is widely available, even trendy. The red is virtually unknown and very hard to find. Spanish Table sells Talli Berri's:

                                  http://spanishtable.com/Feb_06_wine_n...

                                  That Posip is fresh, fruity, and aromatic, something like a superior albariño Rias Baixas or Sardinian vermentino. The importer says it's probably Croatia's best white wine.

                                  http://www.bluedanubewine.com/wine/42/

                          2. "mostly obscure [ ... ] producers that are not widely available"

                            As a matter of fact, probably 90%+ of the wine producers in the planet are "mostly obscure and not widely available". Which has nothing to do with quality.

                            And this fact is not that hard to prove, if you follow these easy steps:

                            a) choose ANY wine producing area in the world.
                            b) GO there; if your flight, rent a car at the airport.
                            c) drive around the area, make a note of all the wine producers' names you see in the signs posted by the roadside.
                            d) when you're back home, check how many of these names are either widely available and/or well known and/or listed in the major wine websites and/or rated by the major rating gurus. You'll be surprised.

                            And remember, the signs you see are only a small fraction of all the producers in the area. Most of them don't even post at all!

                            On the "widely available" issue:

                            This has to do with the producer's SIZE.
                            If a producer makes, say, 25 to 50 thousand bottles a year ( and there are TONS of those ), there's no way he'll be able to supply any major distributor and become, therefore "widely available". Does that have anything to do with quality? Of course not. Does that mean he can't make a living and will be soon out of business? Nope. They're small, and they carve a niche, sell to a small group of stable buyers, many have been around for generations. Before the US with it's monster distribution machine was even invented!

                            1. Fortunately, I have not had the same experience. I use to work at a "mama-papa" wine shop and every Thursday was tasting day. Wine Reps would come with their wines and would pour. At the end of the day the wine staff compared notes and what ever wines impressed the taste buds the most were winners. The wines were then bought into the store to be sold to customers. Prices or mark up potential may have played a small role. The wines that came in all had reps to try and sell their product.

                              Widely produced wines usually have reps but that doesn't mean its good wine or high quality( example: coppola). It's the same the other way too. Just because they wine isn't widely distributed doesn't mean it is lacking in quality.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: jocey

                                >>> At the end of the day the wine staff compared notes and what ever wines impressed the taste buds the most were winners. The wines were then bought into the store to be sold to customers. <<<

                                Precisely how EVERY store should be run. (And every store in which I was one of (or THE) wine buyer(s) was run -- even Liquor Barn!)

                                Jason

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  i go to a store in san diego that they only sell what they've tasted, so next to every single wine they sell is a tasting note.

                              2. Sometimes you just have to step back and say, "it's not that big of a deal".

                                Take a different perspective, when you are buying wine, you hope to buy a good tasting palatable beverage that will give you a little relaxation and maybe, on a good night, you get lucky with your spouse. Instead of thinking you got cheated because you could have spent $10 less dollars on the same wine. Just ask yourself if you got $15 dollars worth of value. $3 per glass.

                                help the small guy out. that's what america runs on.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: waffleman

                                  If the small guy is charging $15 for a wine I can get elsewhere for $5, he can help himself.

                                  Though the reality where I live is that independent wine shops have more interesting stuff and competitive prices.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    the premise of my point is, all things being equal, regardless of what the wine costs anywhere else, did you receive $15 of value from that bottle of wine?

                                    so then i ask in a semi related situation, Schlossgut Diel wine used to be represented by a small importer in the US. You could buy a bottle of auslese for around $40-$45 retail, the kabinett for under $20. Couple years ago Terry Thiese picked up the winery and the same auselese now retails at $70-$80 and the kabinett around $30. We are all just making Thiese rich, and that's fine, the wine is damn good. But do you feel ripped off in the same way?

                                    No? So it's okay for the evil conglomerate, big guy importer to make a buck but not your local mom and pop wine merchant?

                                    1. re: waffleman

                                      It's in my interest to shop around and find the best price--which is almost always from an indpendent wine shop.

                                      When a wine's price takes a big jump from one vintage to the next, I take that as my cue to go find something new that's a better value.

                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Robert,

                                      In very general terms, I agree with you. Getting a tad more specific, I have a "boutique" grocer, just over the hill from my home. They are part of a local chain and have a great wine selection. They charge ~ US$2-7/btl. more than I could acquire the same wine with a 20 min. drive. However, I continue to shop there, because I want them to be in business, and have those rare bottles, because I have had many dinners, where I had X btls. of wine Y, and the guest list shot up by 4 people. I needed X+2 bottles of that same wine, and they usually have it. They also order some wines, that other retailers in the area will not take time to do, because I only purchase about US$4K in wine/year. Yes, I pay a premium, but then they are 1 mile from my home and have a great selection. Do I hesitate to spend more? Not in this, specific case. Do I purchase all of my wine from them? No, but I do support them and just absorb their additional markup. When I buy, I usually get a 10% case discount, plus any "markdowns," so I purchase judiciously.

                                      I feel that many are in similar situations, where the convenience, or additional service, is worth the markup. In my case, just firing up the Landcruiser costs me a few $ for gasoline, and one stop is far better than driving all across Phoenix (~ 600 Sq. Mi. last time I checked), looking for a few $'s off a bottle.

                                      So, I guess that it depends on the exact circumstances, that one is faced with. If I buy multiple cases, do not have a time limit, etc., then I'll order from K&L, the winery, the distributor (in certain circumstances) or from my local Costco. Still, I want these guys to still be in business, when my wife tells me that the guest list just grew...

                                      Hunt

                                    3. re: waffleman

                                      If you check out the website, CLEARLY it's not a "small guy."

                                    4. I am glad I don't have to go to any local wine "boutique" to buy wine. I buy at least $2000 worth of wine annually and I buy directly from wineries. But I am lucky because I live in Northern CA and have hundreds of many excellent wineries within 2 hrs drive radius. This way I buy wine that not only meets my quality expectations but I can also be 100% sure was not heat-damaged in transport.

                                      11 Replies
                                      1. re: olasek

                                        The drawback with this, of course, is that you are "limited" to California wines. This is perfectly fine, as long as you don't feel limited. OTOH, I would DIE if all I could do was drink California wines. Variety, after all, is the proverbial spice of life . . .

                                        Besides, I'm fairly sure my $2K would go a lot farther than your $2K -- but that's a different discussion, perhaps, for a different thread. ;^)

                                        Jason

                                        1. re: zin1953

                                          > I'm fairly sure my $2K would go a lot farther than your $2K

                                          what makes you think so?

                                          1. re: olasek

                                            Different discussion -- having nothing to do with researching your local wine store. It has to do with what nation/region provided the best QPR . . .

                                            1. re: olasek

                                              I would also suggest a different take on this 'how far your money will go' question. While I understand many reasons for buying at the winery, I can easily prove that most wines you might buy at the tasting room can be purchased for less at a retailer (some are not distributed beyond the tasting room or member list, I know, depending on which wineries you frequent). If you can find a retailer that you trust, and who has some resonable sense of how the wine got to him from the winery, there's a significant saving. The example that seems the most dramatic is Caymus Special Selection - I've seen it on the winery's site for something like $160 and just about every competitive California retailer is at $115-$125. You may still not be comfortable with the unknown handling elements, but there is certainly a saving if you can get to that place. If the wine is off your retailer will replace it anyway.

                                            2. re: zin1953

                                              Unless you're getting a trade discount (and sometimes even then), it's often more expensive to buy direct from a winery than from a wine shop. The wineries don't want to undercut their wholesale customers.

                                              I've been finding better quality-price ratios from Spain, France, Germany, Croatia, and Slovenia in recent years. But then I don't like most California wine regardless of price.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                "....it's often more expensive to buy direct from a winery than from a wine shop."

                                                *IF* you can get them in a wine shop. The wines I buy are not available in any retail store.

                                                "But then I don't like most California wine regardless of price."

                                                I heard this before - too much alcohol, too much oak, too "full", wait too long before picking grapes, etc, etc. Though I respect all such opinions I grew to admire californian wines precisely for all they alleged "faults". For me they offer the best quality-price ratio. By the way my favorite california wines are not from Napa.

                                                1. re: olasek

                                                  Yes, many people like that style of wine and will pay a premium for it. That's the #1 reason wineries make them that way. The #2 is that it's hard for wineries who would prefer to make other styles of wine to find suitable grapes.

                                                  Who said anything about Napa?

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    I only mentioned Napa because being most "famous" of all wine regions in the US it could potentially be most hyped, overpriced. I don't know if Napa wines are overpriced or not (comparing to the rest of California), have no opinion on the subject. I just happen to buy from wineries which are not from Napa.

                                                  2. re: olasek

                                                    1) Who said anything about "faults"?

                                                    2) Who said anything about "Napa"?

                                                    I'm confused . . . *shrug*

                                                    Remember, the best wines in the world are the ones YOU like the most . . .

                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                      Hopefully I'm not repeating anything already discussed in this thread. I've read most, but probably not all, of the posts. Most very insightful.

                                                      The larger picture for me with regard to the boutique vs. major player is that customer service, in general, has gone to the dogs in our society. My grandfather was a cobler from Sicily and I remember talking to him at length about custom suit-making and shoes, etc. I realize that those days are gone but... when it comes to wine, there is an incredible "value" to having a local boutique wine shop that you trust, that is doing, in essence, custom work.

                                                      Regardless of their markup (most are reasonable, they do have to compete), when you can walk in and say "that 126 year Carignan you sold me last week was fantastic, what else do you have that's similar?" And that begins an informed dialogue about some nice Cotes-du-Rhone wines with comparable profiles, that is where the real value of a small boutique trumps any larger chain experience.

                                                      Boutique shops hand pick their wines, usually have slightly less selection, but they can tell you a little something about every wine. For people who really love food and wine, this is a passion and quest that blossoms with sharing. Small wine shops share in that passion because, as most in the business know, it is not a big money-maker. You have to love it to be in it.

                                                      Beyond this value it is always nice to support the little guy so that we all don't have to shop at the Gap and Home Depot (nothing wrong with either by the way). Just an example of mass trending...

                                                      1. re: sebi

                                                        Yes, one should calculate in the "service," of many smaller shops, plus the convenience of having them handy. I'm sure that most here have purchased fuel for their automobiles in the past year.

                                                        Being able to feel comfortable that the staff knows YOU, and what YOU like, AND stocks it, is great.

                                                        I would hate to have to rely on the knowledge of the "smurfs" at many big-box stores, that also carry wine and I hardly ever need to tap into that knowledge.

                                                        Like the custom shoes, the service aspect is not factored in nowadays, at least not often enough.

                                                        You make some fine points.

                                                        Hunt

                                            3. Hi Kevin,
                                              Cork and Olive's wines are about 80% exclusive, not 100%. There are a couple lines that Cork and Olive carries that are not exclusive, some of which have higher price points than other larger retailers such as Total Wine. Talk to any manager in the store and they can explain this to you. Many of the best selling wines at Cork and Olive are not the wines that are also carried by Total Wine, but the ones that are exclusive to Cork and Olive. Cork and Olive is constantly searching for new wines that are not found else where. Some of Cork & Olive's wines that are exclusive come from Germany, Spain, Italy, France (Which also includes a line of Champagne's in a 1st Cru, Grand Cru, and 1998 Vintage), Moldova, Chile, California, and Washington State. One of the downfalls of dealing with the smaller, boutique, family-owned vinyards is that if the vineyard goes out of business, Cork and Olive is out of wine, which has happened to the Moldovan line that Cork and Olive carried, which was a best seller.

                                              9 Replies
                                              1. re: WineLady

                                                Is it just me who's a bit skeptical of a place whose website has a lot more information about franchising and employment opportunities than about wine?

                                                1. re: Frodnesor

                                                  No. ;^)

                                                  I looked at the website, and I would NEVER shop there . . . As a website to entice sales, it's useless. You click on "wine" expecting to see some inventory, or at least an idea for what they have, and all you get is b***$#!+ . . . something about offerring a variety of wines, many of which have never been imported and/or available before . . .

                                                  Does anyone think that if these were really good wines, someone wouldn't have imported them a long time ago? Does anyone honestly think there are some "undiscovered" California (or Oregon or Washington) wines that have never been sold before???

                                                  (sigh)

                                                  Cheers,
                                                  Jason

                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                    Jason,

                                                    Just some academic observations on this.....

                                                    As to your last point, about whether there are undiscovered wines........ with some 4,000 wineries in California alone I am introduced to "unknown" (to me at least) wines almost every day. What the site says is that they sell American wines that have not been sold in Florida. THAT is very much believable.

                                                    "Undiscovered"? maybe not completely, but there are many, many wineries who sell only through their tasting rooms or online and are virtually undiscovered insofar as retail is concerned.

                                                    I am not at all familiar with Cork and Olive but I did once spend some time researching another wine franchise. One of the reasons I did not get involved was that their agreement prohibited individual franchisees from having an online inventory. With online business so critical in wine retailing it just didn't make sense to have that channel blocked. But their reasons did make sense in that all their franchisees would be competing against each other and huge territorial issues would develop. If the franchisor did the online site it would be taking business away from the individual stores. A Catch 22, though in today's online world not having specific inventory 'visible' is surely a detriment.

                                                    1. re: Midlife

                                                      IMPORTS, first:

                                                      I am willing to bet that "Cork & Olive" does the same things Trader Joe's used to do when they first got started: they buy wine directly from co-ops which put a "control" label on it; then they import it themselves (or clear it through SWS), and sell it "exclusively" in their own stores . . . despite the fact that the exact same wine is available under a different label imported by someone else . . . .

                                                      DOMESTICS, second:

                                                      a) The same thing holds true. That is, if -- say -- Clos du Val has some excess wine, they may sell it off under a "private" label (or perhaps, since C&O appear to be only in Florida), a "control" label) that is C&O's "exclusive."

                                                      b) They have their own "negociant" label(s), and buy wine of the bulk market, have it blended and bottled for them under their own "private" label . . . .

                                                      * * * * *

                                                      We would do this EXACT same thing at Liquor Barn (and the people who run BevMo still do it!). We would buy wines from caves co-operatives in Macon, for example, had offer our own "exclusive" Macon-Villages, Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages, for example. We'd also do the same with California wines under the Ashland Park, Lyness Creek and Vincelli labels.

                                                      As an aside, we developed the Ashland Park label as a private label, but the broker through whom we acquired and bottled the wines asked to use it in other states, so we sold him the rights to it outside of California, and turned it into a control label.

                                                      Cheers,
                                                      Jason

                                                      1. re: zin1953

                                                        But I"m sure when you did it, it wasn't all plonk, right? ;^)
                                                        Assuming that's what they're doing, is this stuff that should be selling for $12-15?

                                                        1. re: Frodnesor

                                                          Depends upon the label . . .

                                                          The "Mario Vincelli" label was nothing but 4.0L jugs and 5.0L boxes.

                                                          The "Lyness Creek" label was priced to compete (read "undercut") with Glen Ellen, and we did Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnya and White Zinfandel. I think these sold for $1.99 back in the 1980s.

                                                          The "Vincelli" label was priced to compete with KJ, etc. We had Cab, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chard, Sauvignon Blanc . . . they sold for, IIRC, $5.99-6.99. We'd get (e.g.) Pinot Noir from Carneros Creek, or Chardonnay from KJ, and bottle it up -- or have it bottled at that winery.

                                                          The "Ashland Park" label we mostly "crafted" by buying wines on the bulk market -- this was the one label that was NOT simply labeled "Calfiornia." We'd do Napa Cabernet, Sonoma Chardonnay, Sonoma Zinfandel, Napa Merlot, etc., etc. These ranged from $9.99-$12.99, IIRC.

                                                          * * * * *

                                                          The French negociant stuff was worse than plonk; it was pure crap! I was pushing to discontinue it as soon as we fulfilled the contract!

                                                          The Italian control label was Casarsa.

                                                          Our Australian control label was -- for a time -- Lindemans. Now that was GOOD! All the "Bin" wines (e.g.: Bin 65 Chardonnay) were $3.99; the high-end wines (Limestone Ridge Cab-Shiraz, St. George Cabernet, Pyrus RTW) were $15.99 . . .

                                                          Cheers,
                                                          Jason

                                                2. re: WineLady

                                                  Care to name some specific examples? Producers? Labels? What Champagne? What California wines? What French, Spanish, German wines???

                                                  Is it just me who's a bit skeptical of someone who's first post is to rave bout a retail franchise that is rather reminiscent of Pierroth . . .

                                                  Are you a satisfied customer of Cork and Olives, or a satisfied employee? Please forgive my skepticism, but I've seen too many people too many times come online and -- under the cover of internet "nicks" (vs. using real names) -- "rave" about a particular store, product, service . . . only later to be discovered as an employee of that particular store, a manufacturer of that particular product, or a provider of that particular service.

                                                  Cheers,
                                                  Jason

                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                    If this place has "exclusives" you would think they wouldn't be so mysterious about the wines they have to offer.

                                                    It seems that as wine consumption rises (zin, you'd know better than me - is it actually increasing, or is it just that entrepeneurs see it as a potential growth industry?) there appear to be any number of businesses that either through ignorance or avarice are all too happy to foist lousy product on unsophisticated customers.

                                                    On my local board there was a post from someone self-described as "no wine expert" about a new "boutique" wine bar that's opened up. He said he had a glass of "Sideways Pinot Noir" there. After much research, it appears that someone did indeed buy up some juice and put it in a bottle, called it "Sideways", and voila ... The only comments I can find on it (at Cellartracker) pretty much concur it's undrinkable and of novelty value only. Not exactly what I'd hope to find at a place purporting to really care about good wine.

                                                    Now maybe my cynicism makes me a wine snob - after all, this guy enjoyed his "Sideways Pinot Noir" and maybe Cork & Olive has incredible knack for finding great wine that every other distributor has mysteriously overlooked. Just seems infinitely more likely to me that people are taking what perhaps ought to be going into a botle of Two Buck Chuck (and being sold at that price), and selling it for $10-20 - the price sounds reasonable to an unsophisticated consumer but probably represents a much greater markup than what it ought to be going for.

                                                    I'm able to find plenty of great wines in that price range without resorting to some franchisor's mysterious "exclusive" wines.

                                                    1. re: Frodnesor

                                                      Bingo. The past two comments mirror what I had eluded to in my original post. I just figured I would do my best to give them the benefit of the doubt.

                                                      -Kevin

                                                3. I live in the Pacific Northwest. When recently visiting friends in Dallas, we went to a boutique wine store. Their prices on certain Northwest wines were a total rip off. Wines that sell here for $14.00 were priced above $40.00. It was obvious they selected smaller, mid-quality wineries that people might not be familiar with and marked them up to the moon. As with all things, buyer beware.