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Mar 16, 2008 04:11 PM

Trader Joe's Wine at Restaurants?

Had dinner at Fleur de Lys (which is way upscale) on Friday and my wine pairing for the first course was a Trimbach Pinot Gris I have seen at Trader Joe's a number of times for around $15. That was the cost for a glass there. Might have to grab a bottle and give it a try!

Anybody else seen TJ's wines at restaurants?

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  1. First of all, Trimbach is NOT "Trader Joe's wine." Trimbach is a producer of OUTSTANDING wines from Alsace, France that was founded in 1626. I think that pre-dated the establishment of Trader Joe's . . . .

    Secondly, ANY licensed retail store and/or restaurant can buy wine from a licensed wholesaler.

    The difference is that there exists a tiny, Tiny, TINY!!! number of so-called "control" labels that a particular retailer commits to purchasing is such a large quantity that the wine is "exclusive" to their store(s). These are wines that are bottled under a particular name, and that retailer/retail chain "controls" the rights to that name over the length of the contract. These are different from "private" labels, where the store itself OWNS the rights to the label, and no one else can use it without the permission of the retailer.

    "Trader Darwin's vitamins" are an example of a private label. "Charles Shaw" is an example of a control label.

    "Trimbach" is an example of a wine.


    18 Replies
    1. re: zin1953

      Sorry, I did not mean to state that this was a TJ's label. Well aware of the heritage. Just used to TJ's having largely second rate/unknown wines and thought this was interesting...

      1. re: jjrzut

        Trader Joe's began some 40 years ago and genuinely focused on having three types of wines ONLY: 1) "private" labels, 2) "control" labels, and 3) close-outs. In this, they were extremely successful. Then, they added some brand name Champagnes -- especially around the year-end holidays.

        This led, about 10-15 years ago, to expanding their wine selection beyond merely the "Big Three" above, and into carrying wines that "everyone else" carried, too -- like Trimbach, Kendall-Jackson, Robert Mondavi, Perrin, etc., etc., etc., etc.


        1. re: zin1953

          I recall in the mid-late 80's that each store had more choice over what wine they carried. I purchased the 1982 Dunn Cabernet at the Pasadena store on Arroyo Parkway. I don't remember if it was the Howell Mountain or Napa bottling but it was definitely Dunn. All wines were priced at 20% off retail and they had quite a good selection of boutique wines. Not too long after that, the selection got much poorer and the explanation I got was that they were purchased by some large German company that standardized the wine purchases, and took away the individual store purchasing discretion.

        2. re: jjrzut

          while i appreciate zin's post, i think it was fairly clear that you were not implying it was a private/controlled tj's label wine.

        3. re: zin1953


          The OP didn't say or suggest that the Trimbach was a TJs private (or control) label wine, but rather that the wine was available at TJs. I don't think anybody is confusing Trimbach with Charles Shaw.

          The interesting question is which wines that are sold at TJs are on the wine lists at expensive restaurants. Especially given that there are those who would prefer to purchase a bottle at retail and pay corkage than to pay restaurant prices for a similar bottle (recognizing that it's bad form to bring in a bottle that's on the wine list).

          Of course, the ideal restaurant wine list contains bottles at a variety of price points that are dramatically different than what you can buy in the grocery store. For example, one of my favorite local restaurants recently came up with a couple of cases of a moderately-priced '94 Rioja from a house I'd never heard of. It was sublime.

          But many if not most restaurants also have wines from the likes of Beringer and Kendall Jackson on their lists. Why not ask whether you can buy the same stuff at Trader Joe's for a fraction of the price?



          1. re: alanbarnes

            Alan, the restaurants I'm familiar with that do allow you to bring in your own wine and pay corkage, do not allow any wines brought in that are on their list. Not even a different vintage, unless substantially older. So <Especially given that there are those who would prefer to purchase a bottle at retail and pay corkage than to pay restaurant prices for a similar bottle> is not an option, never mind that it would be extremely gauche.

            1. re: ChefJune

              Please read my post. I never suggested that anyone should bring in a bottle that's on the wine list. In fact, I specifically noted that it would be bad form to do so.

          2. re: zin1953

            Control Brands/Private lables are making big in-roads in traditional retail. Cost Plus, Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, Albertsons, all use these to some degree. Total Wine, a retailer based in the mid-atlantic coming on like a steamroller, does more than 50% of their sales in control brands - they just opened their first CA store a month ago, and I've heard plans for as many as thirty locations in the Golden State

            1. re: Sam B

              Control- and private-labels have a very long history and tradition, even in California. Safeway, Ralph's, Lucky, and all the major supermarket chains in California have long had private labels as a part of their alcoholic beverage sales.

              When I was one of the wine buyers for Liquor Barn (a 104-store chain that operated from the late 1970s into the early 1990s), we had Mario Vincelli, Vincell, Lyness Creek, Ashland Park -- all as private labels for various California wines. We had at least that number of various control labels from various co-operatives and producers in France, Spain, Italy, Germany -- heck we even had Lindemans of Australia as a control label for several years!


              1. re: zin1953

                Exactly - control and private labels have a long history especially in CA, but retailers historically had only moderate success with them. Over the last few years, they have resurfaced with surprising success, and now account for more than a tiny, tiny, number.

                1. re: Sam B

                  I would disagree, Sam, and though I realize that all things are relative, would offer the following examples:

                  We at Liquor Barn were -- at our high-point -- a chain of 104 stores and sales revenues of $330+ million. In addition to the private- and control-labels I mentioned above on wine (and sparkling wine, too), we also had at least one (and sometimes two) for vodka, gin, Scotch, single malt Scotch, Bourbon, tequila, rum and more. Not only did these labels account for a sizeable profit each year, in terms of hard dollars, but the profit margin on these labels were considerably higher than on comparable "branded goods" in the store.

                  Trader Joe's wine sales were BUILT on a combination of private- and control-labeled wines and spirits, coupled with the occasional close-out. Indeed while I worked up in the Napa Valley, nearly every sizeable producer I knew sold wines off to TJs -- just to close out that vintage as the new one (or sometimes two) were ready for release. The expression, "That's why God invented Trader Joe's" was well known in the valley -- later replaced with "That's why God invented Texas," but that's another story.

                  Even my uncle, as early as the 1950s, had private labelled vodka, gin, Bourbon, Scotch and rum -- no wines -- for sale in half-pints, pints, fifths, quarts, and half-gallons. And at that time, he had but one store! In the 1960s and 1970s, he also had a couple of (now well-known) Chateauneuf-du-Papes, including Chateau Maucoil, and Mailly Champagne as control labels, and he used to buy Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars for his own private label . . . until they started their own "Hawk Crest" brand.


                  1. re: zin1953

                    Perhaps we can agree to disagree on the definition of moderate.

                    And yes, Liquor Barn was a powerhouse- largest wine retailer in the US prior to its bankruptcy. How times have changed

                    The point I was trying to make is that the house brand/private label/control brand/temporary exclusive/call it what you will business has grown tremendously over the last decade, both here and abroad, and is anything but tiny. It is indeed huge.

              2. re: Sam B

                could you list the names of the big stores' private or control labels, e.g., for the wine of harris teeter?

                1. re: alkapal

                  Who (or what) is "harris teeter"?

                  1. re: zin1953

                    It's a grocery store - mostly in the South, I believe, including the DC area. The one in New Bern, NC has a quite a good wine selection. Didn't realize they had "house" wines.

                  2. re: alkapal

                    The list would be lengthy, with most major retailers having multiples, but just a few examples...

                    House Brands - e.g. Costco/Kirkland, Whole Foods/365, Tesco/Own

                    Control/Private Brands -

                    Safeway -Diablo Creek
                    TJ's - Charles Shaw
                    Cost Plus - Foodies, Aaku
                    BevMo - Shiloh Road, Gina
                    Harris Teeter - Oak Creek, FishEye (since gone broad market)
                    Kroger - Arrow Creek, Parker's Estate
                    Albertson's - Q, Origen
                    7-11 - Thousand Oaks
                    Target - Wine Cube
                    Total Wine - too many to mention

                    1. re: Sam B

                      thanks sam! could people also list famous wineries and their "second tier" brands, as mentioned above (stag's leap makes hawk's crest).

              3. When the boom was red-hot and the stock market was roaring in the late 1990's, the TJ's in San Francisco that I shop at regularly had 1st growth Bordeaux's in stock.

                In retrospect, that should have been a tip-off that the good times were soon to come to an end!

                Also, don't forget that you can buy some VERY high-end wine these days at Costco. Image is NOT everything!