Monday, January 7, 2013

Now It's Back to Work!


By Randy Kemner, Proprietor

This past holiday season—our 18th—is finally over and it’s back to work discovering and sharing beverages that will hopefully make life more enjoyable.
That is what we’ve tried to do for all our years in business, and I think we’ve succeeded opening people up to the joys of wines like those coming from the Loire Valley and Provence, Piedmont and the Veneto, Rioja and sherry and from those vintner-adventurers in California and Washington who aren’t in the wine biz, but who make it their business to produce wines of character and place.

It hasn’t been easy, as the trend lines all point to expansion, consolidation and standardization of wine, all things that are opposite of what drew us to love wine in the first place. 

The artisan who respects the vintage produces wines that reflect the variations of nature, and those are the wines I’m personally drawn to.  The adventure of pulling out a cork and not knowing exactly how that wine will taste in a particular setting (a meal, an occasion, a sequence of flavors) is what arouses our passions, while the manufactured, market-tested, industrial wine dulls our senses. 

The latter is what you find most in chain stores because the chains need a large and constant supply of product, as if a vintner can produce quality grapes year ‘round.  
 
And that is where The Wine Country begins to look better and better. 
 
All kinds of places sell wine in California, even pharmacy chains and convenience stores.  In short, there is a lot of competition out there.  But most of it comes from large chains. 
 
Whenever I visit my local supermarket or chain liquor store I am struck by how few of the items on their shelves appear at The Wine Country.  As each famous winery was bought up by a corporate conglomerate, its wines got more formulaic, and we simply let them go.  The roster of great wineries of the past doing mediocre work is rather shocking and ultimately saddens me.
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The chains employ a lot of marketing tricks to lure customers in, but savvy shoppers know when a deal is too good to be true.  For example, a couple of supermarket chains have been heavily promoting a 30% off policy.  Are they really selling their wine at cost?  Hardly.  If their base price is jacked way up, 30% off becomes a mild discount relative to other stores.  Mediocre wine at a mild discount is no deal.
 
The most infamous non-deal “deal” is the heavily advertised 5-cent sale.  Who can resist the lure of a bottle of wine that costs only a nickel?  But think about it.  Do you really think they’re giving wine away while paying huge sums to promote their wines in expensive multi-media ad campaigns? 
 
Yet people still think it’s a deal to pay twice as much for the first bottle of barely adequate wine in order to save on the second. 
 
Another liquor chain advertises “The Selection is Ridiculous,” to which I say amen.  It is ridiculous to offer 600 mediocre Chardonnays.  Consumers have been conditioned to believe the more items a store has means more choices for their customers, but 600 lackluster wines is no selection.  It’s a roster.
 
“Selection” means the products have been selected for a reason.  A low price is one reason—something that takes on more significance in a challenging economy.  Familiarity with a product logo is another, comforting for those who rarely venture out in new directions. 
 
But selection is also what a fine wine store does to winnow out the ordinary stuff, and replace it with wines, beers and spirits with individual character and breed.  That is our competitive advantage.  And that is why an independent wine store is crucial to the community of wine lovers.  It is why we all exist in the first place.

I, and each member of my staff, want our customers to be rewarded for making the extra time to seek us out.  It’s my pledge that we will continue to offer even more excellent products at fair prices in the coming year and in the years ahead.

1 comment:

Samantha Dugan said...

Randy,
I think something Andy said to me the other day kind of sums it up. We were talking about what it has been like for him to sell wine, his first year and all, and he said, "Once it occurred to me that the wines we have here are better, even the little inexpensive $10 wines, than what 95% of people have ever had, well it made making recommendations that much easier"....thing is, not to toot our own "whatevers" but, he's right. Makes our job so much easier and more fun to have the gems and rare treats in the form of Chinon and Fino Sherry, that most people have never tried. Turning them on and having them come back, like that couple for that Vouvray Tendre, the way the wigged out and even their non wine drinking friends loved it and asked for more. They thank me, profusely, but I was thanking them too, for making it fun and being open, trusting us. Very cool and I think you for letting me be a part of your team!