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In your opinion, what defines a great wine shop?


Darrell Gibson
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In your opinion, what defines a great wine shop?

I would like to get your opinions on what differentiates a good wine shop from a great wine shop? The reason I ask this, is because I’m part of a new concept wine store located in the Plano, Texas area and I have never been a part of a wine project this elaborate and grandiose before.

I have to admit, this has turned out to be even more impressive than I had originally anticipated. The "Wine List" runs the gamete of rare and collectible wines from all over the world, which is a veritable "who's who" of wines; however, we also have a huge selection of hand crafted and artisan wines for everyday needs as well.

The store itself is a sight to behold! For lack of a better description, it's like walking into a private cellar of an old French Chateau or Italian Villa, but without all the dust. Then throw in a gourmet cheese selection, specialty steaks, tasting bar and an out of this world "Rare Wine Room."

If you live or work in the North Texas area stop in and take a look! I would love to hear everyone’s comments. We are located on the corner of the Dallas North Parkway and Legacy in "The Shops at Legacy,” two doors down from Fox Sports Grill.

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This is a tough question for me to answer. Of course, you already know this, but you are challenged with appealing to a broad range of tastes, interests, knowledge levels, "luxury budgets," and so forth.

One of the best wine shops I've been to is Chambers Street Wines in New York City. They stock out-of-the-way, hard-to-find, reasonably-priced gems. And -- this is a critical point -- the staff are very knowledgeable.

The "Wine List" runs the gamete of rare and collectible wines from all over the world, which is a veritable "who's who" of wines

Does nothing for me. But may hold a great degree of relevance for current and potential customers in your market.

we also have a huge selection of hand crafted and artisan wines for everyday needs as well

I'm surprised that the opinion of "hand crafted and artisan wines" is restricted to everyday needs.

When it comes right down to it, though, wine is approaching commodity status (if it's not there already). If I want a certain bottle badly enough, there may be plenty of places I can get it -- especially if my state allows me to receive shipments. So how your place (and many others) will differeniate from competitors is in terms of the service you provide your one-time and repeat customers. I'd much rather hear about what your shop does in that regard insteadd of what I find on your shelves. How knowledgeable is your staff? How skilled are they at determine the customer's unarticulated needs? Are they moving product or building relationships? What ancillary services (delivery, storage, education, etc) do you provide?

If you carry wines in your market that I can't get anywhere else, but I have to endure poor service to purchase them, it won't be long before I find another source outside your market, or just decide it isn't worth it.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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To me, a great wine shop is one that has stocked its shelves with genuinely delicious and affordable wines in all the various "flavor profiles". I really don't care where they come from or what the grape is.

There once was a time when I was collecting Bordeaux and Burgundy when I defined a great wine shop as carrying wide selection of the top producers of those wines. But now that the prices are so high, that doesn't interest me any more. Nor does a big selection of low-priced wines from that region.

A great store to me is one that has found light, crisp white wines, plus 'serious', heavy white wines, and then reds in all different styles, all of which are flavorful, balanced, clean, and reasonably (circa $20 or less) priced.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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What a great response loaded with good questions. Both myself and my assistant have past the first exam administer from the Court of Master Sommeliers. I have also recieved my Bachelors Degree from the Culinary Institute of America. Mark on the other hand has the addition of being a Certified Specialist of Wine.

In regards to the service question - I guess I would need to ask what defines great service? We really strive to achieve this, but great service can mean so many things to different people. We try and decipher what type and style of wine a quest is looking for and pick the wine from their.

Relationships in the wine industry is key to our success here. If I've learned anything in the industry over the past nine years - its building trust between the customers and yourself

The store will also be using the rare wine room to double for "Wine Maker Tastings" and educational seminars. we also have complimentary wine tastings on Fridays and Saturadays between 4:00-7:00 PM at our granite countered wine tasting bar.

The gourmet center offers Artisan Bread, specialty cheeses and our nationally exclusive retail sales of Allen Brothers Steaks.

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(Probably don't need this, but) Take care even of the the kids buying $10 wines to impress their dates (and please stock a variety of good value $10-20 wines). And avoid the temptation to push inferior or old product That was me for a long time, and I met any number of snots in wine shops -- and some excellent guys as well. Now, I'm much older and -- due to the expense of children -- still don't drop hundreds and thousands of dollars a shot on wine. But I do spend a reasonable amount and I still remember where I was treated well and spend accordingly.

Corollary: when you've spent a lot of time in wine (or any trade), there's a tendency to lapse into jargon and incomprehensible levels of detail. Brix levels and maloctic fermentation and vineyard soils. The best wine guy I ever went to was actually the stock clerk. He'd say, "we got something in the other day you might like," and we always would. So, remember that in the end people just want a good bottle wine and that we may be slow learners. Telling us "if you like California Syrah, you might also like this CNdP" helps us. Telling us that "this wine spent 18 months in French oak before being...." may be less helpful.

I know that you know all this. But it seems hard for a lot of wine people to remember.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Those are great points. And while I'm not a student looking for a $10 wine, I still would like to find a delicious one from an as-yet undiscovered winery or region - and they're out there. So even at my age, if a store is condescending to me, I'll stop going there.

The other great point made was to get to know what your customers like, even if they don't know how to describe it. If they really like all the Loire valley whites you've recommended, and tell you that they just don't like the tropical California chardonnays you've had them try, that should tell you what you should be steering them to.

There was a huge store near me with one great salesperson, who really knew his wines and his customers. One day when I arrived, he was describing to a customer, a "big", "oakey" chardonnay with lush tropical fruit, and as he saw me behind him listening, he turned to me and said "you would of course absolutely hate it." (The guy got all concerned that somebody might hate the wine he was supposed to like, and then we explained it. I asked him if he likes liver and tongue and he said "yuck", and we explained that he shouldn't expect to like the wines I like either, which he understood.) So paying attention to the feedback you get and steering customers to the wines they will probably enjoy is an important part of the job.

There's another store owner that always, no matter how many times I'd describe what I like and dislike in a wine, and no matter how many bottles I'd report back on not liking, would sell me another wine that he should have know I wouldn't like (that's if he had tasted it). But I discussed this with the guy mentioned above in this post, who told me "I know him, and you know, he just doesn't taste the difference from one wine to another; and he just inherited that store from his father. But I stopped going there.

If you have a love of wine, that's a good start.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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In regards to the service question - I guess I would need to ask what defines great service?

Without going into a dissertation on customer service, it's pretty much knowing your customer/market segments, knowing what each segment requires, meeting those requirements consistently, recovering when mistakes are made, and doing something to build loyalty and positive referrals. Oh, and having a way to tell you how well you're doing at all those things (call it measurement). That's at the macro level, and you've addressed some of that.

At the micro level, it's how is the customer treated. Usually making sure they talk more than you do is a good sign. So asking, listening, recommending without telling, getting to know them. I'd also suggest some way to keep track of what your repeat customers purchased. And if your memory is as good as mine (which means not very), you'll probably need some sort of system for that. And when you know that customer's name on his or her second visit, you've done a good job. That is going to make you great instead of just good.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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http://www.bbr.com/

but you need 300 years of history...

Its not so much the shop (which is really a carpeted warehouse) as the service, and the building up of relationships both with the customers but more importantly the producers over years.

Are you a wine seller, or a wine merchant? A seller just moves wine as a commodity. A wine merchant does it for love of the wine. Is your primary aim to make money, or to break even but enjoy the wine and spread the word?

Brad, as always, is right. Great service is knowing your customer, their tastes and needs better than they do; the ability to find wonderful wines at bargain prices; at the top end managing and storing private cellars right and en primeur offers. Educate your staff - they should have tasted every wine in the place. Always have the right wine in stock, on taste, and deliver the right wine to the right place at the right time and when you said you would.

Its hard to make a living retail; wine is expensive, heavy and perishable.

Inevitably you will be driven to mass market appeal moderately priced wines, or to develop a wholesale trade to restaurants etc.

What special are you bringing to the transaction? Is just having those wines in that part of Texas enough? To be really great you probably need to build relationships with the vinyards and import your own wines that can be found nowhere else within Fedex range, otherwise its too easy in these days of the Internet to find and deal direct with the importer and cut you out.

We are blessed with many good wine merchants here. For example on Tuesday I was at one for a tasting of 2005 Burgundies, cask samples, complete with some of the producers present. I shall be buying some from them of this exceptional vintage.

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If I'm going to become a devoted customer of a wine shop and use it for most of my purchasing:

1. I want to be able to call the store on the phone, say I need a case of white and a case of red for a party, at X price, give a very brief description of the food, and have a wine delivered that will make my guests say "This is so great!"

2. I want a manager to call me when a terrific wine that I'm going to like comes in.

3. I want the store owner to arrange vineyard visits for me when I travel.

4. I want to believe that my wine has been impeccably handled before I bought it.

5. I want to be able to ask for any wine and have the store bend over backwards to find it and get it for me.

6. I don't want loser reps from mass-market wine distributors standing around the store offering me tastes in specimen cups. The only tastes I want are of good wines, and the only people I want to deal with are ones who know what they're talking about.

7. I want Spiegelau glasses cheap, so I can break as many as I like.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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If I'm going to become a devoted customer of a wine shop and use it for most of my purchasing:

1. I want to be able to call the store on the phone, say I need a case of white and a case of red for a party, at X price, give a very brief description of the food, and have a wine delivered that will make my guests say "This is so great!"

2. I want a manager to call me when a terrific wine that I'm going to like comes in.

3. I want the store owner to arrange vineyard visits for me when I travel.

4. I want to believe that my wine has been impeccably handled before I bought it.

5. I want to be able to ask for any wine and have the store bend over backwards to find it and get it for me.

6. I don't want loser reps from mass-market wine distributors standing around the store offering me tastes in specimen cups. The only tastes I want are of good wines, and the only people I want to deal with are ones who know what they're talking about.

7. I want Spiegelau glasses cheap, so I can break as many as I like.

Is there or has there ever been any one shop that's given you no's 1-3? You don't have to name it;

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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For a couple of years in the late 1990s I had that kind of relationship with a store, but no longer. They dropped the ball.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Wow.

Some years ago I was planning a trip to Burgundy (the Cote d'Or), and since I used to shop in a lot of the 'leading' wine stores and knew a lot of the owners (don't get me wrong, I wasn't a big customer, but they had all at one time or another "sold" me on wines), so I decided to ask them where to eat in the region they all claimed to know so well. I heard every excuse in the book, except for one small store in New York, where the owner wrote down the names of several great restaurants there, plus who to ask for, and what to have (and he was right - the meals were great as was the reception) - maybe that's not the same at all, maybe they're not required to know restaurants, but I'm envious that you had winery visits arranged. The best I ever did at a store was #'s 5 and 6.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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I started writing this long post and realized that a great wine shop is simply a great shop. Most of the things I recommended apply equally to jewelery or fine food clothing. Generally, I don't think any wine shop can treat wine like a mass commodity (although some of it is) and be great; there's too much enthusiasm, knowledge, pretention, etc to make that a viable approach for greatness. However, beyond that most of my thoughts apply to what makes a great shop, they all translate beyond the world of wine. Generally, I think that the areas that have the most impact on making a wine (or any) shop either great or horrible are (in order of importance to me): staff customer service skills, staff knowledge and passion, general service, price policy, selection consistancy. Do these things really well, and you're on your way to legendary status, do them horribly, and you're on your way to infamy.

Let's start with Service Skills and Knowledge; in the end, a retail business that bases so much of it's knowledge on customer interaction (as compared with a grocery store where folks generally want and expect to be left alone) requires exceptional floor and back office staff (for obvious reasons). I think this import is hightened for products like wine where 1) many of the customers are VERY knowledgeble and VERY informed and many others are not yet each of them wants to leave the shop with exactly what they want/need. Consider (as others have pointed out) that the wine enthusiast looking for a new find, the party goer in his/her 30s looking for a gift for the host, the young kid looking to impress his date, the couple looking to stock up on dependable wines that are "good" just to have around not only all have different needs, but all need to be approached very differently. Thus, sales and service skills/knowlege come slightly ahead of wine knowledge. Know how to interact with a customer to help him or her understand what they want and help you help them. Also, remember that the most knowledgeable staff member who is either obtuse in his erudition or, even worse, makes the less informed/interested feel intimidated or foolish will ruin the shopping experience far more readily than a moderately informed but customer focused floor member who is interested in helping me get what I want. Likewise, I don't want to go to a wine shop and feel that because I'm not dropping serious coin on a high-end bottle, that I'm a cretin or that my time isn't valuable; I feel that being "upsold" in a wine shop is even worse than being "upsold" in a restaurant (and I hate it in restaurants). Sometimes the right wine is not the most expensive wine.Also, items like wine are sensitive purchases, particularly for folks whose experience/interest is fairly limited; people in a store surrounded by bottles, not knowing the lingo and fearing ending up with a "bad bottle" either as a gift or to drink with dinner, don't need to be pushed into spending more money - I think success here is defined as each customer feeling that they were treated respectfully and individually and that the store was happy to have their business.

Of course, the staff needs the wine knowledge to know and understand wine and to engage with more informed customers in a productive way. One pet peeve I have; walking into a wine store, asking for a recommendation (based on other wines I like, tastes I enjoy, etc) being given one and, when asking more about it being told "oh, it's great" or "it's a really good wine"; tell me about flavours and aromas and finish and mouthfeel, compare it to wines I may know (particularly the ones I used to baseline my request for a recommendation), if it's unexpected (I asked for a Bracchetto and you're suggesting a white Chilean that I've never heard of) tell me WHY it's a recommendation. The only ones who can get away with the "trust me, you'll like it" approach are those that I've done so much business with that I trust their judgment implicitly. As you can imagine, however, those folks are the ones who tend to provide good descriptions and take the time to explain recommendations. Also, don't be afraid to tell me that you don't have what I want; I once went looking for a Moscato D'asti and the salesperson tried to push a Condrieau on me. Granted, Condrieau is a great wine but it's not close to the same wine; I would have left the store with a better impression had they simply said that they didn't have it and that I might look in XXX down the street. When things like this happen, I'm left feeling that either the staff think's I'm an idiot or that they really don't know wine and are just pushing what's on the shelves. The deep wine knowlege also helps with less informed/interested consumers as you need to understand, based on often vague descriptions, what is likely to please someone who only knows they want something "good" or special; asking the right questions (as above) is only as helpful as having the depth of knowledge to translate the answers into solid recommendations. Finally, I rarely see knowledgeble staff that are not also passionate staff. If you have knowledgeble folks, they'll be interested in the product and that interest will come through. Also, for the more regular wine buyer, I want to talk wine with my sales person; you'll get another mixed case out of me if you take a few minutes and talk.

General service is another thing (and where your back office shines); have the capacity to special order, to get that unique bottle or that wedding reception size quanity as needed. Have the (recorded) knowledge of your customers to be able to make custom recommendations and to contact special customers when certain items come in/become available, have staff on hand to help carry large orders out to the car - no wine shop is full service unless it can do these things. Don't forget delivery (if allowed by your state/municipality); a huge boon for those ordering in bulk. Run tastings (as others have said, staff only) and explain what you're tasting and why; be a resource for your customers, not just a vendor. Do run specials and don't make them an excuse to get rid of the garbage in your storeroom. Wine tours, introductions, etc are also nice and I think a necessary service for your best customers at the very least. One positive experience I had in this regard; I had been searching for a particular wine for a long time. It was hard to get (limited production and most of that went to restaurants, etc). I asked my favorite shop if they could get it, they tried and failed (I appreciated the effort they put forth, however). About 8 months later, I was in the shop and the owner came out with a bottle for me. A new distributor had come by, the staff had remembered what I was looking for and managed to get a bottle from him. It was the institutional effort and memory (I wanted the wine, they had already tried and failed, I would have never known if they hadn't tried again) that reminded me why this shop got most of my business. I'll also point out I told dozen's of folks that story and made sure they ALL knew where to find that shop.

Price policy is next: I don't want the cheapest place per se but I don't want to feel like I'm paying a huge mark up in exchange for good service. If you have good wines and good staff then I'll gladly pay more but only to a point. I think this is more important for regular wine consumers who have a sense of prices and know when the mark ups are approaching restaurant level. Fair prices will ensure that you have repeat business and will help reduce "13th bottle syndrome".

I put selection last because it's a double edged sword; so much good wine is being made now that most half-way decent shops have "good wine", also, it's impossible to have everything - heck, it's even difficult to compete with the "wine superstores (Sam's in Chicago, Martingetti's in Boston, etc); of course, you don't need everything, just enough. Rare wines on hand are less important; I want to know you can GET them (as above) but I'm willing to wait a few days/weeks/months (depending on how special or how rare). I know few people who walk into a wine store off the street and need a case of '82 Petrus asap. I'd rather know that I can get a good selection of everyday and "special" wines. Also, be consistent in your selections. Don't have a great selection of little known Italian's one month than be strictly high-availablity wines from across the world the next. I like a shop that has a bit of a specialization (particularly good at one region, varietal, etc) but it needs to be consistant (this is less of an issue with bigger stores).

The rest of the stuff (a cheese counter, fancy foods, even crystal) are nice but I can't think of a single wine shop I consider "great" where those items even enter into the consdieration (which is not to say that these thing's aren't welcome). One of my favorite wine shops has these things, another doesn't; they're both great to my mind.

As always, Fat Guy put it as well as anyone and much of what I wrote is just more blather that fits into his brief, efficient list.

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There are also two things I don't need:

1. I don't need a huge selection. It's not relevant to me. I'm just as happy -- probably happier -- for a shop to have just one example of a particular region or whatever, provided I have confidence that the shop has already selected the best example for me. I mean, you take some big-ass wine shop that has four moderately priced Cotes-du-Rhone at the exact same price, yet the salesperson tells me one of them is clearly the best -- that just makes me want to know why the shop bothers stocking the other three. Why should I pay for the shop to be four times as big as it needs to be?

2. I don't need nice premises. My favorite wine shop, K&D on Madison Avenue between 95th and 96th Streets in Manhattan, is pretty much a dump. They fixed it up a little bit a couple of years ago but it still lags far behind the nice places (Sherry-Lehmann, Morrell) in appearance. But I've got to assume that means my favorite shop is paying less for real estate -- and I'm not interested in subsidizing any more real estate costs than are needed to house the wine I'm going to drink somewhere else.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Interestingly, there's not a bad piece of advice on this thread.

Reading it and pondering it, I had some thoughts. Regarding selection, I think that it's not possible for a store to have a trimmed selection and please everybody. Why I say that is that for sure a store could have a limited selection, and if the wine buyer for the store shared my own (eclectic) tastes, it'd be a great store for me, but probably not for another person, and a store in which another person loved every selection might well not have wines that appeal to me.

And in fact, I've simply never found any one store (in the tri-state NYC area) that I could limit myself to. So in my travels around the region (I always stop in wine stores wherever I go, though perhaps not every small one), I always look, always ask questions, and always buy trial bottles of the wines I think will do for me. (The best I've ever found is that I know that certain stores will usually have whites I'll like, and others reds.)

But then I call what may actually be my "favorite" wine store, which is actually located within a supermarket, and I fax them over the names and info on the wines I've liked from my forays that I want cases of, and they track them down, which is sometimes not easy, and order them and call me when they come in. I hadn't quite realized it, but their willingness to do this probably makes them my favorite. Otherwise, to choose a favorite, I'd probably have to go back and figure what store over the years has had the most wines I've subsequently gotten cases of it, and there wouldn't be a clear-cut winner.

So in the sprit of this thread, my advice to the original poster is to be very willing to take special orders.

And for sure, carry Spiegelau glasses.

As far as meats and cheeses, to my jaded thinking, it's unlikely that you'll carry what I like, but heck, I'd be thrilled if you even came close with the wines. The chances that any store could become my one-stop-shopping for wine, cheese, and meat are too slim for me, and personally, I'd advise you to concentrate on just one thing, but that's just one man's opinion for sure.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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There are also two things I don't need:

1. I don't need a huge selection. It's not relevant to me. I'm just as happy -- probably happier -- for a shop to have just one example of a particular region or whatever, provided I have confidence that the shop has already selected the best example for me. I mean, you take some big-ass wine shop that has four moderately priced Cotes-du-Rhone at the exact same price, yet the salesperson tells me one of them is clearly the best -- that just makes me want to know why the shop bothers stocking the other three. Why should I pay for the shop to be four times as big as it needs to be?

2. I don't need nice premises. My favorite wine shop, K&D on Madison Avenue between 95th and 96th Streets in Manhattan, is pretty much a dump. They fixed it up a little bit a couple of years ago but it still lags far behind the nice places (Sherry-Lehmann, Morrell) in appearance. But I've got to assume that means my favorite shop is paying less for real estate -- and I'm not interested in subsidizing any more real estate costs than are needed to house the wine I'm going to drink somewhere else.

I agree that a wine shop is in, very many ways, no different than any other retail business. The shops that know who they are and who their customers are and can satisfy those customers will most likely, be successful. this is business 101.

I also believe that in the words of that retailing genius, Sy Simms, "an educated consumer is our best customer." I do not meant that a customer need to know a lot about wine. Rather, the customer needs to know how to be a "good" customer/consumer.

Good personnel can help a customer become a good customer--being able to determine what that customer is looking for and providing it while making that customer comfortable with the process.

Some random observations--

if a customer visits a wine shop when the shop is not very busy then odds are that customer will benefit from more attention from the staff. This is the time to ask for help with a trip to wine country or Paris or whatever or to get more in depth information about wine.

I agree with most of what FG says, however, decor, or lack thereof, often has little to do with prices, especially in Manhattan which is a highly competitive market. One can find examples of very low prices and higher prices in every wine shop in New York and what some people may think is a "high end" swanky shop because of its amenities are often wrong.

Most wine shops are, despite the internet and any national business, local businesses. They serve a neighborhood. Most of their business will be from a ten block radius in Manhattan or within easy driving distance in less populated areas.

There are two kinds of wine shops emerging today. The very large "wine warehouse" attempting to serve a very large area. Most of these places can have very helpful staff and provide good service but as they are trying to draw a very large number of people from a very wide ranging area and are less focused on the people who live next door they are probably less likely to try to cultivate you as a regular customer for that one or two bottles of inexpensive wine you may buy twice a week.

The "local" wine shop wants to be your friendly neighborhood store and wants (needs) you to be happy and return often. They want to cultivate a relationship with you.

Here in Manhattan where there is fairly intense competition, many wine shops offer in store tastings and many have tasting rooms and hold or sponsor events--tastings, dinners, lectures and education etc.

As a consumer, know what you are comfortable with. Know your priorities. How much do you know about wine, do you want to learn more , how much assistance do you want? What kind of relationship, if any, with a wine shop do you want?

Finally, in any competitive market, there is not a lot of money in being the local wine shop. Profit margins are fairly low. Salespersons are not paid very much to sell a fairly complex product. It is very hard to find motivated people who have a combination of wine knowledge and possess good sales ability.

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About those Spiegelau glasses: don't just stock them; get them into people's homes. Have so many of them around that customers don't think twice about buying six at a time. Don't treat them as luxury objects. Heck, figure out a way to give them away for free. I guarantee you, once people have really good glasses in their homes they'll DRINK MORE WINE.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Interestingly, there's not a bad piece of advice on this thread.

Reading it and pondering it, I had some thoughts.  Regarding selection, I think that it's not possible for a store to have a trimmed selection and please everybody.  Why I say that is that for sure a store could have a limited selection, and if the wine buyer for the store shared my own (eclectic) tastes, it'd be a great store for me, but probably not for another person, and a store in which another person loved every selection might well not have wines that appeal to me.

And in fact, I've simply never found any one store (in the tri-state NYC area) that I could limit myself to.  So in my travels around the region (I always stop in wine stores wherever I go, though perhaps not every small one), I always look, always ask questions, and always buy trial bottles of the wines I think will do for me.  (The best I've ever found is that I know that certain stores will usually have whites I'll like, and others reds.)

But then I call what may actually be my "favorite" wine store, which is actually located within a supermarket, and I fax them over the names and info on the wines I've liked from my forays that I want cases of, and they track them down, which is sometimes not easy, and order them and call me when they come in.  I hadn't quite realized it, but their willingness to do this probably makes them my favorite.  Otherwise, to choose a favorite, I'd probably have to go back and figure what store over the years has had the most wines I've subsequently gotten cases of it, and there wouldn't be a clear-cut winner.

So in the sprit of this thread, my advice to the original poster is to be very willing to take special orders.

And for sure, carry Spiegelau glasses.

As far as meats and cheeses, to my jaded thinking, it's unlikely that you'll carry what I like, but heck, I'd be thrilled if you even came close with the wines.  The chances that any store could become my one-stop-shopping for wine, cheese, and meat are too slim for me, and personally, I'd advise you to concentrate on just one thing, but that's just one man's opinion for sure.

It is illegal for any wine shop in New York State to sell food of any kind. I can understand a wine shop selling meats and cheeses in less populated areas of the country but like wine, cheese is a very complex item to sell and frankly, there's no need for it in New York. We are lucky to have many great cheese shops!

As for glasses, many wine shops here sell one brand or the other. Ravenscroft, Riedel Spiegelau etc. As well as other wine related items: decanters, corkscrews , even wine books. It is hard enough stocking and selling wine so the less emphasis on these things the better. Frankly, most places (exempting high end food courts) I have visited (mostly in NJ) that sell wine do not do a very good job with the cheeses.

As for special orders. Most wine shops will do this. In fact, many places often carry only a few bottles of a given wine. Getting a case or two or three often involves calling a distributor and having delivered to the shop who then send it along to the customer.

Most wine shops will be happy to track down a wine they don't carry and order it for you. Again, this involves minimal phone work and effort. Anytime a wine shop can sell wine they do not have to stock in quantity (or stock at all) is a chance to make a profit with very little effort.

When I was getting married I was buying the wines for the reception at a very high end shop here in NY (Morrell) I wanted a particular wine they did not carry. They informed me they had a similar wine from another producer but if I insisted on a specific producer they did not have, they would be happy to get it for me.

Edited by JohnL (log)
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I am a very run-of-the-mill wine shopper. I spend about $150 a month on wines, seldom spending over $15 per bottle, usually less. I like to try the recommendations of the 'wine guy', but I also fall back on those bottles that I know I love. My shop sells cheeses (it's a Spec's) and meats and they usually have samples out, which I like. I'm apt to buy at least one of them. Just make sure they're not available at the local grocery store. Make sure your staff leaves me alone if I say I'm just looking, but is available if I have a question or need a recommendation. (Don't disappear.) I don't like a lot of open cartons stacked on the floor that I have to dodge. Throw those Spiegelaus on sale now and then. Have some big maps so I can see exactly the difference between Burgundy and Bordeaux, Tuscany and Pulia. As you can tell, I'm not a wine geek, just an average drinker.

How far off I-35 are you? We are through there fairly often. I'd love to stop.

Stop Family Violence

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My favourite wine merchants don;t have a shop, or if they do its minimal.

Its more like going to someones home (it is for some), discussing wine over a tasting glass or three, ordering and the wine arrives later that day or the next day. Most of their business is online, and the wine is held in a proper cellar, or in bond.

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My favourite wine merchants don;t have a shop, or if they do its minimal.

Its more like going to someones home (it is for some), discussing wine over a tasting glass or three, ordering and the wine arrives later that day or the next day. Most of their business is online, and the wine is held in a proper cellar, or in bond.

Well--who are they?

This is an interesting take on the way British wine merchants operated

long ago-- specifically with Bordeaux.

(without the on line aspect of course).

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It is illegal for any wine shop in New York State to sell food of any kind.

Vintage New York does and is allowed to. They're able to operate under a different set of regulations, because all the wines they sell are produced within the state.

Also, there are several places that integrate wine shops with food shops pretty closely, though they're technically two different stores. Visit Stew Leonard's in Yonkers to see this arrangement in action.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It is illegal for any wine shop in New York State to sell food of any kind.

Vintage New York does and is allowed to. They're able to operate under a different set of regulations, because all the wines they sell are produced within the state.

Also, there are several places that integrate wine shops with food shops pretty closely, though they're technically two different stores. Visit Stew Leonard's in Yonkers to see this arrangement in action.

Another example of this that does a very nice job is Putnam Wine and Putnam Market on Broadway in Saratoga Springs.

I don't have anything else to add to the superb advice offered here. The most important things are to know the wines, know your customers and know how to get to know your customers.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

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It is illegal for any wine shop in New York State to sell food of any kind.

Vintage New York does and is allowed to. They're able to operate under a different set of regulations, because all the wines they sell are produced within the state.

Also, there are several places that integrate wine shops with food shops pretty closely, though they're technically two different stores. Visit Stew Leonard's in Yonkers to see this arrangement in action.

Another example of this that does a very nice job is Putnam Wine and Putnam Market on Broadway in Saratoga Springs.

I don't have anything else to add to the superb advice offered here. The most important things are to know the wines, know your customers and know how to get to know your customers.

yes, I have been to Stews also Whole Foods is another example.

Stew's wine operation is legally a separate operation (O and O) from Stew's food enterprise--they note this in their fliers.--again exploiting the loopholes.

I have never visited "Vintage New York"--where is it?

I think I did make mention of "food courts" often food and wine in close proximity.

I do not know the specifics of the law, but basically selling food in a wine shop is a no no.

Also of interest is no one can own more than one retail wine shop.--some have gotten around this by various loopholes but you can't have two Sherry Lehmann's for eg.

Silly and not in the best interest of the consumer or the retail business--but then again we are better off than to be in Philadelphia! :wink:

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I have never visited "Vintage New York"--where is it?

They have three stores:

SOHO

482 Broome Street

Corner of Wooster

SoHo, NYC 10013

212-226-9463

UPPER WEST SIDE

2492 Broadway @ 93rd St

New York, NY 10025

212-721-9999

HUDSON VALLEY

at Rivendell Winery

714 Albany Post Road

New Paltz, NY 12561

845-255-2494

http://www.vintagenewyork.com/homepage.html

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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