I wish I could be the Gordon Ramsey of Wine Shops.

Went into a wine shop yesterday in and around union square while I was waiting to meet my wife for dinner. I don’t often go into other wine shops. I’m not sure why. It’s not a competition thing. I am confident enough in our selection of wine. Maybe it’s that I just feel bad scouring the shelves really looking at every bottle, assessing the inventory probably looking like a discerning customer with a lamb roast waiting at home to paired with the perfect bottle and this is the place that will have it…only to walk out.

I felt bad for a minute

The indications for wine regions were all off by a shelf, therefore, where it said Spain there was still a couple of Italian mixed in. The California wine didn’t seem to have a place because beyond the Cali “section” where lone shelves with Cali wines. They seemed so lonely and out of the way grappling for identity. My favorite was the section that was labeled “French Pinot Noir” and had one Louis Jadot and the rest was from New Zealand and California yet there were New Zealand and California sections elsewhere. It was so confusing and this is my industry.

I had fifteen minutes until my wife showed up so I decided to test the wine knowledge of the staff. Nothing crazy just some general questions they should absolutely know the answer to.

The poor soul that had asked me if I needed any help when I waked in was still milling around with an energy that said I do not want to be here. I don’t get paid enough for this kind of stress. I walked up to him and took him up on his previous offer.

My first question was to ask where the Southern French wines were because these are the wines that help the customer feel a sense of self-enrichment. They are drinking an amazing red or white wine that cost them less than twenty bucks and if they are with friends and are a novice, wines from this area of the world mostly still have the classic French labels that look all old school and fun to have on a table. They also have great complex flavors for all kinds of dishes and are usually crowd pleasers.

I sadly followed the poor guy around the shop as he hemmed and hawed looking at every shelf and then smiled at me saying no he did not think he had any. Really? Too bad. To have a shop like this and not have great affordable wines from the Languedoc- Roussillon (Faugeres, St. Chinian) or Provence or Bergerac makes one think it’s all about the liquor pints my man.

Next question. Okay so they did not have Southern French wine. If I had that lamb waiting where would I go next? For giggles and shits I then asked about the French Pinot Noir selection. He did a bee line straight to the afore mentioned labeled section feeling very proud of himself and smiling pointed to the wines on the shelf. He even grabbed a bottle and handed it to me…it was a Kim Crawford New Zealand Marlborough Pinot. I wouldn’t have said anything to him after showing me this section if the dude had not done the deed of putting the polar opposite of a “French Pinot Noir” in my hand. I pointed out that this was a New Zealand wine and he just stared at the bottle and then me and then the shelf. Reality set in as, I think, he realized the majority of the wines in the “French Pinot Noir” section were from places other than France.

Time was ticking and I had one more question. I asked him where the California wines were. This guy was desperate at this point to get something right so he bolted straight for the shelves labeled California. I followed him and began to gaze at the shelves. My eyes shifted to the left past the Organic section and the Kosher section to the back corner of the shop and asked him what those wines were because they didn’t have a label in the section. Dude had to go over there and confirm what the wine was only to come back not tell me they were California wines but that he didn’t know where they were from! Imagine going into Barnes and Noble and the shelves are mislabeled and nothing is where it should be like Fiction spilling into World History and such. It would be maddening.

Take the time to reorganize. Make a night of it. Pop a bottle and put on some music and redo the whole thing. Make sure the sections are right. Really make sure. If you don’t know the wine that well have the reps drop off shelf talkers and either put them on the shelf or have them behind the register to look at every once in a while to have some good selling points. Give a shit. Fire people that don’t. This city is filled with men and women that want to learn more about wine and need jobs. Get someone in there that has fervor and will eventually maybe help improve the selection process.

How am I not supposed to be upset at the possibility that the New York government will allow wine to be sold in supermarkets when there are wine shops that buy wine on price and name and not quality. Most of these joints have a lot of booze, which is their moneymaker. The surrounding wine selection seems mostly to be decoration for the store. Put a Stag’s Leap in there. Make sure there is a Chateau Something in the Bordeaux section. And dump all the wine you know is crap up near the register in pretty wooden crates saying value. And we wonder why people don’t know how to really get into wine.

This city has a discerning palate. Having a restaurant and following the trends you see New Yorkers taste and cringe or taste and swoon and either way everyone knows about it. It is great. But when it comes to wine retail things get a little different. Having a wine shop I see that wine is harder to wrap ones head around. We are little more daring here in the Big Apple when it comes to food. We will try just about anything and pay high prices for it. Kobe beef burgers…need I say more.

For some reason wine makes people pause and second-guess themselves. And I believe places like the one I endured this week have contributed to this lack of confidence and it is my life goal to bring that confidence back.

So this is why I am glad to see that the bill to put wine in grocery store across our great state has been taken of the table. There are rumors that it will be back in the summer and we will just have to see what happens. If it ever does pass I will consider it a challenge like running a restaurant in a cutthroat market or having a wine shop on the edge of Alphabet City. Bring it on. I don’t think it’s a good idea but I am here to show New York that wine does not have to be expensive to be good and that it is the job of the wine merchant not the customer to make sure wine is accessible from the minute one walks into a wine shop to that last drop in the wine glass after dinner or at the pinnacle of the party. We work hard and we deserve better.

If you find that one of these shops is the only thing in your area stick to Chilean and Portuguese wine. If the merchant is buying on price and name only the deals will be in these sections. France and Italy are a gamble as is California unless you recognize the name and know the wine of course. If there is a Southern French wine section with the labels Languedoc–Rousillon, Southwest France or Provence then you can have a little fun. These are mostly great old world wines that tend to be medium bodied and herbaceous with some nice complexity.

Wine To The People!


9 responses to this post.

  1. Hey –

    Dig your blog and your point of view – but i have to disagree with your opinion on grocery store wine. I am in San Francisco, and it seems to be working just fine out here – why is NY so special? I love NYC and used to live there, but get over yourselves already.

    So, its ok for a joke store like the one you visited to exist and sell wine, but not ok for a gorcery store chain? I don’t get that. So, its not ok for Gristides to sell $12 Brancott Sauvignon Blanc, but it is ok for the corner grocery store to have a license and sell it for $18+?

    Here is the fact that seems to work in every other state, but since NY thinks its so special – it may not get through: If you have a good store, with interesting wines and good service, you will make it. If you suck, you will be exposed, and you will go out of business. That is a free market system.

    Let those crappy stores like the one you visited go out of business – and let the supermarkets sell the bulk wine that clearly has an audience. People like you and me will seek out the good stores with the good wine and the free market system will decide.

    Wine Educator
    San Francisco


    • Posted by evwgnyc on April 4, 2009 at 2:48 pm

      This is great! Thanks for the thoughtful comments.
      It’s not that I feel we in New York are so special. It is more than that. It is about the compition. As I said in the latter part of the post. I will endure whatever may come. But being a wine shop owner that cares deeply about helping people understand wine as well as have great wine experiences it seems a bit ridiculous that the grocers of this state would have a hand my world when they just don’t care. My parents live in Hilton Head South Carolina. A pretty well to do community. There are a couple of very cool little wine shops that offer the passion side of wine. My mother is always asking me what to buy and I always point her in the direction of these little stores. Yet no matter how hard I try she still calls me from Sam’s Club asking me which bottles to get. They just won’t go the extra mile. Since the new year one of these stores has closed. My worry goes beyond the city and to Rye and Rochester.

      It would be fine in the evolution of things. Everything balances out. There would be an initial spike in grocer wine sales then it would plateau as the media scorned it for a while and people start to realize what is good or bad. And how long would that take? I am just happy with the way things are and don’t want to have to deal with the challenge right now in this economy. There is a Whole Foods Near my shop and as much as I don’t want to admit it this threatens my small business. And that what this is about. Supermarkets don’t need more money and I am not sure how this is even going to close the New York budget gap. There is a lot more going on out here than you may understand. These crappy wine shops are not wine shops. They are liquor stores decorated with wine. And they are not going anywhere anytime soon as long there are people buying pints of Dewar’s. And they have best locations. They are on Avenues and main traffic areas.

      I could go on but this response would turn into a post in itself. Thank you for the debate. This is healthy for the wine world to discuss the evolution of our wine culture.



  2. I enjoyed reading of your wine shop adventure. I am afraid that shops like that one you describe as lacking in passion and inspiration may be more of the norm in the industry that we would like to think. Shops like yours, I think, are the bright exceptions. If we had more people in wine retail that were driven by the ideas of excellence and customer service there would be a very different wine landscape in NY.

    As I finished reading about your wine shop experience, I was expecting that you might make a comment how more competition in the marketplace, such as wine sold in food stores that already have a track record of featuring and supporting local farmers and high quality food purveyors, might serve to improve the wine selection and service to our consumers. But your comment was you comments seem to express an opposite view. I would love to better understand the factors and though processes behind you perspective.
    David Whiting


  3. …But your comments seem to express an opposite view. I would love to better understand the factors and thought processes behind your perspective.

    Oops! Things look different when released to the full page from the little tiny comment box. : )


  4. And the debate rolls on…will be in NYC tomorrow (Sunday) and on east coast most of the next 6 weeks – am looking forward to checking out your shop and In Vino



  5. Posted by Aimee on April 6, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    All excellent points Dan. So if so many of the small liquor stores ( and I agree these are NOT wine shops they are liquor stores that sell a lot of boxed wines and liquor and a very small percentage of quality wine ) can’t get the customer service end right why should they keep their monopoly of the wine industry?

    1. Know the answers to common questions and if you don’t know FIND OUT.

    2. Clean and organize the stores ( NO the Mom in Hilton Head does not want to go into a dirty, dark “liquor store”. This is common in New York State. She is comfortable in a clean, brightly lit Sam’s Club. Then why can’t she buy a bottle of wine there if she lives in New York State?

    3. Check customers I.D.s. My son turned 21 in October and has been asked exactly once to show his I.D. and that was in Wegman’s to buy beer, but not by the local liquor stores. Do your job!!!!

    And last but certainly not least…

    4. Support and endorse New York products. There are wonderful, world class wines produced in New York State. Stock them and sell them. Maybe then New York wineries wouldn’t need other places, like grocery stores, to sell their wines just to be able to survive.

    I love a great bottle of Sangiovese from Italy or a pretty Chardonnay from France but I am just as happy with a great Finger Lakes Riesling or Pinot Noir. And that supports MY economy. There are lots of ways we can strengthen the financial mess we find ourselves in. Start in your own backyard people!


  6. Thought-provoking post. My friend and I were discussing it today and it brings up a rub of aesthetics. As a merchant who gives a shit, sources thoughtfully, and owns a small business, wine is more than a SKU number to you. It’s convenient to think that “free markets” always push the cream to the top and your shop will be sustained by the patronage of loving customers. That’s too warm and fuzzy for me. The reality as I see it is that a Whole Foods stocked with cheap wine could threaten your business.

    Some would-be East Village hipsters will be seduced by the cute little penguin on the label and figure, why not just get it while we’re here? It happens. We’ve traded a lot for convenience—namely customer service, quality, and local economies. To me there is virtue in inefficiency and all I want is the ability to pay $5 more per bottle for wine that has not been chemically fertilized to death, carelessly cleaved from the vine, and oaked to the point of no return. Maybe there’s a very small overlap of people who are going to buy wine at Alphabet City and those who might buy at Whole Foods, but a little is a lot for a small business and nothing for a large one.


  7. Posted by Katie Pizzuto on April 14, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    On a similar note, I had gone to the Chelsea Wine Vault a while back where they had someone pouring samples of some Spanish wines. But apparently whomever sent this “rep” to pour was more interested in her being eye candy than in her having any actual knowledge of the wines. When she offered to pour me a white from Rias Baixas I asked if it was 100% Albariño. She looked at me as if I had just asked her to solve a calculus problem. I picked up the bottle and looked for myself. She then poured me a red from Ribera that she simply said was “a red” from Spain. Again I looked at the bottle for myself. When another customer came over anxious to try the wine he asked if it was a Rioja. That blank look went over her face again and I had to interject and tell him that it was a Ribera. This pissed me off so much that I felt compelled to email the Wine Vault and tell them how disappointed I was as a customer. Companies should be sending people out that actually know what the hell they are pouring and can talk somewhat intelligently about it. KEEP THE FUCKING EYE CANDY FOR THE CAR SHOWS.


  8. Posted by evwgnyc on April 17, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    I am sorry about the no posting of your comment. I have been out of town for a week in the Mountains with no net connect. I approve all comments and thank you for your contribution. Thank you for reading!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: