Sunday, July 6, 2014

Offering Wines That Are A Balaast!

Since opening its doors in 1998 Vineyard Gate has always been a unique wine store. I don't say this because I'm the owner. Look at the facts.

First and foremost Vineyard Gate's wine selections are my own, they are not dictated by scores and brands. I go the opposite way, I specifically look for wines that are overlooked, underrated and undiscovered. I try to carry wines that are not covered by the wine journalists and are not found in most wine stores. It's not the wisest business move. In the West Coast, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, this retail approach is pretty much suicidal.

To overly generalize, West Coast wine consumers love brands and scores; they feel comfortable with this kind of shortsightedness. In the East Coast wine consumers are more independent-minded, more adventurous, and more influenced by Old World taste for elegant wines. Wine trends tend to happen there first before spreading to the West Coast. I lived in Boston for almost ten years and about a year in New York. When I arrived in San Francisco in the early 1990s I was elated to find wine outlets everywhere, as there is less restriction in selling alcohol here, not to mention that the nation's foremost wine country is at our doorstep. But it didn't take long to notice that the wines every store carried were pretty much the same type and the same brands. I walked into one of the biggest wine stores and I could not find a Spanish wine, an Austrian wine or a Portuguese wine. I asked for a wine from Cinque Terre in Liguria and no one has heard of it. The entire selection of Burgundies were half a dozen and there was not a single Meursault. German Rieslings were pathetically few. I happen to be acquainted with the owner of the largest wine retailer in San Francisco at that time. He told me that he didn't carry Italian wines because they just don't move. Instead, he had an entire wall that was fifty feet wide crammed with California Chardonnays. Even California wineries that were small and whose wines cater to more Old World palates struggled to find representation in wine stores, hence, many opted to sell direct to consumers like Williams & Selyem, Mayacamas, Stony Hill, Rochioli, Rafanelli, and Gary Farrell.

Sure, today, West Coast wine stores carry a ton of wines from many parts of the world, but in essence not much has changed because they still pick them by brands and scores. That's how their model works because they can't possibly sell volume if most of their wines are not branded or scored.

I compete in a different way because I don't depend on volume. I'm small, just like the wine producers I carry whether they're from California or France. Most wine stores have thousands of skus or product items in inventory, but at Vineyard Gate I only have a few hundred. You see, I have to know every single wine I carry, as well as their producers. How could I adequately convey their stories to my customers if I carry thousands of wines?

Vineyard Gate reflects my enthusiasm for wines and so it attacts wine consumers with a similar enthusiasm. I love wines that are made honestly, without tricks, from vineyards in good sites that are well taken care of. These wines are not only pleasurable to drink, but also exciting because their flavors are interesting and offer a surprise. I believe these are the best quality wines and usually the best values, too.

I strive to be the first or one of the first wine merchants to introduce to customers some of the world's best wines from different regions. A few examples of producers I've championed early on from the Loire include: Olga Raffault, Clos Roche Blanche, Clos Rougeard, and Herve Villemade. In Italy: Borgo del Tiglio, Bea, Sant'Elena, Roagna, Angiolino Maule, Brovia, Vajra. From Spain, Lopez de Heredia and Sherries from Alexander Jules, Argueso, and La Guita. From California: La Clarine Farm, Bedrock, Kenny Likitprakong's wines (Ghostwriter, Folk Machine, etc.), and J.Brix. From the Jura: Jean-Marc Brignot, Octavin, Macle, Tissot. And in Burgundy, several, including: De Moor, Camus-Bruchon, Chandon de Briailles, Heresztyn, Denis Bachelet, Olivier Merlin, Fourrier, Barthod, Mugnier, and Maison Lou Dumont. Many of these producers are still carried by Vineyard Gate, but some I've dropped because they've become overpriced, too hyped, or difficult to source because they've been discovered by everyone.

The fact is there are always great producers that remain overlooked, underrated, and undiscovered. Vineyard Gate's mission is to find them and bring in their wines before they get hyped up and become expensive and hard to find.

Lately, one Burgundy producer that blows me away is Frederic Cossard. I've sent email blasts calling attention to this guy's wines, which are almost impossible to find in the US as few cases make it to the country. Cossard's wines are snapped up by Paris bistros and most are shipped to Japan, Belgium, and Scandinavian countries where many of his fans are. All his wines are totally natural, which is to say from organically grown fruit and made without adding sulfites or any other additives. Yet, Cossard's wines have an amazing capacity to remain fresh even after being opened for several days or weeks. This kind of tells you that they would age well. But it also says a lot about Cossard's skill and successful approach to making pure, natural wines. I can tell you that very few producers in the world can make wine like this. I'm really proud to be able to offer unique wines like Cossard's Check out his wines and see for yourself!

The 2010 Saint-Romain "Combe Bazin", Domaine de Chassorney (order here)

And here's the 2010 Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Damodes, Frederic Cossard (ordere here)

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