Okay, so kill me – I’m posting The Friday Fermentable on Saturday morning. I just couldn’t get it together yesterday and the US Thanksgiving holiday has my timing all screwed up.
I noted earlier this week that the proprietors of our community treasure, Wine Authorities, were to be interviewed on the local NPR affiliate, WUNC-FM, in (guess where?) Chapel Hill, NC, USA. Frank Stasio, a remarkable gentleman in his own right, spoke with Craig Heffley and Seth Gross on his noontime show, The State of Things. The interview was preempted Monday by the economy-related cabinet appointments announced by President-Elect Obama, but the boys appeared successfully on Tuesday’s program (show archive here).
I promote these Wine Authorities purveyors often as examples of the philosophy, expertise, and objectivity that our readers should seek among their own local wine merchants (although USians may care to order directly from them: Seth and Craig will FedEx their wines to about 43 US states, a reasonable consideration for some offerings that are imported into the US only by them). The Wine Authorities are also longstanding supporters of the local scientific blogosphere and, more broadly, other like-minded independent businesses and the technology-based community.
I also bring these gentlemen to your attention as we are in secret negotiations with them to present some aspect of their wares and expertise to the 200+ of you who will be participating in the ScienceOnline’09 unconference in January.
Even if you’re not in North Carolina, I encourage you to listen to their interview because of the unusual and refreshing attitude they bring to selling and educating about wine in their lives as combination neighborhood bar/butchershop/community gathering place. Here are the high points for me:
- They are dedicated and passionate about wine as a traditional and evolving agricultural product, not a mass-produced synthetic chemistry cocktail. Estate-grown and bottled wines are the equivalent of the burgeoning local food movement (not new to Europeans, of course, but being rediscovered in the States). Mass-produced wines are more like fast food in terms of variety and complexity.
As Seth explained in an article at GrapeVine Trail when they opened in Fall 2007:
“Unfortunately, small wine producing estates have recently been lost in the big corporate shuffle,” says Gross, formerly of Il Palio and Wellspring/Whole Foods in Chapel Hill. “Wine Authorities will stock these smaller, estate grown and family-owned wines, often produced sustainably or organically.”
- They view wine as a component of life well-lived and their personal stories and their store reflect that. They sponsor food and wine pairing exercises, the store has a play and reading area for kids, a living room area to sit and savor a sip (or twelve) from their smartcard-access Enomatic wine dispenser, etc. They listen carefully to customer preferences, the stories behind the need for a certain celebratory event, and unwavering respect for individual tastes. All of your purchases are saved in “My Cellar” in a password-protected area of their website where you can put your own notes and ratings, and remember that great bottle you bought last February. (Orac will be happy to know that they are a 99% Mac-run store – there is only one aspect of their enterprise that requires Windows.).
- Back to individual tastes, Stasio asked the boys if they would consider opening up everyone’s personal wine ratings to provide ranking of wines. The gents are opposed to such an approach and, in fact, there is not a single mention of wine mag rating numbers on any tag of the 500 carefully-selected wines they carry. Their goal is to help you decide what you like an consider that in refining any suggestions they might have. My five-star rating may not be yours and they respect and encourage that.
- No wine in the store is over $50. In the radio interview, Seth (I think) pointed out that one reaches diminishing returns as one exceeds this price per bottle. While some of the famous French offerings should be tasted once or twice in one’s life, their top-tier “monthly” wine offerings ($20-49.99) provide superb examples of the asymptotic relationship between quality and price. (They also have a “daily” wine category of up to $11.99 and “weekly” wine at $12-$19.99.).
- A few personal observations: both Seth and Craig are extremely well-spoken and simply superb communicators. Their careers in the restaurant and beverage industries has given them a rich understanding of the marketing tactics used to promote products that have absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the product itself. However, they come across as very even-handed and almost calm in their criticism of how wine marketing should be approached.
- They also make a very specific point about making the store friendly to women – the wine and liquor industry has largely catered to the tastes of men with women largely depicted as passive participants (look at any wine or liquor ad in any mag other than a women’s publication). In many mega wine stores, the modus operandi toward women coming in is to point them directly to the chardonnays and pinot grigios. Craig and Seth respect the sophistication of women, acknowledging that they are the driving force behind most special dinners and celebrations, and that women winemakers and artisans (they sell some great local cheeses) are an essential facet of the wine experience. Craig’s wife, Michelle, has hand-painted each of the wine region maps that run above the store’s wine shelves and I sense that the play area and sofa setup were not just Seth and Craig’s idea.
As Craig was quoted in the GrapeVine Trail article:
“Women shoppers have been largely ignored by most wine retailers and they are the ones who are buying three out of four bottles of wine in this country,” says Heffley, formerly of the Fowler’s Gourmet Wine Department. “With Wine Authorities, our goal is to create a female-friendly environment without dissociating any male customers.” The atmosphere is comfortable with couches and a tasting bar, a children’s play area, and mobile wine displays to accommodate a full-sized wine education facility for their frequent evening wine education classes.
Well, that’s about all I can think of for now – I hope you’ll consider joining us on Thursday night (4 December at 7:18 pm EST, 0018 GMT) for a live web winetasting with the WA boys (PDF here). They’ve be broadcasting live from the living room and tasting:
Hillinger Welschriesling from Austria
Tolosa, Pinot Noir from California
Givaudan, Cotes du Rhone “Cuvee Lea”
The weblink is: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/wine-authorities