The Wine Grouch is Back….

By Michael Eigen

New year, same ideas?

As the earth finishes its annual trip around the sun, it makes everyone crazy with reflection and introspection. In the wine business we tend to look only at how much wine we sold last year as opposed to this year, and how much more wine we can sell this coming year. Yeah, pretty single-minded folk, we wine sellers. That’s because we’re mostly small business owners; and who has time to focus on introspection when we need to get the shelves restocked? For many of us we’ll restock with much the same stuff that we had the previous year and we’ll recite the same scores from the same magazines by the same reviewers and we won’t think about it too much because that’s what we do. It’s what we’ve always done, unless we haven’t.

There are some stores that are always trying to push the envelope in their own way. The thing is, the envelope is different depending on where you are, so if you’re in Midtown Manhattan it might be a legal envelope, while in Williamsburg it’s probably an Evite, while in my neck of the woods it’s probably an engraved Crane’s envelope on cream-colored linen stock. Huh? Different communities have different needs, and knowing what those needs are is a critical component of being part of that community. Our new and interesting wines will always try to push boundaries. We can do that because we have a pretty good idea of what those boundaries are.

Let’s take one of my favorite subjects: natural wine. Anybody that knows me a little knows that I have an aversion to “natural” wine. I think most of them are dreadful and the whole movement behind them a little suspect. That said, I do judge each wine on its own merits and have found some “natural” wines on occasion that are good. The thing is, the “envelope” in my area would probably not respond too well to the really intense (read: awful) “natural” wines in the market, and as such, I don’t carry them. I leave those to the hipper-than-thou who are willing to drink awful wines in the hope of being perceived as smarter, cooler, more avant garde, I don’t know what. As I’ve said many times about trendy things, they’re fine, but you actually have to drink this trend.

On the same idea, we will continue to try to present smaller producers and stay away from the mass market stuff. Again: why? Because there are lots of wines out there that aren’t La Crema chardonnay and Veuve Cliquot. I am constantly amazed that people walk into an obviously boutique-like store and never bother to ask why we don’t stock a particular mass market brand. Are people so closed off that they can’t ever move out of their tiny comfort zones? Well…a lot of them are, but fortunately enough are willing to explore the many unique and great wines out there that aren’t available at Costco.

And finally, a little bit about those mass market wines: one of the reasons that we don’t offer a lot of them is that they are on the verge of becoming products. What do I mean by that? Mass market wines are manufactured and manipulated to achieve a uniformity that will appeal to a broad swath of the middle of the road. That’s fine. There are tons of places to get those but not by us. I am willing to fight the fight to make people better and more interesting drinkers.

Happy New Year.

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