Sampling Errors: Small shops seek control over wine tastings
Last New Year’s Eve, the owners of a small wine shop in downtown Phoenix wanted to thank their customers by having a wine tasting.
But the distributor in charge of the event was an hour late to a two hour tasting, leaving customers waiting and causing some to leave, said Hidden Track Bottle Shop owner Danielle Middlebrook.
“As a business owner, it really took the wind out of our sails, to be feeling such a heartfelt thanks to our customers and then just to really have it blow up in our faces for nothing that we could have done,” Middlebrook said.
Middlebrook and her partner, Craig Dziadowicz, opened Hidden Track at 111 W. Monroe St., last July, hoping to introduce unique wines to the city and become a community gathering spot.
They hold tastings twice a week, on Thursdays and Saturdays, but, according to Arizona liquor laws, they’re required to have distributors bring in their products and conduct those tastings, Middlebrook said. The process takes control away from the owners, especially in situations such as what happened on New Year’s Eve, she said.
Normally, the distributors’ tastings work out well, she said. But when it doesn’t – if a distributor forgets to file the proper paperwork, doesn’t file paperwork on time, gets stuck in traffic or gets sick – it’s painful for a small business, Middlebrook said.
“Most of the time, it’s a successful outcome. It’s just that when it isn’t, we lose a lot of credibility and it makes it look like we don’t have ourselves together, when the reality is, we have painstakingly gone through a myriad of different steps,” she said.
A bill proposed by Rep. T.J. Shope could help Middlebrook and Dziadowicz.
The Coolidge Republican’s HB2182 would get rid of a requirement in state law that says a beer and wine store must have a 5,000 squarefoot building in order to be able to conduct its own sampling.
In practice, Middlebrook says the bill would allow her to open a bottle of wine from the store’s shelves if the distributor tasting didn’t work out for some reason. She could also curate wines from the shop for a more creative tasting if she wants.
The 5,000 squarefoot requirement, which grocery stores or wine retailers such as Total Wine or BevMo would reach, “seems to benefit the large companies against maybe some homegrown Arizona businesses,” Shope said.
He said he hasn’t quite been able to figure out why the requirement is on the books in the first place.
“Nobody from Total Wine or even the grocery stores or the BevMo world has reached out at all, which leads me to believe that nobody really knows why the 5,000 squarefoot number is there,” Shope said.
Lee Hill, communications director for the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, said in an email that the bill would simply remove the 5,000 squarefoot language, so it would allow places like convenience stores or gas stations to have tastings, too.
She said she hasn’t tracked how the provision became a law, but it’s been on the books for the nine years she has worked at the department.
“After asking persons involved in the liquor industry for decades, my understanding of the purpose of the square footage requirement is to allow sampling in larger retail locations, eliminating convenience markets and gas stations,” Hill said.
Rep. Juan Mendez, (D)Tempe, said he was concerned about the possibility that convenience stores could sample beer and wine, if they wanted to.
“I don’t want to go to convenience stores that are everywhere and have them sampling the latest booze and energy drink thing,” Mendez said while voting against the bill in the House Rural and Economic Development Committee.
An amendment from Shope during the House Committee of the Whole session on Feb. 17 clarified that a beer and wine store under 5,000 squarefeet would still need to have 75 percent of its shelves dedicated to liquor in order to do samplings, which would likely exclude gas stations and convenience stores.
The bill passed the House Rural and Economic Development committee on a 53 vote on Feb. 2. It awaits a formal vote of the House before heading to Senate. If the bill becomes law, Middlebrook said the shop doesn’t plan to stop working with distributors to put on tastings, but they want to have a safeguard to make sure customers won’t lose out on trying wines if something goes wrong.
“We worked really hard to build this business. It’s a labor of love. It is tough as a business owner to do everything that’s within your control and still have the outcome fail for reasons beyond your control,” she said.
February Wine Club Selections Are Here!
Well it’s that time again… The joyous time that comes each month when we get to share the newest club selections with you! And once again, we found a couple of treats.
So lets talk about a couple things. First, some fun facts about Argentina and the land of Malbec.
Argentina, although known as “New World,” was involved with viticulture as far back is the mid 1500s. To put that into perspective, the Medoc region in Bordeaux was a marshland at this time, very few people knew about Rioja, Spain and the wine it was producing, and Port (as we know it) didn’t exist. But let’s call Argentina New World for the heck of it. Enter a volatile economy (some things never change) and Malbec becoming the varietal that would bring Argentina back into the wine world in a fierce way – so much so that Argentina now exports Malbec back to Cahors, France, the region considered the birthplace of Malbec!
Argentine wine originates almost entirely from a region named Mendoza. The Mendoza region is the 6th largest producer of wine in the world. It also claims the highest average vineyard elevations at an average of 900 meters (2,900 feet). These heights would normally create temperature issues with grape growing, but a combination of mountain sun exposure and a desert-like climate give this large region the ability to produce a lot of grapes.
Many people often ask how South America is able to produce such high quality wine at a relatively low cost. Well this might shed a little light: On average, the cost of land and labor to produce grapes in Argentina is $30,000/acre. Compare that to the $300,000/acre it costs in Napa…or as we call it, the “Napa Tax,” and you get some pretty steep price differentials.
So with that information at hand, we bet you can guess that one of the selections is going to be from Argentina?
And the selections for February are:
Etude “Grace Benoist Ranch” Chardonnay, Carneros, California
As we’ve told you before, the Carneros region in California is the region in which Chardonnay creates a model for all other Chardonnay to follow. With a perfect marrying of grape and terroir, Chardonnay from Carneros takes on a brilliance unmatched. OK, so that’s our opinion (and we’ll gladly accept any taste challenges and comparisons!). Etude Wines was created about 25 years ago and became an industry standard for Napa Pinot Noir. And where great Pinot Noir is grown, so too is great Chardonnay. Enter what we call a “classic California Chardonnay.” Classic in the sense that it is not masked with oak and butter notes, but is allowed to shine to its fullest expression. This Chardonnay is elegant and graceful. Enjoy!
Bodega Calle Reserva “El Necio” Syrah, Mendoza, Argentina
So we teased you with all that Malbec talk just to hit you with a killer Syrah! An amazingly beautiful Syrah! We were so blown away by the uniqueness of this selection that we might seek out another from this small Mendoza producer in future wine club months. And when we say small producer, we mean only ~ 400 cases of this Syrah are made each year. Yep, 400 cases and we got 20! It’s kind of fun asking if we can buy 5% of the total production to share with our wine club members. This wine is going to throw some major terroir at you. Then it will follow up with a richness that is led by layers of flavor that don’t stop. It’s also organically grown and produced, harvested by hand and fermented in cement tanks. After fermentation is complete, the juice is transferred to French Oak for 12 months before it is released to market.
Cheers, Wine Club Members – can’t wait to hear what you think of these beauties!
Craig & Danielle