The majority of my pre-SaddleBrooke, quasi-retired life was spent in the profession of police service. For just under thirty-years I did everything from walk a foot beat on the midnight to eight shift to sitting behind the big desk; crafting annual budgets, meeting with members of the city council and holding press briefings. My time as a detective was especially satisfying; tracking down witnesses, examining evidence and narrowing down my suspect list. Poking around and digging for clues became almost like a treasure hunt. This interest in searching for just the right leads has stuck with me and I’ve made use of it when seeking out terrific wines and great wine values.
Recently, I started sharing my discoveries in my free monthly email service entitled ‘Wine Finds,’ and starting in March, I accepted the invitation to assist Liz Lawson, the Lifestyle Coordinator for HOA-2, in selecting the wines for their ‘wine by the case’ program. Each month, all SaddleBrooke residents can order four different wines, as well as select beers and other beverages by the case and pick them up at the MountainView restaurant at prices below retail.
For me, this was both a great opportunity and a challenge: searching through the online catalogs of various distributors to identify the likely suspects for the following month’s wines. My philosophy for this program is pretty simple: I'd like to expose residents to different varieties and styles of wines; encouraging them to venture away from their routine selections every now and again. Out of the four monthly selections I intend to offer two wines (a red and a white) that are inside most people's comfort zone; I'm thinking well-made, popular west coast varietals and blends— solid wines that have a reasonable price point, but that are still balanced and sufficiently complex. The other two wines would probably come from outside the States; mostly Europe, although Australia, S. Africa and S. America are certainly viable options. Also, I want to occasionally offer wines that may be unfamiliar or underappreciated but deserve to be on people’s radar. Every now and then I plan on slipping in a rose' or sparkling wine as well.
The task is not as easy as it may seem. Wine wholesale prices routinely fluctuate and one of my goals is to present wines that are solid deals. After focusing in on a particular wine, I browse a number of brick and mortar, as well as online retailers to make sure that the price that the restaurant can offer will be competitive. Occasionally, the distributors will run price promotions on certain products, and I do take a closer look at these sales with the caveat that the wines involved must be of solid quality and fit my overall philosophy. I also recognize that when it comes to sticker price the sweet spot for everyone is different, so including wines that fall within the ‘value’ range, as well as a few ‘prestige’ category offerings should meet the needs of most customers. Keeping an eye on the seasons is also an important aspect with more focus on lighter, lower alcohol wines in the summer, bigger wines in the colder months and maybe a few festive offerings around the holidays.
From the perspective of potential buyers, I can visualize two obstacles to participating in this program. The first is the purchase quantity: Many people rarely buy wine a case at a time, so I can understand how this might be off putting to some. That being said, it is not unusual to purchase other items in bulk; that’s what keeps Costco in business, and wine being a relatively stable product won’t spoil, unless of course you store it in your garage. Wine also makes a great all occasion gift, plus, when you think about it, people tend to go through more bottles over the course of a month than they realize. Another alternative is to leverage your wine friends, both in and outside of the community to split a case— two, three or four ways. The second barrier might be unfamiliarity with a particular wine. Recognizing this, I do my best to describe the style and flavor profiles of each wine. If it sounds like something you might like, consider doing a little internet research yourself, or maybe a roll of the dice might be in order. You can be assured I won’t be selecting poor quality wines, regardless of the price point.
While I have most of the fun, Liz Lawson and Jessica Ward end up with the tedious tasks of taking orders, managing shipments and handling customer delivery, so make sure to thank them when you pick up your order. Jessica said the program has been going exceptionally well, with over $23,000 in gross sales between February and Monday, May 3.
At some point on the horizon the Mountain View Restaurant plans on offering tasting opportunities for these wines as the “try it before you buy it” approach tends to work well for unfamiliar wine varietals and brands. Wine dinners, meet the winemaker events and other wine-centric activities are currently under consideration. As the pandemic restrictions ease and the restaurants and banquet department scales back up we may see these opportunities present themselves in the not too distant future.
In the meantime I will stay hot on the trail for great wines and solid wine values so that your coolers can stay full and we can continue to raise a glass to toast the good life.
Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine & spirits from the WSET in London, England. He is available to assist you with your wine events or answer your wine questions. Tom also offers a free email service, recommending high quality, good value wines available locally. Contact / subscribe at email@example.com.