When the fiery red sun is beating down the dog days of summer, there is nothing like a fine wine to cool the weather worn soul. For all those who may not have had the opportunity to enjoy a few days of vacation adventures or those suffering from a case of post-vacation blues, we offer an idea for a vacation you can take in your own backyard. Straying from the beaten path of large-scale retailers can be an adventure filled vacation from the ordinary that costs much less than a trip to Disneyland. But how do you transform California Chardonnay curmudgeons into Biodynamic Zweigelt and Grüner gurus?
Perhaps as a reaction to human made environmental damage there has been an awakening in our consciousness to the benefits of being in harmony with the earth. There is no “Planet B.” The rise of organic foods and non-GMO products is a testament to our willingness to confront our misdoings of the past and strive towards a healthier tomorrow. The wine you drink should be no exception.
For those of you familiar with Circo Vino, you know that we value responsibly made wines and champion winemakers who at the least farm sustainably, if not organically or biodynamically. Often time wines such as these are not readily available at your grocery store chain or “big box” liquor store. It is within the hallowed aisles of smaller independent retailers where one has a better chance to find the guidance needed for quality, conscientiously produced wines.
We asked two dedicated, independent and small retailers how they continue to transform the tastes and choices of their communities, one wine tasting at a time. Dan Fredman, primary wine buyer at Biagio Wine & Spirits, and Peter Wilke, owner and primary wine buyer of Time Market and Rincon Market, helped us suss out the importance of supporting smaller scale independent wine shops and how they challenge the wine curious to break out of the “big box” mentality.
Are small and independent retailers breaking the big box?
Not really, they advocate for the anoraks…
Dan Fredman’s long career of loving little-known wines and wine regions transitioned him into wine importing and PR work for international companies and wine makers before he recently landed in Dallas, Texas. He and William Lovos have put down roots at Biagio Wine and Spirits, a family owned and self-contained storefront in the Victory Park neighborhood, a popular location undergoing its own transformation.
Peter Wilke has valuable family history in the art of importing delicious delights from far-flung parts of the world. His great grandfather was the first to import what has become a staple in many pantries across America, Bertolli olive oil. Wilke saw an opportunity to continue building his own family’s tradition of introducing the American diet to a new adventure when he bought a historic local deli and sandwich spot and transformed it into Time Market. This European styled market, deli, and grocery stocks a dizzying array of foods, wines and spirits carefully and consciously chosen for quality and rarity. Time Market has become buzz worthy in foodie circles for Peter’s insistence on quality selections and he has recently expanded further, renovating and re-launching Rincon Market, a previously pedestrian neighborhood corner store.
A challenge all small retailers must face is how to compete with the big-box brands just down the block. For small retailers of rare and exciting wines, it means building wine repertoires through relationships, exceptionalism and education.
Fancy Footwork Fills in the Niches
Building wine conscious communities at home means filling particular niches in the community’s changing vino biosphere. When faced with the dauntingly large and not terribly diverse wine selection at the local supermarket or large retail store, many newly made wine lovers will likely stay in their lane…the same wine every time. One way Fredman and Wilke diversify their customer’s wine profile is by developing symbiotic relationships with other small retailers, distributors and suppliers that can mitigate some of the higher costs small retailers must meet while also providing unique wines. Independently cultivated relationships allow them to pass the savings, quality, and the variety onto the consumer, whether they are wine wizened or first-time explorers.
As Fredman discussed with us, “probably 20% of the wines we carry have some level of investment in sustainable/organic/Biodynamic viticulture and winemaking, so our clients are benefiting from the vignerons’ efforts, whether they know it or not.” As an oenological evangelist, Dan Fredman seeks to ease the culture shock that comes with an expanding wine palate because, as he notes, “clients can be reluctant to buy something they can’t pronounce from somewhere they’ve never heard of. I write my own shelf-talkers that take a little bit of the mystery out of wine labels festooned with umlauts, circumflexes, or tildes.”
Wines such as Peter Veyder-Malberg’s Grüner Veltliner Liebedich exemplify this unique philosophy. Veyder-Malberg’s singular farming ethos of selecting the coolest Wachauer vineyard sites, picking early and no inclusion of botrytisized grapes has elevated him and his wines to cult status among wine cognoscenti.
Variety: 100% Grüner Veltliner
Vineyard: Various Sites, Paragneiss, löss
Back to School – Get Your Wine Education on!
Small retailers, more than anything, have something that the big box stores do not…the personal touch. From Fredman’s homemade shelf-talkers to Wilke’s insistence on providing sustainable, if not biodynamic and organic wines.
But before Dan and Peter can turn their customers onto the wide wonder of biodynamically cultivated vine, they must anticipate how wine lovers today are different from wine lovers of the past. For example, they might not have a need for the kinds of wine cellar labels that connoisseurs are known for rotating into an evolving collection. Many newly minted followers of Dionysus are not buying a wine to age because, as Dan noticed, customers “have no storage space (nor patience) so there has to be payoff right away.” Fredman is particularly fond of some Austrian wines because they are versatile and complex without having to complete a lengthy aging process. Familie Reinisch Rotgiplfer, while age worthy, is immediately quaffable, appealing to the summer palate with exotic yellow fruit perfect to pair with light fare.
Variety: 100% Rotgipfler
Vineyard: Brown earth conglomerate, Limestone
Appealing to a rapidly expanding and changing wine consumer does not mean giving up quality, it means educating and experiencing. The real stamp on Peter and Dan’s passport to adventures in food and wine culture is community events, programs, and pairings. Wilke pairs his delicious wines with chocolates and cheeses that are part of his expanding viennoiserie and cheese programs that bring out the inner adventurer in his client base. Small retailers like Wilke and Fredman have discovered what we also believe, when we educate our communities about beautifully made food and wine, they make better choices. And what is the favorite teaching tool we use to set weekend winos on a course for adventure? It would have to be the beloved wine tasting.
Like Beatnik Happenings but Tastier
“…happenings invite us to cast aside for a moment these proper manners and partake wholly in the real nature of the art and life. It is a rough and sudden act, where one often feels ‘dirty,’ and dirt, we might begin to realize, is also organic and fertile, and everything including the visitors can grow a little into such circumstances.”
As the quote above from a famed beatnik artist and thinker argues, happenings are meant to be as organic and fertile as the terra and soil of our favorite wine regions. At local Tucson, Arizona wine tastings you are likely to find Peter Wilke digging into the dirt of his community food and wine culture. Wilke understands the importance of the wine tasting as a happening that can help him figure out “what our clients want to buy and balancing that with what we think they should buy. We do as much one-to-one education as possible to divert people from their usual go-to supermarket brands and turn them on to real producers and vineyards.” Domaine Ciringa Fosilni Breg Sauvignon Blanc is a great exemplar where tasting is believing. Organically farmed with Biodynamic influences, by Austrian luminary Armin Tement, this Sauvignon Blanc is grown on the Slovenian side of the family’s important Zieregg vineyard and breaks the mold of the often times flabby offerings from lesser producers.
Variety: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
Vineyard: Shell Limestone, Cambisol Soil
Region: Štajerska Slovenija
If we rethink the notion of wine tastings as happenings, they become a work of art that grows wine awareness within a community. Outside of creative business structures Dan Fredman and Peter Wilke enacted in the realm of the quotidian, what really comes through is their passion. Not just a passion for the product, but for transforming the culture of wine itself. So, raise a glass with us as we celebrate small retailers, responsibly made wines, and educating a rapidly expanding consumer base about the adventure of the perfect pairing.
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