After Thanksgiving and the crazy shopping days that followed, including Small Business Saturday, it got me thinking about what it means to Shop Small with regards to the retail wine business. It's just fermented grape juice in a glass bottle, right? Wrong! All wines are not made equal. The wine regions and winemaking processes all vary so widely, which can be confusing. So this poses the question: How do you know which wines are well made and which aren't?
The Farm-to-Table food movement has exploded, and I think the same principles apply to wine. If you want to know what farm your steak or carrot came from, wouldn't you want to know who makes the wine you are going to drink? If you only eat seasonal organic produce, don't you want to know where the wine comes from and what farming practices they use?
The beauty of wine is that it is alive, always changing and evolving. It tells a story about the land from where it came, and the weather that the vines endured over the course of a year. Events will also linger in our memory. For instance, we will remember the Napa Valley earthquake when we drink the 2014 vintage in a few years. Taste a 2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and you will often taste the smoke from the forest fires that burned that year in California.
When you shop for your wine at chain stores, for the most part, it is all mass produced/bulk juice wines that are made by a marketing company. A company that put subpar wine into a bottle, labeled it with a catchy name, and doesn't have a care in the world about what you are drinking when you put that wine in your glass. They are depending on you to not care about what you are drinking. The reality of the large wine retail business model is that they have to have wineries that make enough wine to support them nationally. Most of these wineries have to sacrifice quality (in order to produce the needed quantity), to support the national chains' needs. It is a vicious cycle. This business model also relies heavily on sales of direct imports that they make extremely large margins on. I am always skeptical of a wine that has no information online at all. You should be too.
Lucky for us there is enough great wine made in the world that local, independent wine retailers don't have to employ these tactics. Small, independent wine retailers inherently support small, independent wineries. They need enough wine to support their local shop (not the nation), so they have the latitude to be more discriminate in the wines they choose to stock. Small wineries generally put greater care into the land, vines and winemaking processes. Every step from the vine to the bottle is done by them. This is their family name, their tradition, and often in the Old World (Europe), their family has been making wine for centuries.
Independent wine retailers taste wine regularly and typically do not stock wines they have not tried themselves. Customer service is also more personal and much more knowledgeable. They know their reputation is on the line with every sip you take, and most take what they do very seriously.
Fortunately, there are a few great independent wine stores in Orlando that you can visit, and some deliver right to your door.