Another Christmas come and gone. Where’s our economy now? Working at a wine shop, stark differences surfaced between last year and this one. Though every neighborhood will vary, my store that sees everyone from the homeless to the Aspen-second-homers provided an interesting snapshot of this season’s buying trends.
One thing is clear: spending is on the rise. The national amount spent this year in retail was up roughly 3.3% from last year. For my shop, this was considerably more. After talking to other wine shop owners, I learned it was not just me. And that didn’t just mean the same big name labels like Silver Oak and Shafer. Less did I have stretch my sommelier abilities to appease the ‘I need a really fantastic California Cab under $20 crowd.’ Rather, I was often given a budget of $30-50 for a ‘something special’ request. This told me a couple things at first glance. One, there is a little more disposable income flying around in the average thirty-somethings’ wallets, an age that reflects the mean of my customers. It also indicated that people are experiencing a world outside Cabs and California–however good they can be. I attribute this to both the ever-exciting culinary explosion in Denver that finds many eateries playing with less pedestrian wine lists (many falling short, but some doing an incredible job like Table 6 and Squeaky Bean) and also the educational program we have developed at our little shop.
I cannot stress enough to non-Denverites, find a place where the beverage managers are passionate, informative and…passionate. Every city has them. We are not there to pick your pocket. In fact, I just talked a gentleman down today from a mass-produced negociant $50 Champagne to what I feel is an unquestionably superior $35 Aubry Premier Cru Champagne. Plus, he walked away with literature in hand (and head) about ‘grower Champagnes.’ He not only was very grateful, these exchanges make my job so much more enjoyable.
Where was money most spent on the 24th of December? I believe I sold more Italian wine than anything else, from simple Chianti Classico to big, beautiful Barolos. I was also amazed at the amount of inexpensive white Burgundy that walked out the door. Plus, apprently cassoulet is a becoming a festive tradition ’round here, of course, paired with no other than a hearty, rustic Rhone red or carignan-driven southern French selection. Fondue is securely back on the menu, so Savoie was the go-to for Apremont, Montmelian Jacquere and Mondeuse Noir (a grape I just learned was the same as Italian refosco). And still, the usual suspects of Pinot Noir and Cab wiggled their way to many peoples’ purchases.
But for the first time ever since I have worked at Little’s, people on the whole were more interested in buying something ‘off the beaten path’–a wine with a story, a quirky personality… a hard-to-pronounce varietal name. Mencias from Bierzo walked out the door, grapes of Bobal and Inzolia peppered peoples’ purchases, and popular Pinots came from far-flung regions like Patagonia and Caldaro. I seldom foudn myself convincing customers to trust me and give new regions and varietals a try, rather, they were giving me personalities and tastes of specific gift recipients, and together we were just having fun pairing people with wine.
This holiday was very fun at Little’s. I was impressed with the enthusiasm people in the neighborhood expressed in their gift preferences. My customers finally walked through the door not with the attitude that wine was always necessarily stuffy and pretentious, rather they carried genuine curiosity and interest in a whole world that was waiting to be explored. They started to see wine the way I do: a locus for learning about culture, geography, geology and history. It’s the best kind of gift, for it has the power to transport one to another place and time through all the senses.