Wine distribution can lead its practitioners on a circuitous route throughout a territory. For some, the constantly changing ports of call – restaurants and liquor stores – can turn one’s job into a blur.
Those involved in distribution might also acquire a knowledge base that can be propelled into a whole new aspect of the wine business. Distribution might seem like it’s all about pounding the pavement, but tastings are commonplace in that segment of the industry, too.
For Sandeep Ghaey, these tastings made him aware of his own keen palate, which then led him out of distribution and to his own retail business. He now owns and operates Vinic Wine Company on Chicago Avenue in Evanston.
The store is artfully designed – literally. Numerous, dramatic paintings share space with creative merchandising. He and his staff have more than 20 years of food & beverage experience, with plenty of knowledge about fine wine. Yet they are enthusiastic about identifying good values, too.
Value Wine Chicago stopped by the warm and inviting wine shop in downtown Evanston to discuss the ever-fickle wine industry in detail:
Value Wine Chicago: What was involved in starting Vinic? How do you distinguish your brand from other small, Chicago-are wine shops, and from the high-volume discount stores?
Sandeep Ghaey: We started about two years ago. I always thought Evanston really needed a fine wine store. My career path led to wine, and after working in distribution for Union and Heritage for about seven years combined, I wanted to get into the retail side of things. Many of my experiences led me to come up with the idea for this store. To be very frank about it, a good wine store builds relationships with distributors, makes the smart wine purchases, puts the right margin on it and it’s successful.
When I was in distribution, I was able to really get a true sense of the value of a particular wine. I could taste the wine and get a pretty good idea of how it would sell. After tasting, I’d look at the price, and could tell whether a wine would be an easy sell or a tough sell.
What makes us distinct? We can be very dynamic with our selection, which actually changes often. We choose wines that are often “on special” with a particular distributor. We pass that kind of value on to our customers. Big-box stores have negotiated their prices, in the long run, on certain brands. And they push those brands, rather than getting to know their customers’ palates. When we get something in that’s new and exciting, we know the customers who might like it. Say a customer loves Italian wine. We’ll let them know about a Sangiovese – one from Argentina. A change [in geographic region], but we think those who like Italian wine would like something like that. Our approach is literally tailored to our customers.
VWC: In your own words, briefly tell me how you distinguish value wine from wine that’s simply inexpensive (some people think they are the same).
SD: There’s, of course, the quality-to-cost ratio. But, when you taste wines all day, and they’re all of a similar caliber, and then one comes in at half the price, then it’s obviouslya great deal. It’s context and perception more than anything else, really. There are a whole lot of factors: true value wines have a certain nuance, a sense of place, which cheap wine doesn’t have. There is great value in everything, and untapped resources within each category. Fifteen years ago, California’s Central Coast was where you looked for great value; Santa Barbara wasn’t as well-known back then. There are places right outside of Bordeaux that have great wines – they aren’t Bordeaux per se, but there’s great value there.
VWC: Name your favorite wines – a red and a white – priced at less than $15. What would you pair with them?
SD: For a white wine, I like Chemistry, which is from Chehalem in Oregon. It’s a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling. It’s mostly dry, with a touch of sweetness – more of a roundness, actually. It’s great for the autumn. Butternut squash soup would be perfect with Chemistry, because of the creaminess and the butter. The acidity and depth of flavor is great. Chehalem was smart to make a cheaper, second label during this recession.
For a red, I’d recommend the Mas Donis Barrica, which is a blend of 85 percent Grenache and 15 percent Syrah. It’s from the Monstant region of Spain. It’s got nice flavor, soft tannins, and really pleases a lot of different palates. I’d pair it with braised pork shoulder, because it has enough heft, and the softer tannins make it a great food wine overall.