On a recent trip to Ohio, I visited two very well run wine stores with vastly different personalities. The first shop, in the beautiful early 1800s era town of Worthington, Ohio which serves as a northern suburb of Columbus, is called House Wine (http://www.housewine.biz/). This shop was planned while owner Donnie was in business school, and as far as I can tell, he deserved good grades in marketing and merchandizing. The shop is bright, clean and modern from all angles from the floor layout to the shelving – a very inviting space indeed. The wine selection is mainly aimed at entry level wine customers; although there is a selection of high dollar wines in the back of the store that likely keeps the connoisseurs happy. Unlike traditional wine shops that divide wines along standard country or grape groupings, House Wine groups wines by characteristics like: Robust, Finesse, Bright or Vivacious. On my visit, there was an infectious energy about the place with many enthusiastic patrons enjoying the Sparkling Wine tasting of that evening (hosted by Chris Hutchinson of Vanguard Wines, LLC who served a quartet of sparkling wines and Champagne from their boutique listings www.vanguardwines.com). Continuing along the theme of creating interest in wine, one of House Wine’s distinguishing characteristics is the wine tasting/dispensing machine that permits self-service purchase of 1-3 ounces at a time, of 15+ wines kept temperature controlled and free from oxygen in an attractive, easy to figure out format. This provides an opportunity to try wines that normally might be too expensive to risk a bottle purchase, but after a taste to confirm with one’s palate, the buying decision is easily settled. I would like a self-serve dispensing machine like this in all wine shops!
Colonial Wine and Beverage (www.tastewine.com) is equally compelling, yet very different. Situated about 15 miles east of downtown Cleveland in Chesterfield, Owner Bob Eppich took control of Colonial 12 years ago and since then has enjoyed a steady stream of positive press and “Best Wine Shop” awards. Although the shop resides in a relatively innocuous suburban mini shopping center, one step in the front door and the multiple “Best Wine Shop” awards are easy to understand – there is so much wine in the store that, other than the exterior walls, no shelving is used because the countless wine cases are neatly stacked in a way that creates aisles of wine. The huge inventory might be intimidating to most people, but each wine has an easy to read description, so browsing is fun and interesting. I had endless questions, and Bob Eppich and his knowledgeable staff stood up to my barrage of questions with a smile and lots of great information. Unlike many wine shops, I got the feeling that every wine in Colonial had been chosen and tasted by the staff, so that anyone working there could give a solid description of the wines in question – very impressive. Speaking of choosing wines, it appears that Colonial features a number of non-mass-marketed wines that may be little-known but present great value to the Colonial customers, including a number of Napa Cabernets from a négociant (someone who purchases wine from an estate, but then bottles it under a different label with no reference to the original wine maker or source) – I sampled several of these and was highly impressed by what tasted like $100 per bottle cabernet in a $20 bottle – worth seeking if you like serious Napa Cabernet.
In summary – House Wine does a fantastic job in merchandizing and bringing new fans to the world of wine, Colonial Wine delivers a knowledgeable staff, and huge wine selection with competitive pricing. These are both successful stores that I plan to visit each time I am in Columbus or Cleveland.