It is said that there are two sides to every coin.
In the world of fine wine, while the restaurant segment seems to more often engage the imagination with glamorous imagery that continuously draws the attention of the press, wine shops, with their row-upon-row of multi-colored bottles adorned with both classic and exotic labels, afford the consumer a kind of vinous-art experience – a visual and tactile showcase both compelling and unique. This takes its highest form with the independent wine cellar.
One such operation – California-based K & L Wine Merchants – is a tireless proponent of the vine. Clyde Beffa, partner-owner along with his co-founder Todd Zucker, has for close to four decades embodied the passion, focus and commitment to quality that defines the modern, fine-wine merchant. We recently spoke about his experience in the industry.
(This is the second of a two-part feature)
STTG: You have three locations in California – San Francisco, Redwood City and Hollywood. Could you say that you have a typical customer or are there identifiable differences between the three operations?
CB: The customers in SF and LA are more similar – younger people, buying wines that are a bit more affordable for everyday drinking. The RWC customers tend to buy higher priced wines-the store is next to Atherton, Palo Alto, Silicon Valley, etc.
STTG: In a marketplace awash in high-quality wines at virtually every price point, what advice would you offer to the consumer who can at times be overwhelmed by the vast range of unfamiliar labels?
CB: They must talk to our staff. We have the best sales people in the industry. They know their stuff.
STTG: Let’s talk Bordeaux for a moment. You lead a team of your staff to visit the great chateaux and taste the en primeur (futures) wines annually. How would you describe the Bordeaux market of today versus that of twenty or thirty years ago?
CB: Much more limited market nowadays on the high end of the market. Started in 2005 vintage when Chateaux raised their prices a lot. We lost a lot of our big spending customers. The lower and mid range wines (20-$150) have a big market these days – especially since the great 2009 vintage. Bordeaux is coming back – at least in the everyday wines. You have to trim margins these days – internet gives customers prices from all over the country.
STTG: Of the many gatherings you have had around wine and food both here and abroad is there one that you can share with us that represents an unforgettable wine moment? In what context did it transpire?
CB: One memorable dinner was at Chateau Latour in 2010. There were Five K&L people there with Frederic Engerer, the manager of Latour and a famous Napa winery CEO. The guessing game on the wines during dinner had my son and Alex picking out 1971 Les Forts (Ch. Latour’s second label) and 1970 Latour. When the third wine was served, Ralph quickly guessed 1961. The wine was heavenly. I said it was much older and looked at Frederic – he tipped his glass to me and said for you! It of course was 1945 Latour from the property’s small stock. Fabulous wine on a fabulous evening!
STTG: Finally, when you look into your crystal ball, what do you see for the future of the wine industry?
CB: As long as the younger generations keep drinking wine (and a few less cocktails) the future is bright. But the big guns from Napa and Bordeaux and Burgundy have to keep their prices reasonable. The quality today is so much better for the average wine, the wine drinker has so many great choices in so many price ranges.
Slave to the grape – worse fates there have been!