Mystery Shopper Visits Grapes The Wine Company

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It's been a while since I've done a mystery shopper style review of a wine shop, but a recent trip to Long Island gave me an opportunity to visit Grapes The Wine Company in White Plains, NY on the way back to Boston. Wine retail tourism - I guess that's what you do when your interest in wine shopping borders on an obsession?

I never know what to expect when visiting a retailer like this. After a couple years on their email list I kind of formulated an image in my head that the store would somehow align with the tone of the emails owner Daniel Posner sends out. I've never met him in person -- he was out of town the weekend I visited -- but I think I first became familiar with Daniel for being banned from the eRobertParker forums (something about questioning their authority on Australian wines was it?).

His emails offer high end wines at deep discount, usually after opening thoughts about a regional sports event. Emphasis is achieved through the use of bold, italics, and red letters. Some of the best deals are bluntly labeled CLOSEOUTS!! or DUMP!. Love him or hate him, you've got to give him credit for being direct.
I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of on-the-shelf offerings at Grapes. What I found was a thoughtful selection of wines chosen from the important categories you'd likely want to stock a cellar with. Domestic Cabernet and Pinot Noir, Italy, and France were each well represented, displayed in single-facings with reserve inventory behind each bottle.

There were a good number of wines I associate with mailing lists (like the 2009 Bedrock Heirloom Dolinsek Ranch for example) that I've never seen on retailer shelves in Massachusetts. And a smart assortment of imports as well.

I picked up a couple Pinot Noirs - the 2009 Chasseur Sonoma County for $32.99 and a 2008 Joseph Swan Cuvee Trois for $34.99. Not the most amazing pricing in the world but I can't find these wines in Massachusetts and if I had built up a mixed half or full case I could have had 10% or 15% off.

While I was shopping I was asked a couple times whether I needed help finding anything. I declined - not because I don't think the help would have been valuable but because I don't need any more reasons to buy wine. To me a store like this succeeds by keeping its customers out of trouble. There's no "fat" to the assortment. Every wine they stock has been vetted and it's hard to go wrong - an impressive accomplishment with about 2,000 unique wines for sale.

I had a look inside their temperature controlled area where they have some truly serious, bank account breaking wines. The picture of Daniel on their website has him standing in this room and I somehow thought the place would be smaller based on that picture. As if this were the entire store or something. This was just a small portion of the store however - I understand they have upstairs and basement areas used for climate controlled storage.
About 20% of the store is dedicated to daily drinkers and deals. I spotted what appeared to be a few remnants from recent email offers. The store was tidy with hardly any indication of the direct shipment business they conduct. If I happened upon the store by chance I don't think I would have had any clue they do a lot of direct shipment business.

Recommendations

Even if they can't ship to your state I recommend jumping on their daily newsletter. They're entertaining and offer good insight into why direct retailer shipment is something wine enthusiasts everywhere should be behind. Daniel has done as much as any retailer I've seen to support the direct shipment of wine and for that he should be commended. If you're passing through the New York area I think you'd enjoy stopping in for a visit. Check out their inventory online to get a feel for their assortment.

Further Reading:

Check 'em out:
Grapes The Wine Company
731 North Broadway
White Plains, NY 10603

Question of the Day: Have you been to Grapes The Wine Company? If so, what did you think? Either way, what's another wine store that's worthy of a little wine retail tourism?

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