Ansonia Wines: The Garagiste of the East?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Remember that story in the NY Times a while back about Jon Rimmerman? He's the man behind Garagiste, the Seattle wine retailer who sells tens of millions of dollars worth of wine each year via text-only emails to a distribution list of more than 100,000 people.

When you hear his story it's easy to imagine yourself living the glamorous life of an importer and merchant of fine wines, meandering around France and Italy developing relationships with growers and producers. Your friends back home ask you to bring them some of your latest discoveries and the gesture turns into a thriving business.

Mark and Tom Wilcox are a father-and-son team at Ansonia Wines doing just that. Mark, a long-time wine enthusiast and attorney, spent a year living in Burgundy with his family. At the end of the stint he brought back an assortment of wines he'd discovered to share with friends. After a few months, his friends asked him where they could buy more of the wines. The wines weren't available in the US so Mark expanded the idea of connecting his friends with vineyards and winemakers in Europe into a business, and that's largely what Ansonia is today.

But Ansonia works with fewer wineries than Rimmerman. Instead of a different wine each day, they focus on a winemaker’s full lineup, helping customers pick which wines to drink early, which to hold on to, and when to drink those that they hold.

They built their reputation in the DC area where licensees are able to purchase directly from importers and wineries. Here in Massachusetts things are quite a bit more restrictive (retailers and restaurants must buy all their wine from state licensed wholesalers) but Tom (the son in the partnership) has acquired a retailer license and through a relationship with a Massachusetts wholesaler Tom is able to offer their wines directly to consumers here.

He also offers free delivery in the Boston area.

I sat down with Tom to learn more about the business and taste wines from the Ansonia portfolio this week. It was an interesting visit both from the perspective of hearing first hand what it takes to run this kind of business and in terms of learning about an opportunity we have as Massachusetts residents to buy their wines. As you may know, Massachusetts has restrictive wine shipping laws.

I learned it's a good thing Mark (the father) is an attorney because they've had to navigate their way through legal restrictions associated with operating such a business. In Massachusetts current laws limit the ability of one entity to concurrently be an importer, wholesaler and retailer. So it takes work to establish a connection between a European winery and an Massachusetts consumer.

We tasted through four of their wines:
Most of the producers in their portfolio (around 45 in total) are from France.

The common theme across the wines is a focus on small, old world producers offering quality, a pure expression of terroir, and value. The average price of their wines is in the low $20s per bottle. Burgundies tend to sell for more, less prestigious appellations less.

As we were talking, I couldn't help but think of how it's got to be hard to develop a business like this. It's one thing to discover a few great wines on vacation. It happens all the time, right? But it's another thing altogether to develop a track record of discovering the undiscovered. The fact that they work with a producer's portfolio of wines rather than a "once and done" push of a single bottling helps make the business more sustainable I'd think.

Most of their business comes from personal referral. Friends telling friends about enjoying their wines and ordering more. If you're in the Boston area reach out to Tom via email if you'd be interested in finding a way to taste some of their wines. They're looking to make friends with wine tasting and social groups in the area.

They write about three different wines each week, giving tasting notes and suggesting recipes. You can sign up to receive these posts by email.

If you don't live in the Boston or DC area they can ship their wines to states that allow wine shipments.

They happen to be headed back to France for a tasting trip this week. Follow along on their Tumblr and peruse their current and past selections to get a feel for what kind of wines and stories they offer:

Subscribe to their email list for notification of new offers.
Follow @AnsoniaWines and ping them on Twitter if you're interested in learning more about their wines.

So where does the name Ansonia come from? Ansonia is a small village in rural Northern Pennsylvania where their family has had a cabin on the side of a stream for several generations. They've paid tribute to that special location in the name of their wine business. I like it!

I wish Tom the best as his endeavor to create connections between Massachusetts enthusiasts and those who produce the wines. It's my pleasure to have Ansonia Wines as a new sponsor of this site.


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