Retail Wine Buying

John Downing
John Downing – Senior Wine Buyer for Hi Time Wine

This show focuses on the retail aspect of buying wine. There is no reason for a novice wine buyer to be intimidated about going into a wine store and asking for help finding a bottle of wine.

Our guest today is Senior Wine Buyer John Downing. John has been in the business for over 8 years and focuses on international wines but he gives us a great insight into buying wine from your local retailer.

John works at Hi-Time Wine Cellars, a wine and spirits shop founded 1957. The store, which is one of the largest in the USA, is both a traditional brick and mortar establishment while also offering a full e-commerce online shopping option. Hi-Time Cellars offers an email newsletter and can be found at Hi Time Wine

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Show #3
(20:56 min 9 MB)

14 Responses to “Retail Wine Buying”

  1. 1 Jeff Nemcher Jan 26th, 2005 at 9:22 am

    Thanks for the very interesting and informative show. I enjoyed hearing about the retail buying side of the wine experience. Keep up the great work!


  2. 2 Brian Jan 26th, 2005 at 10:33 am

    No problem, we have some great shows coming up.

  3. 3 Steve Jan 27th, 2005 at 12:49 pm

    Question about connecting the dots between the winery the wholesaler and the retailer. Last year I want to purchase some Penfolds RWT. The production is pretty low, so it is not available everywhere. I met the Penfolds rep at a tasting, and asked for a referral. He gave me the name and number of a store in my area. He told me they were taking delivery of 6 6 packs the following day. I called the store and was told they were not getting any at all. I think they were saving them for their best clients. I can’t really become a “best” client if they won’t at least sell me a bottle or two.

    The retailers seem to be the snag in getting at what you want. What are your thoughts?

  4. 4 Brian Jan 27th, 2005 at 2:23 pm

    Yes you are right, often retailers will take care of their special customers (big spenders) first and then you get to fight over the leftovers. The problem is there is only so much of that “special” wine to go around. Your local retailers may only get 6 bottles of a highly allocated wine.

    These wines are often allocated to the big fish as a perk for using that vendor. Lets face it, they are in business to make money (stay in business) and they are in a tuff spot because that big fish represent a lot of money to them. They must keep these guys happy.

    Things you can do to work around this include:

    1. Pick a single retailer with a great selection and stick with them. By consolidating your purchases to a single source you will be more recognized (big fish?) and taken care of in the process.

    2. Know what you want ahead of time. Retailers will often have waiting lists for those special wines and you need to be on that list.

    3. Become more visible at the retailer. The more they see you the more they will consider you a friend of the shop. Lets face it – Friends take care of friends.

    4. Have a backup plan. Often the wholesaler does not deliver what they promised to your retailer, especially with the “hot wines”.

    If that does not work don’t worry there is lots of great wine out there.

    Brian Clark

  5. 5 Lee Jan 27th, 2005 at 3:41 pm

    Lee Says:

    January 27th, 2005 at 10:30 am
    The third show is the best yet! Very interesting and great guest. Here is a question from someone who is less than novice. I do business in Europe through distributors. When they make a sale I’d like to send a nice bottle of California wine. I don’t want to send an undrinkable trophy. I’d like to send something nice, but I really don’t know the recipient’s individual taste and I really don’t know much about wine. Then there is also the issue of getting it through customs. So, my question is two fold: 1) what do you recommend that I do to select a wine (or do you have any specific recommendations), and 2) how can I send a wine to Europe (mostly Germany, Austria, and Italy). I don’t want to spend anymore than I have to (to do this right), but if I had to spend a couple hundred bucks, then that’s okay. Thanks in advance.

  6. 6 Steve Holden Jan 27th, 2005 at 8:42 pm

    Great show. I learned a lot of good stuff. Keep up the good work.

  7. 7 Deena Jan 28th, 2005 at 9:17 am

    Just listened to all 3 of your shows, and I love what you guys are doing. I’m fairly new to wine, so any opportunity to learn is wonderful. I’m glad you e-mailed me and gave me a heads-up. How about a show on wine tasting vocabulary sometime? Or how about one on what ‘structure’ means?

    Also, I’m putting together a list of wine-related links for my site, and I’ll definitely have Grape Radio on there. (Right now there’s a blogroll, but I’m going to add another list)

    Please give my regards to Leigh and Jay as well.

    Deena of Viti-Culture

  8. 8 Brian Clark Jan 28th, 2005 at 9:20 am

    As far as the shows topics you mentioned, great minds think alike. We have just been discussing similar type of shows. Stay tuned we have a lot of fun stuff in the works


  9. 9 Jay Selman Jan 28th, 2005 at 10:50 am

    Lee, in response to your question about sending wine overseas, I would like to suggest additional approach. You can buy a wine, or a gift certificate, from a retailer in the country of your choice, and have it delivered to your customer (or they can pick it up). This is very easy to do. If you want to ship a wine, I strongly suggest using TNT (not the explosive). Its not cheap, buts its reliable. Napa and Paso wines are good choices due to somewhat limited distribution overseas.

    Jay Selman

  10. 10 Jay Selman Jan 28th, 2005 at 11:01 am

    Steve, I will address your question as long as you do not tell anyone. The last thing I need is for everone on the Internet to know my secrets. 🙂

    I would add to Brian’s suggestions the following:

    1) Refer people to the retailer and make sure the people you refer mention your name as the reason they are visiting the retailer.

    2) Work all the retailers. Do not depend on just one getting you the wine you want.

    3) Contact the distributors/wineries so you can time your requests. They will tell you when a wine is expected to hit the retailers shelves. I often walk in the door of a retailer on the same day a wine was delivered to the store.

    4) Tell everyone at the store what you want, not just one person. People are human, they take days off, quit, forget, etc. You want all eyes looking out for you.


  11. 11 John Jan 28th, 2005 at 2:54 pm

    As novice myself I try to publish reviews of wines that impress me. Because I don’t yet have the experience to pick out things and make complicated descriptions I word them in basic manners that other novices might find easy to understand. Basically I try to frame it as a I wouldn’t make the page if it wasn’t worth trying type of thing.


  12. 12 Adam Vali Jan 29th, 2005 at 9:24 am

    Great show. Very informative and you all asked great questions that both a novice or more experienced wine consumer would want to know the answer to.

    Some future show ideas:
    Great wine and food pairings.
    How to properly store your wine, especially as you go from the 30 bottle refrigerator to the 200-500-1000 bottle storage facility.
    How about a show on Champagne/Sparkling wine?

  13. 13 Brian Clark Mar 13th, 2005 at 1:47 pm

    Thanks for the feedback Adam. Many of these shows are planned. In fact the Champagne show will be available the week od Mar14th.


  14. 14 Jen York Jun 29th, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    I am so glad I found this, this is so helpful! I only recently became very interested in wine and it IS intimidating to go purchase it alone. I often feel like the sellers look down on you if you don’t choose what they like. Thanks for this! I realize I am a little late on reading it, but I have been all over the net looking for something like this!

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