Marcy Waterfall, who says that shopping makes her depressed and grumpy, sends in this decidedly upbeat entry for our indies competition. Clearly wine shopping doesn't count.
To fully appreciate my nomination, I think you need to know a little about me. First, I’ve never nominated anyone for anything and I don’t even fill out evaluation or survey forms. I'm a middle-aged (gulp!), career-minded, happily married woman who loves wine. I grew up in a family that didn’t drink, smoke or swear, so I’m not sure how I got the wine bug. Jancis – I recall from one of your videos that you fell in love with wine when you had a well-heeled college boyfriend who introduced you to some great wines. My college boyfriend also introduced me to wine, but it was cheap sparkling rosé that came in a ceramic bottle that then served another life as a flower vase. We've now been married 30 years and my tastes run somewhat more sophisticated (though I’d drink that cheap rosé with him again anytime if we could find it). Our friend, Richard, jokingly calls me a 'wine slut'. It is true, though, because I love wines of all styles. Many of my friends only drink red wine and I’m amused by my friend who has been married four times, but will order only Chardonnay (I guess he believes in wine monogamy). I’m happiest with a new wine every day, supplemented by the occasional old favorite.
The other thing you should know about me is that I hate shopping for nearly everything, except for wine. Perhaps I’m getting grumpy in my middle age, but the shopping experience depresses me. Either the saleperson is too busy carrying on a side conversation or talking on the phone to participate fully in the transaction or I’m bombarded with questions. Did I find everything I was looking for? No, I didn’t find happiness, nor did I find saffron, but… Do I want to provide my email address? Do I want to purchase an insurance policy on my mobile phone? Do I want to buy three more products so I can get one free? Do I want fries with that? Ok, you get the idea.
Shopping for wine is a different story. I’ve always been able to browse largely uninterrupted and emerge a while later with a box of 12 bottles. Satisfaction and occasional happiness. And yet, something was missing. After all, I live in Vermont, a small US state that even many Americans can’t locate on a map. When I first moved here, we had more cows than people. Though my species has now overtaken the cows, Vermont will likely never be a major metropolitan area with lots of wine shopping opportunities. My grocery store does have an entire isle of wine – mostly mass-produced wine with cute labels, probably marketed to someone just like me. But, I don’t want the wine equivalent of processed cheese spread – I want the handcrafted one year aged cheddar and an occasional three year aged cheddar made by an artisan who wakes up every day determined to make great cheese.
When Dedalus first opened and I saw the sign and storefront from my car, I drew an immediate conclusion which I’m sure was unfair. I concluded that the shop was the wine equivalent of a New York City exclusive women’s clothing boutique where there is one small rack of clothes with three even smaller black dresses that you can’t possibly fit into or afford (one glance from the former model-turned-shopkeeper tells you this). I knew I wouldn’t like this wine store. Sure, I’d love to buy the little black dress, but I drink wine every day so I have to think about the budget. At some point, I noticed that the shop moved across the street and it somehow seemed more approachable, so I mustered up all of my shopping courage and entered on a Saturday morning. It only took that one experience for me to find my wine home. I’m sure you’re starting to fear that this letter is all about me, so now let me turn my attention to why I am nominating Dedalus Wine and its great staff – Jason Zuiliani, Abby Kellie and Paul Gibson.
They are passionate about wine. At some point early on, I met one of the owners, Jason Zuliani. He explained that he and his partner in another business venture decided to open the wine store because they love wine and wanted to bring great wines to our small community (oh, and not pay retail prices anymore for their own wine consumption). What? Someone selling wine who loves wine? This seems obvious and yet, I haven’t often encountered this in my local shopping experiences. Abby, Jason and Paul love wine and the history and stories behind them, but they are not wine snobs.
Friendly and knowledgeable staff. The first day I entered the store I was immediately greeted by Abby, who welcomed me in with a simple, genuine hello and an offer to browse. So far, so good. Then she offered her assistance should I have any questions, explaining she had tasted nearly every wine in the shop. What? Someone who actually might know something about the product? I proceeded to browse for over an hour on my own. During that time, I was struck that nearly every person who came into the shop was greeted by name. Now, that usually doesn’t impress me. I’m actually turned off by the car salesman I’ve just met who uses my name too frequently or worse, the department store clerk who mispronounces my name, which she has just gotten from my credit card. But, something about Abby seemed different. She hadn’t just memorised names. She knew her customers.
Carefully curated collection. The store is large enough to have a large variety, but small enough to be intimate. The collection tends to focus on old world wines, which suits me fine, but they also sell new world wines that they like. They only sell wines they think are good. They also obtain large format bottles (for which I have a weakness) and have a good selection of sparkling wines (for which I also have a weakness). There’s a comfortable range of price points, so I can buy my every day wines, special occasion wines (it’s Tuesday and it’s raining), and wines to cellar.
Informative displays. Every single wine has a shelf-talker that pulls you in and contains more than the usual information (tannin levels, for instance). Every shelf-talker ends with a food pairing recommendation. I’m not sure if they make these themselves, but I think they’re great and I always want to take them home with me (but I don't!). They’re helpful to me (and I like to think I am fairly knowledgeable) and they must be tremendously helpful to the novice. Sometimes I’m in the mood to browse on my own. Sometimes, I ask for special help. Sometimes, they walk me around showing me what’s new and fabulous. I know I can never go wrong because they have hand selected every bottle.
They host frequent informal wine tastings and also host winemakers. I wish I could go to more of these, but alas, real life gets in the way. I always feel special being invited and look forward to trying a new wine and perhaps even falling in love. It’s been known to happen.
They understand that wine goes with food. Abby loves to cook, as do I, so it’s fun to share what we’re cooking and drinking. I know I can count on her to help me with an odd pairing such as what to drink on St Patrick’s Day with corned beef and cabbage. Paul recently helped me select some American wines for my Independence Day 4th of July picnic (last year my friends ridiculed me for serving French wines on this distinctly American holiday). I know they have also been involved with many special wine and food events, though I haven’t been able to attend any yet.
Interesting email marketing. Every morning, I delete, without reading, the marketing emails from nearly every other company that I deal with. I always read the emails from Dedalus. Of course, they want to sell wine, but their genuine passion always comes through and it makes me want to try everything. They also have a website, which I admit I don’t visit, but you can check it out at Dedaluswine.com. I’ve included below two excerpts from just the past couple of weeks. The first one from Jason is about a tasting I’m going to tomorrow—how could I not attend?
'Over the course of the last 18 months I’ve been a part of what must be the most epic email thread in history. The subject line: Let’s Get Liquid Farm to Vermont!!! It’s taken almost 150 emails, an unknown number of phone calls and about a dozen meetings to get these wines to the Green Mountain State. Was it worth it? Absolutely. But you can judge for yourself this Thursday at a tasting here at Dedalus. We’re going to open three bottlings from this amazing husband-and-wife winemaking team. Included in the lineup are two of the most gorgeous, expressive Chardonnays I’ve ever had. In addition, we’ll try the Liquid Farm rosé, which has been affectionately dubbed “Pink Crack”, and has developed a near-religious online following.'
I didn’t pounce on this next email, which I have regretted every day since. Maybe they’ll have some leftovers when I go into the shop tomorrow. 'I first tasted a Léon Barral wine in 2011. The wine shop was still across the street and I had been working there for almost two years, tasting new and delicious wines almost daily and thanking my lucky stars that for some reason I had been hired to do this crazy-awesome job. Jason had featured the 2004 Valinières from Barral in the wine club (then called Club 65). It was a rare treat that he had scrounged up a back vintage from this biodynamic producer and when I tasted it, I fell...hard. Since then we have carried anything we can get from Léon Barral – every vintage we throw our arms out like needy children looking for a hug – let us have it, we'll take it, all of it. In all this time I have not had a bad bottle from Barral. In fact, I'm pretty sure they are just getting better and better. A few weeks ago I had a phone call from a customer looking to purchase some of this incoming 2011 vintage of Barral's Faugères. He had been at the winery in France and tasted it there and it's all he's been able to think about since (welcome to the club), that has me even more excited for these wines to arrive. I personally am going to snag a few for myself, some for the cellar since they age gorgeously, but if I'm being totally honest, several bottles won't live to see the leaves turn. I just can't help myself, they are soooo good!'
The store is a great example of the best kind of American business. In an era of cookie-cutter chain stores, it is nice to see a true original such as Dedalus with a simple business model – a great product and great service. They're bringing great wines to Vermont. Fortunately for me, Vermont takes its food seriously and we have lots of artisans making fabulous cheese and countless other specially products, including our signature maple syrup. We even have wineries popping up in Vermont. I’m afraid they have their work cut out for them in this cold climate, but in the meantime, I have a team of personal shoppers at Dedalus bringing me the best of what the world has to offer.