February 22, 2007

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Keepers of the vino
Liquor Commission specialists explain how we get wine
By Susan Reilly  news@hippopress.com

If you are into food, you are probably also into wine.

New Hampshire is one of 18 states in the country that has absolute control over liquor. To find out how wines find their way to store shelves and local wine lists, I spoke with Nicole Brassard, the wine marketing specialist for the state, and Gordon Heins, the wine merchandising specialist.

We met in the state liquor store on Coliseum Avenue in Nashua for a discussion on the business of wine in New Hampshire.

It seems like some liquor stores have a poor selection of wine.
Brassard: All of our stores are not created equal. In some of our stores, we do not do a big wine business, so we focus on other products in them. Our more wine-centric stores in the area include Bedford, which has 1,400 different wines to choose from; both stores on I-95, each with about 2,500 wine SKUs [stock keeping units, the means by which the state keeps track of its different wines; each unique wine—vintage, varietal, vineyard—has a SKU]; the Hooksett store in the Kmart Plaza has an expanding wine selection; the store at the Portsmouth traffic circle, and this store, on exit 6, which sells roughly 4,000 wine SKUs.

Is there wine in every state liquor store?
Brassard: Yes, there is a core group of 325 wine SKUs that pretty much has shelf space in every store. The core group is wines like Kendall Jackson and more popular wines that do big volume.

Aside form the big brands that seem to be everywhere, how do you source more [interesting] wines?
Brassard: One way is that we buy futures in wine. For example, we have committed two years in advance for Bordeaux. We still have some of the 2003 vintage left. It was an amazing year for Bordeaux and we were lucky enough to be able to bring bottles into our stores. We have 2,500 cases of 2005 coming in and we are hearing that it will be even better than the 2003.…

Heins: We watch trends very carefully. Spain, Argentina, South Africa and Australian wines have been taking off and we have carefully increased our selection of these wines. I doubt that you will find this much of a selection anywhere else of boutique wines from these emerging wine markets as we have in the stores.

Brassard: The brokers turn us onto to trends and special buys. That helps us keep the inventory in the stores interesting for people who know wine.

Brokers?
Brassard: Yes. This is how it works: the commission is both a wholesaler and a retailer of wine, plus we enforce the state’s liquor laws. In order to list a wine in the state, you must go through a local broker. There are more than a dozen brokers locally who develop a portfolio of wines. In total, there are roughly 11,000 different wines in the portfolio. Our stores sell approximately 5,000 of those wines. The rest are sold through boutique wine shops, allowing them to be unique and different than the state stores.

New Hampshire is one of 18 states that has absolute control of liquor.
Brassard: Yes, and each state runs it a little differently. Pennsylvania has a similar system and has a lot of buying power. Members of their commission have come to New Hampshire to look at the way we manage our upscale wine business because they wanted to expand their SKUs and offer more interesting labels.

Because of volume, New Hampshire must have buying power too?
Heins: We do, we have special relationships with the brokers and because of the volume we can buy we will get first shot at cases of unique, sometimes hard-to-find allocated wines.

Has the state’s wine business changed over the past five years?
Heins: Tremendously. Consumers are much more educated now and we are constantly trying to stay ahead of the trends and keep our staff well informed because the customer is demanding more from us.

Wine warehouse
The Coliseum Ave., Nashua, store has a wine warehouse in the back. This is a room where odd cases and closeout bins (meaning a few bottles left of a year) end up. The room is hit or miss, but there are good deals to be had. Here is a sample of some of the offerings recently available.
• Chateau Clerc Milon 2002 ($34.99), 2003 ($64.99).
• Tres Picos Borsao 2003 ($11.99).
• Jester Mitolo, a new boutique cabernet sauvignon from Australia ($19.99).
• Oreno 2003 ($69.99). The commission received a small allocation and there are still a few bottles left.
• To Kalon Vineyard Robert Mondavi 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon ($149.99).
• Sassicaia 2003 ($261.99 for a magnum). The commission had a shot at two bottles of this; there is one left.




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