Editor’s note: The latest in Dave McIntyre’s occasional series of interviews with local wine retailers.
Vanessa Moore is the owner and manager of Unwined, a specialty wine retail shop in the Bradlee Shopping Center of Alexandria, with a sister store in Belle View, south of Alexandria. She also participated in our “Judgment of D.C.” tasting in 2009, which paired Virginia wines against those from France and California. All We Can Eat asked her about current trends in the wine market, and what her customers are looking for these days.
Dave McIntyre: Why did you decide to open a wine store, of all things?
Vanessa Moore: I like to think I was in the right place at the right time. I was fortunate to work in the store as the manager for several years before a brief stint on the wholesale side. After about 18 months, my husband and I were offered the opportunity to buy. So it was a bit less scary because I already knew our clients and the market in general. Oh, and I’m a social creature. I love people and wine, and the way it brings family and friends together.
DM: Do your customers in Alexandria differ noticeably in their tastes or buying habits from those at your Belle View store?
VM: There is a slight difference, one that is interesting and challenging in a fun way. For example, we sell 20 to 25 percent more craft beer out of a smaller space at Belle View than we do at the King Street store. We sell more domestic cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir there as well. The reason folks choose Unwined rather than a larger store is because we do get to know their individual preferences and develop personal relationships. So we buy to satisfy our clients, and the selection reflects that.
DM: What are your customers asking for in wine? What is their preferred price range and have you noticed that going up or down lately?
VM: So many of our customers are informed drinkers. They enjoy reading and learning about wine as much as they enjoy drinking it. So I would say that while they want the best wine for their budget, in our store there is a sweet spot for comfort and adventure. At Unwined, it’s the $12 to $30 range, and the selections are from all over the world with strong favorites in France, Italy, Spain, California and the Pacific Northwest. Our under $10 section is also very popular. At $30-plus, the wine ought to impress, so that’s less challenging. One of our main objectives is to blow people away at under $15. My recommendation for all types of wine enthusiasts: Osel Ruche 2009 from Piedmont, Italy, for $13, imported by Siema. Ruche is one of Italy’s 1,000-plus wine varieties and made by only a handful of producers. It’s similar to a medium-bodied pinot noir, and just as food-friendly.
DM: When you go home after a long busy day at the stores, what is your go-to drink?
VM: Beer! My husband is not a big drinker, and I get to taste so many great wines nearly everyday, so I usually have a beer or two. Something I can open 12 ounces at a time, something hoppy, roasted and dark, like Stone Sublimely Self Righteous or 21st Amendment Back in Black. In the warmer months, a dry but fruity rose is what helps me decompress. I have to keep myself from drinking the whole bottle if I get home before 9 p.m. I’m only 5 feet tall, and a lightweight after all.
DM: Are there wines you love but people just don’t want to buy?
VM: Absolutely, and some of them are still on the shelves, like medium- to high-end white Rhones. These wines are generally somewhat limited production, with a huge gap in price point. They are often under $20 or over $50. Others, we really limit unless there is a customer request, like Loire reds. Sorry, Dave, I know you are a fan. . .We could do a better job in the store of educating people about cool-climate reds.
DM: Are your customers interested in local wines? How do Virginia wines sell?
VM: How did I know you’d ask this question? Yes, our customers are truly supportive and interested in the success of local small businesses, which translates to more Virginia wine sold in our stores every year. With more vineyard land being developed, vines aging and increasing talent, there seems to be improvement in quality and price point, so consumer curiosity continues to grow. One of our favorites: Glen Manor Vineyards in Front Royal. Generally, folks view wine country as a great day trip or weekend getaway. People work so hard and just appreciate having quick access to the scenic views and wide variety of wines.
(Note: This interview was conducted before Glen Manor was announced as this year’s Virginia Governor’s Cup winner.)