A parade of customers scampered between wooden wine crates and floor-to-ceiling bottle racks in the cramped Connecticut Avenue institution, long a destination in a city that has one of the highest per capita wine-consumption rates in the country. The store, which sells everything from cheap wine to the unfathomably priced, often crawls with Washington elites; Chief Justice John Roberts does his wine-shopping at Calvert Woodley — always with the Cuban-born Almodovar’s assistance.
With New Year’s Eve approaching, most of the customers dodging one another in the family-owned store’s aisles carted off champagnes or tiny-bubbled alternatives. One man picked up a bottle of $119 Barons de Rothschild Blanc de Blancs. Someone else asked for a 2004 Cristal for nearly $200: 12 percent alcohol by volume for the 1 percent.
Spending a day with the 70-year-old Almodovar and the rest of the Calvert Woodley staff provides a window not only into the way the city celebrates, but also into its high-flying wealth.
Washington boasts some of the country’s richest neighborhoods and most affluent households, many of which thrived during the economic downturn. That recession-resistant prosperity has made Calvert Woodley the kind of place where $43.99 bottles of Veuve Cliquot’s signature “Yellow Label” champagne fly out the door (“even if they don’t know how to pronounce it!” Almodovar said) — and where one customer rejected a $799 bottle of 2005 Chateau Mouton Rothschild on Thursday because he preferred a much more expensive (but unavailable) 2005 Chateau Lafite.
Most of Calvert Woodley’s 52 employees take home less per week than the roughly $1,500 it would cost to buy a single bottle of 2005 Lafite.
But the rage-against-the-wealth ethos represented by the Occupy movement is missing from the store. There’s more awe than resentment about how the haves throw their money around here.
“This guy picked up like six cases, for $3,600,” marveled Dillon Williams, 51, a Jamaican immigrant who has worked at Calvert Woodley for three decades and now manages the store’s subterranean warehouse. “That’s a mortgage right there. It’s amazing.”
He loves recounting the buying habits of the big-walleted. “If you have it, there’s nothing wrong with spending it,” he said. “I’d do the same thing.”
“There’s big tickets, all day, every day — people spending $1,100 on one bottle,” Phillip Fogle said during a break from stocking the 5,000-square-foot store’s shelves. “That was unheard of to me, unbelievable. But it’s common. This place attracts people with money.”