Editor’s note: This is the second installment of Dave McIntyre’s occasional series in which he talks to local retailers about the state of wine in the DMV. The first interview can be found here.
Christina Findley opened the Bottle Shop just over two years ago in the Potomac Woods Plaza shopping center off Seven Locks Road in Rockville. The store is part of a growing population of independent wine retailers that now challenge the dominance of Montgomery County’s government-run wine and liquor stores.
Dave McIntyre: Why did you decide to open a wine store?
Christina Findley: The recession forced this life change. I was laid off from my job as assistant general manager at a downtown hotel in February of 2009. When I couldn’t find a job, I decided to create one, and I felt that our part of Montgomery County needed a good wine store. Although being in retail was new to me, my background in hotel food and beverage gave me a strong understanding of wine, food and service, so the transition was pretty natural. I opened the store on Nov. 30 of 2009.
DM: What types of wines are your customers asking for? And in what price range?
CF: We sell a lot of wine in the $9 to $15 range — after all, who doesn’t like a good deal? Our customers enjoy exploring new varietals and wine from lesser-known regions, and our free tastings every Friday night offer risk- free experimentation. They really enjoy diversity, the wine just has to be good.
DM: What trends do you see, both in your sales and in your crystal ball looking to the future?
CF: I noticed that this holiday season people were buying more expensive wines than last year. I’m encouraged by that, but I don’t expect people will ever go back to thinking that a wine has to cost more than $20 to be good. With the grape harvest in California down 20-30 percent this year, prices will be going up. We will continue to enjoy discovering wines from lesser-known regions. I think we will all be drinking more wine from South Africa, Spain, Portugal, even Greece.
DM: You’ve supported local and regional wines — offering Maryland, Virginia and New York wines for example. Have your customers been receptive?
CF: As the world grows smaller with globalization, we all find products that are authentic very appealing. We want to know the stories behind the wine and food we enjoy, and we want to know what makes it special. I love it that petit verdot or viognier from our area is so good, and that merlot from the North Fork of Long Island doesn’t taste like merlot from anywhere else. A few years from now we will be boasting that we were prescient enough to be drinking Black Ankle during their first vintages. They are not just making great Maryland wine, they are making great wine, period. I took a group of customers there last fall, and we had a great time. I am planning trips to Maryland breweries and Virginia wineries this year.
DM: What other goods do you sell?
CF: Because I am so passionate about regional diversity and local products, I’m always on the lookout for the best our region has to offer. We sell Little Ragghi’s, a delicious cracker from Ocean City; Olli Salami and Gunther’s crab salsa from Richmond; and BMore Nutz from Baltimore. Dogfish Head, Flying Dog and Heavy Seas are all brewing beer that can compete on a national level, and Rockville now has its own nano-brewery, Baying Hound Aleworks. Cherry Glen Goat Cheese from Boyds, right here in Montgomery County, is one of the best in the country, and Chapel’s Country Creamery is making fantastic cheddar and blue cheese in Easton. The folks at SPAGnVOLA are taking estate-grown cocoa from the Dominican Republic and making chocolate in Gaithersburg. Amazing, right? We will continue to seek out these products and their stories for our customers. They love it as much as I do.
DM: What’s your favorite wine in the store, the one that maybe you don’t want to tell customers about so you could keep it for yourself?
CF: That’s like asking me which one of my daughters is my favorite! I crave change and new experiences, so often my favorite wines in the store are the most recent arrivals. I really enjoy sharing new wines with my customers.