The gift that keeps on giving

By Frank Whitman 

Connecticut is an extraordinary state.  I’m sure you can think of a bunch of things that make it special. I know I can: our wonderful coast; the mix of rural and city; great institutions; and a complex, varied, delicious food scene to name a few. 

Mike at Fountainhead

Another is the exceptional number of expertise-sharing wine stores.  It’s no accident. Connecticut’s post-prohibition liquor control system allows for lots of stores and discourages the big box retailers, but fixes minimum prices, sets margins, and controls access to the market. (Did you know that there is a minimum price on every bottle sold?  No one can charge less than that, no matter what.)  

Stores like Fountainhead Wines in Norwalk, DB Fine Wines in New Canaan, Harry’s Wine in Fairfield, 109 Wine and Cheese in Ridgefield, Ancona’s in Wilton and The Town Cellar in Darien eagerly advise and suggest wines from smaller producers and undiscovered regions along with the big names. You’ll find carefully-chosen and personally-suggested bottles for almost anyone at these retailers.

But the system also makes it challenging for smaller wineries with limited wholesale distribution to sell in the desirable Connecticut market.  There’s a complicated, time-consuming, and expensive system to “register” each label – a barrier for many wineries. 

A good example is Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles, California.  They make 34 wines (many award-winning) in the Rhône Valley style with grapes like Syrah, Grenâche and Cinsault in partnership with the Perrin Family of the Southern Rhône.  Many of their wines, both traditional and innovative, are often made in quantities too small to fill normal wholesale pipelines – best sold direct from the winery. So even though a few of their wines are available in Connecticut, the majority are not. 

The Town Cellar in Darien

Just in time for Christmas, Tablas Creek has knocked down the barriers to shipping here. Jason Hass, General Manager, has made the effort to register all of his labels in Connecticut.  It’s a big commitment at $200 per, not to mention all the time-consuming paperwork involved. (If you want to know more, read Haas’s blog.)  We’re the 43rd state they’re shipping to –the state with the 7th most challenging barrier to entry. 

A direct relationship with the winery pays off, offering wines not normally available here along with special privileges at the winery. As soon as I got the word from Tablas Creek, I signed up for the Vinsider Club – getting two shipments a year of six bottles of their choosing for between $200 and $250 plus shipping. I’m counting on a mix of their flagship wines and small batch bottlings. The first box will be here in December. (Yay!)

It’s a Christmas present to Marsha and me – a gift for both that will keep on giving. If there’s a wine lover on your list, give them what they love, either carefully selected bottles or a year-round club membership. I’m sure you’ll get to share. 

Some local stores offer wine clubs too.  Fountainhead has a good one – three bottles of wine a month drawn from their years of personal relationships with winemakers around the world, each with a fascinating backstory.  Ancona’s also has a three per month club focusing on wines that are organic and in many cases also biodynamic and natural.  They’re great ways to broaden wine horizons.  

Wine is always welcome – a clutch of everyday bottles or one really special. A club membership – local or winery-direct. The choices in our extraordinary state have never been better. 

Oh yes, one more thing. I have to mention my favorite stocking stuffer — an old school nutmeg grater with a jar of acorn-like nutmegs is a must have for any resident of the nutmeg state.