If you’re interested in great wine, the best thing you can do for yourself is find a great wine shop. Here’s what to look for:
1. It’s cool inside. If it’s warm enough that you’re uncomfortable in your winter coat,turn around and leave. Remember that real wine is a perishable agricultural product.
2. The store is clean, which is a measure of the respect that the staff has for its customers and its products.
3. There’s real selection, not just hundreds of wines.
Most important of all, a great wine shop is staffed by personable, informed professionals, who know that Robert Parker, and Gambero Rosso, and Wine Spectator are inadequate to communicate what most people are looking for in wine. A great wine shop won’t use shelf-talkers or silly gimmicks like touch-screen or bar-code operated “kiosks,” (which aren’t any different from shelf-talkers) that tell you what “brand managers” and “distributors” think is important.
Great wine shops are personal-service, not self-service operations. The best are staffed by passionate wine lovers, who aren’t interested in “demystifying” wine, but who are excited about making the mystery of wine accessible. They can tell you as much as you want to know (and even know when to stop telling you more than you want to hear) about every wine they sell, because they’ve tasted it themselves. In fact, they’ve probably drunk it with a carefully considered dish that they prepared themselves (many are avid cooks, too). And most of them are travelers, who have visited the wineries themselves. You can expect all of that and more at Moore Brothers Wine Company.
Here we sell nothing but wines that we love: fine, authentic, small-farm products, made by artisans who are motivated by a sense of responsible stewardship – of their heritage, as well as their vines – and who are committed to the highest standards of quality. That excludes négociants like Moët et Chandon and Georges DuBœuf, as well as branded industrial wines like Jacob’s Creek and Cavit Pinot Grigio.
But more than that, we select every one of our wines in a direct, personal relationship with the grower. We actually go to the source ourselves – not on distributor-sponsored junkets to have our picture taken at Château Mouton Rothschild while scouring the vineyards of Bordeaux- we know our producers, and stay in their homes when we travel. Most of us have worked a harvest at one time or another, or helped with a little effeuillage in the summer, or manned a producer’s station at VinExpo while he visited a friend at another booth.
I even did a little of what Frank calls “dancing-bear bartending” once, with my friend Jochen Ratzenberger at a pre-concert reception in the courtyard of a little Romanesque church in St. Goar. While Jochen and I poured, his wife Carmen manned the cash-box between us, and collected three euros a glass for the Bacharacher Riesling Kabinett trocken that we served (the proceeds were donated to the student orchestra that performed later in the evening).
On the other hand, the close personal relationships that we share with our suppliers prohibit us from such presumptuous intervention as, for example, buying them new barrels for “special unfiltered cuvées” that aren’t part of their regular production, or prescribing wine styles that might not sell in their local markets. We know how privileged we are to work with these extraordinary people, and they don’t need us to tell them how to make their wine. Our job is to sell the wine that they’re happy to make, not to give them recipes for the wine that we think would be easy to sell.
Of course, we don’t claim that we sell every good wine you’ll ever want to try (or for that matter, guarantee that you’ll like every wine we sell at Moore Brothers). And you might think the “New World” is underrepresented at Moore Brothers, which doesn’t mean we only like French and Italian wines. We’re not snobs. It only means that we’ve never been to Australia (which is far away), and that the kind of wines that excite us in California are mostly sold by the growers directly, at full retail margins, to private customers at their wineries – only a few have wine to sell us. Besides, we’re busy enough as it is, doing the best we can in Italy, France and Germany. As Frank puts it, “Ford dealers don’t sell Chevys.”
But wherever we find them, every one of our artisan-made products has special value that mere commodities do not, in the same way that a boule from Amy’s is more interesting than a loaf of Wonder Bread. It’s easy to forget that the principle applies to wine, as well. Given just one opportunity to compare, it’s self-evident that a bottle of Gianni Piccoli’s Bianco di Custoza is more intrinsically worthwhile than a bottle of Santa Margharita Pinot Grigio, which is much more expensive.
It comes down to this: we honor the terms of the implicit contract expected by consumers of wine – that wine is indeed the result of careful, sustainable agriculture, artisan craft, and responsible handling. We offer wines that are the produce of special, wine-meaningful places, grown by exceptional people. And we offer them in pristine condition, in a family-friendly environment.
Our suppliers have told us that Moore Brothers is the only place where their wines taste as fresh as they do in their own cellars (it doesn’t take a trained palate to tell the difference). On top of that, they’re happy with the company their wines keep. They recognize the labels of their friends and colleagues, and best of all, as Jacques Diebolt explained during a visit here, they meet customers who are more curious, informed, and appreciative than anywhere else.
So, considering all that, maybe the headline of an article in the local daily that appeared shortly after we opened our first store in New Jersey wasn’t far off the mark: “Moore Brothers Wine Company Hopes to Redefine How Fine Wine is Sold”…it sounded very ambitious (and a bit pretentious, I thought), but we continue to hope, and we’re definitely unique, if nothing else.
I doubt that there’s another wine retailer in America selling pristine estate-bottled wine from Coste della Sesia as well as Grüner Silvaner trocken from Flörsheim-Dalsheim, and Rosso Piceno, all in the same store.