Shops see increased wine sales over 2010

Tourism, younger consumers and bargain-hunters have helped drive increased wine sales for local retailers in 2011.

At Albertsons in Paso Robles, about 60 percent of wine purchases are made by out-of-towners, Linda Cooks said. She has overseen the store’s liquor department for 15 years.

“This year, there has been an increase with people purchasing larger amounts,” she said. “I’ve seen quite a bit of wine going out the door.”

Most are wines less than $15, Cooks said. But at smaller, more upscale shops such as Vintage 1255 in San Luis Obispo and Madeline’s Wine Shop in Cambria, you won’t find a bottle less than $15.

Smaller shops reported slight increases over 2010, but some say compared to five or more years ago, sales are still down.

While individuals may buy less wine overall or spend less per bottle, many will splurge for a rare treat.

“People who used to walk in and get a case are walking in and getting six to eight bottles,” said David Stoothoff, owner of Madeline’s. “People are either looking for a great deal or a super-great wine.”

The shop has been around for 23 years. Stoothoff, who has owned the adjacent Madeline’s Restaurant for eight years, bought it and renamed it in March.

A number of visitors come just to taste, so small retailers often charge a tasting fee that’s refunded with purchase. Or they offer by-the-glass wine bar service with an appetizer or cheese menu.

Vintage 1255 on Monterey Street has morphed from strictly retail to expanding its wine bar, manager Greg Rose said. With an ownership change in January, it added more tables.

The store attracts an equal number of travelers and local customers who come for happy hour.

“People do know that they can find hard-to-find wines here,” Rose said. “The majority are between $24 and $40. That’s my sweet selling spot.”

In the wake of a challenging and costly 2011 wine grape harvest — caused mostly by cool weather — retailers said their prime concern for 2012 is the possibility of price increases.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen next year,” Cooks said. “The crop this year had a lot of damage. A lot of people lost their grapes.”But consumers might not be willing to pay more.

“You have to be careful of not overpricing,” Rose said. “I’m hoping that people are going to sit at these price points. It wouldn’t be a smart time to come out with releases that are ridiculously high.”

Have a suggestion for Wine Notes? or call 441-4556.