I do occasionally shop for wine online 😉 mostly from K and L in San Francisco. They have a marvelous web site! I also browse the sites for San Francisco’s The Wine Club and The Wine House and have even ordered some hard-to-find wines on the latter site, especially when they offer it for less than K and L. (The Wine House has a case discount. I’ve never heard of this at the other places.) And of course I use Stryker Sonoma’s, Adelaida’s and Tensley’s sites as I’m members of their wine clubs. But these are all “real places” that happen to offer online sales.
Recently we ordered a case of chateauneuf du pape from B21 online. We think that they’re based in Seattle or perhaps somewhere in Florida. But whether or not they have a real brick-and-mortar store, well, who knows? To me, wine.com also seemed like one of those mystery places found only on the internet and in your mailbox. Well, believe it or not, they have a storefront on 4th Street in Berkeley!
Probably we’re the only ones surprised by that. We stumbled across the place on our way to find Viks Chaat Corner, a famous Indian restaurant and shop in the same neighborhood. The wine.com shop sort of looks like a generic warehouse type place. We’d have completely passed it by if not for the signs declaring “wine.com retail outlet now open.” The wine sales room wasn’t that large though it was just off what appeared to be a massive warehouse.
To us the place had a new-car-with-plaster-and-paint smell that screamed “just opened!” But the two clerks there laughed at the idea. It’s been open in that location for two years already and was in another part of town even before that. At any rate, the place looked very new with high ceilings, racks of wine, some wine paraphernalia, wine storage chests and cookbooks for sale. In the back they also displayed several paintings by Susi Watson with free postcards of her work. I imagine that wine.com rotates various artists into their store similar to how you might see at certain restaurants or coffee shops.
Though they have an interesting selection of wine, it’s not organized in a way that promotes rapid shopping. Instead of being sorted by production region (e.g. French, Italian, Californian, etc.) they’re arranged in categories like “earthy spicy reds,” “light fruity reds,” “big bold reds,” “90 points under $20 reds,” “90 points under $20 whites,” “off the beaten path” and so on. It’s more like a wine list at a trendy restaurant than how I imagine a wine shop would be set up.
The display did make us pay more close attention to the wines and I probably did look at more of them than I might in a more conventional arrangement. We ended up buying a few bottles of “90 points under $20 reds” and some on extra sale at that same price point. Most of the bottles come with these little paper tags with the name of the wine and the wine.com item number printed on it. There’s space on the reverse where you can write in the “drink date,” “occasion,” “food pairing, “ notes and indicate whether or not you’d order it again. It’s a smart marketing idea.