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Wine Advice that Nobody Asked For: Well, How Did I Get Here?

This past weekend, a gentleman from the wilds of New York City visited the store for the first time after we had popped up on his radar while he was searching for wine online, and we got to chatting. He asked, “How does a store with a wine selection this good exist in Elkton, Maryland?” To which I responded, “Well, we like wine.”

This week’s entry is not about how I, Joe Buchter Import Wine Buyer, got here, oh no, it’s about how each and every wine that’s in the store got here. And it’s also a song cue. In principle being a wine buyer literally only means that you have to buy wine as the primary responsibility of your job, which like any job can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it.

I would like to tell you that each and every bottle in our store is lovingly crafted by small family owned wineries, where the land is tended by wisened elders, and the grapes are picked one berry at a time by fair maidens and handsome lads, and then the wines are chosen and curated by our staff to bring you a life changing vinous experience. But come on now, that would be some hyperbolic bull pucky.

The way that we purchase wine for the store, ultimately for you to select from, is a mix of passion and pragmatism. This can readily be observed just by walking the wine aisles. What kind of a wine shop has 8 different Chablis, while simultaneously maintaining a robust selection of 4L jugs of Carlo Rossi? What kind of a wine shop has their Loire Valley section arranged (roughly) from east to west, their Italian section arranged (roughly) from north to south while also selling half gallons of wine with fruit names that don’t exist in nature?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to throw shade. I cut my teeth on Carlo Rossi Paisano at “jug wine hoe downs” in college (overalls optional), and also found myself at a bar in Kennett Square not long before the Pandemic drinking full pours of the same wine. Readers of a previous column about wine expectations may not be surprised to hear that in the right setting, Carlo Rossi Paisano was just what I was looking for and that I even went back for seconds.

The pragmatism in what we do is selecting wines that sell themselves, the passion is choosing wines that don’t. The reason, to answer the question posed by the gentleman from New York, is that we buy wines that we believe in, because we think it’s worth doing the work to promote a winery, grape, or region that almost nobody has heard of. With enough money, any wine making entity can buy Super Bowl ads or billboards off of I-95, but that alone doesn’t mean that the juice is worth your time.

As a naive wine salesman in Washington, DC almost a decade ago, I was flabbergasted by one of the buyers at an unnamed shop I called on who purchased sparkling wine for the store. I asked if he wanted to taste a new bubbly we had and he said, “No, I don’t taste wine.” Nonplussed, I asked how he chose wines for the store, and he said that he picked wines if they were cheap or had a lot of points.

Ask me any day of the week why a wine is on our shelf, I’m pretty (too?) transparent. If it’s there because it sells well but I’ve never tasted it, then I’ll tell you. If it’s something that I personally believe in, but still only sell a couple bottles a month, then I’ll tell you that too.

What’s important to note though, is that I’m not alone. Long time shoppers of the store will know that the entire wine selection wouldn’t have been possible without passionate people long preceding me. John and Rick have spent decades picking wines that they believe in so I can be here doing the same thing with the valued input of Chad, Erik, Susan, and others on our wine team.

How did the wines get here? Same way the rest of us did, a bit of hard work and good luck.

-Joe Buchter, Import Wine Buyer

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