Wine, and nothing else, is sold with a touch of class at store

January 07, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Women, inexpensive wine and bright lights.

No, it's not a disco or sleazy bar. It's International Wines, one of the first wine-only stores in Columbia.

In a lilac-painted store off Route 108, owner Jerome Williams targets women -- who experts say make 55 percent of wine purchases -- and offers 300 different wines for less than $10 each.

Instead of the plain rows and stacks of liquor and beer in many liquor stores, lilac walls and light wood shelves attempt to create a classier environment for buying wine.

"This is not at all your typical liquor store, where buying alcohol feels like a seedy operation," Williams said. "We're giving people a safe, warm, clean atmosphere. We're selling service. It's all about pampering."

Plain brown paper bags with the neck of a wine bottle sticking out just won't do. Williams uses light brown ones, decorated with a bunch of purple grapes, to wrap purchases.

For novice drinkers, manager Ann Snyder, who has worked for more than 20 years in the beverage industry, guides customers through the store, which offers wine from nine countries.

Her advice: rich, spicy dishes usually go better with full-bodied wine; lighter fare with lighter wine.

A middle-aged nurse came in one afternoon in search of a good bottle of wine.

Snyder showcased the 1,200-square-foot store, pointing out an Australian Chardonnay and a French Merlot as good wines with most foods. The woman, who asked not to be named, became a believer. "I'm not a wine connoisseur, but if they're going to take the time to explain it to me that's quite attractive," she said, as she pondered which bottle to buy before deciding on the Chardonnay.

4 Pampering the customer, experts say, sells wine.

"Wine is a very subjective thing where people like a lot of personal attention," said Michael V. Franklin, president of Franklin Selections. "They want the attention and guidance, not like the guy who buys a case of Bud or a bottle of gin from any place."

The most expensive bottles are stickered gold and cost $9.95. Bottles such as the silver-labeled Pinot Grigio from Italy cost $8.95. A French Merlot with a blue label sells for $7.95. A French Burgundy with a red label sells for $6.95. And for a real bargain, there's the purple-labeled Chardonnay from Chile for $5.95.

"The kinds of wines that you're getting today for $8 to $10 used to sell for $20 to $25," said Ed Everett, a San Francisco wine consultant. "We've spoiled people. If a store sells all its wine for under $10, you've got a very, very good wine going for a great deal."

Pub Date: 1/07/98

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