When Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal published a blog post last month about Ed Sands of DC’s Calvert Woodley wine store, my wife started berating me for letting an out-of-towner scoop me on interviewing one of this area’s leading retailers. After a minute or two, she sounded rather like the adults in a Peanuts cartoon, but she’d made her point. Being a dutiful husband, I called up Ed and posed some questions of my own. Here you are, Dear, and Happy Birthday!
(Ironically, after I did this interview but before it was posted on The Washington Post’s All We Can Eat blog, the Shanken News Daily posted its own interview with Sands. So I wasn’t the only one playing catch-up.)
When looking for insight on trends in the wine market, I like to ask a retailer. Retailers are both buyers and sellers – they have to explore what’s available, but they also need to maintain a consumer’s sense of thriftiness and value. And they need to know what consumers are looking for so they can anticipate their needs and offer wines that will actually sell rather than look pretty on a shelf. So with this post I inaugurate an occasional series of interviews with wine retailers in the DMV. Today’s guest is Ed Sands, co-owner of Calvert Woodley, one of the District’s most venerable wine shops. And in the spirit of the holidays, Calvert Woodley has extended its annual fall sale through the end of the year – details online.
DM: What are your customers looking for these days?
Ed Sands: People are interested in the values today – it’s not necessarily where the wine’s from but it has to be reasonably priced. There’s so much good wine that’s relatively inexpensive, that higher priced wines aren’t selling regularly. The best price point seems to be $15-$25, and they don’t care where it comes from. They’re willing to try anything. We sell a lot of wines from Argentina, Spanish wines are selling quite well, Italy so-so, and Australia has fallen off quite a bit. California wines – forget about the expensive ones. Even in the 15-25 range they aren’t selling well. It has to be something special, like a 2007 cabernet.
DM: Calvert Woodley has always been a Bordeaux specialist. Are you able to maintain that focus?
Ed Sands: Bordeaux’ cachet isn’t what it once was. People who have been buying it for years are fed up with the high prices charged by the leading chateaux. The petit chateaux are where the action is. We carry a lot of petit chateaux, and I really believe this is the future of Bordeaux, without question. They need to have a certain taste profile – with up-front fruit so can be taken home and drunk tonight. People don’t want to put these wines down [to age], they want to drink them. And the 2009s, plentiful on the market right now, are delicious.
DM: What will you be toasting the holidays with this year?
Ed Sands: [Laughs] I really haven’t thought about it to be honest with you. It’s a little early. Frankly the Champagnes are doing better than I would have thought, given the prices and the economy. Prosecco is very hot in the sparkling wine category. We find a lot more interest in Prosecco [from Italy] than Cava [from Spain].* We have some very good sparkling wines from Alsace that we do well with. Ones that sell in any real volume are the under $20 price range.
DM: Who are your customers these days? Are you noticing any changes in the wine consuming demographic?
Ed Sands: That’s an interesting question. We do a lot of marketing to attract younger customers, because there are a lot of new wine drinkers in their 20s, and we’ve been trying to target these consumers. So I do see a trend towards the younger people. We still have a base of our traditional customers, but more and more younger people. And these are the people who are so willing to experiment. They ask us for things that we don’t have – there are so many wines today that nobody can carry them all. So we learn from them to some extent. And there’s an awful lot of good wine people can buy for under $15. This is a great time to be a wine consumer.
* – I found this lack of interest in Cava surprising, until I saw the lackluster response to my post on Cava last week. Oh well …