Wine connoisseurs are discerning consumers. They know what they want, and are willing to pay a premium to get it. All they ask for in return is a product that has been stored at the right temperature and in the right position.
Take Dorothy Lane Markets in Dayton, Ohio. Each of the retailer's three stores features a walk-in, temperature-controlled wine cellar.
Kept at 55 degrees Fahrenheit, the wine cellars stock hard-to-find premium wines from France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Germany and the United States. Some vintages even date back to the late 1800s. Prices range from about $40 for a Californian wine to a $1,500 burgundy from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti in France, one of the most famous wine estates in the world.
"The wine room protects our wine investment, since many of our bottles are expensive and difficult to obtain," Todd Templin, the retailer's beer and wine director, told SN.
Other operators are getting involved in temperature-controlled wine rooms as well. Depending on a store's location and customer demographics, such rooms range in size from small storage closets to three-story, professionally crafted behemoths.
The latter is the case at Jungle Jim's International Market in Fairfield, Ohio, home to an "International Wine Library" that features more than 8,000 wines from around the world.
Jungle Jim's is in the midst of a storewide expansion that will double the store's wine department from about 10,000 to 20,000 square feet. When completed in June 2004, the wine department will feature a vertical, three-story wine cellar capable of holding hundreds of cases of wine.
Surrounded by brick and cobblestone walls, the wine room will be kept at 55 degrees. A hydraulic lift will help Schmerr access the collection.
Schmerr said the cellar will make the retailer's rare vintages and collector wines much more accessible to Jungle Jim's customers.
"The cellar will make it much easier for us to accommodate people who are looking for a certain vintage," Schmerr said.
Wine rooms are a way for supermarkets to appeal to the growing number of wine drinkers in the United States. Domestic consumption grew 6.3% to 221 million cases in 2002 compared to 2001, according to the Wine Market Council, St. Helena, Calif., a non-profit wine association representing the U.S. wine industry.
What's more, 25.4 million people are now core wine drinkers -- those who drink wine weekly or more often -- a 32% gain from 2002 to 2003, according to John Gillespie, president of Wine Market Council.
"This shows there are 32% more people walking down the aisles of the supermarket who are invested in the wine category," he said.
Gillespie attributes the increase, in part, to the health benefits associated with moderate wine drinking, and the growing number of consumers embracing wine at an earlier stage of adulthood.
Wine rooms are the logical next step to the growing emphasis on destination wine departments in the supermarket channel, according to Mora Cronin, vice president, public relations, Beringer Blass Wine Estates, Napa, Calif.
Wine rooms allow supermarkets to delve into the fine and luxury wine business, as temperature-controlled story storage cater mostly to wines that have potential to age, according to Cronin. Such wines are typically $25 and up and have the potential to be aged for two to 10 years. She added, however, that about 90% of wine is consumed within 48 hours of purchase.
It's unclear whether wine rooms are a trend at supermarkets nationally, said David Sloane, president, Wine America, Washington, a national association of American wineries.
For instance, there's been significant growth in Ohio, according to Donniella Winchell, executive director, Ohio Wine Producers Association in Austinburg.
Winchell touted the benefits of catering to supermarket wine shoppers. For the most part, they're around 35 to 45 years old, have annual household incomes of $90,000-plus, and are looking for upscale, gourmet foods.
Wine drinkers spend more throughout the store, not just in the wine department. They are especially interested in upscale meal solutions, according to Winchell.
"Wine rooms help attract a demographic that is looking for Brie cheese and freshly prepared foods," she said.
Wine rooms are a good business decision for supermarkets, especially if they're used to stocking high-end wines that cost about $50 or so, said Winchell.
Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, can attest that wine rooms can produce a good return on investment. Its Upper Arlington, Ohio, store is the chain's No. 1 unit in terms of sales volume, and the store's wine room is a large part of that success, according to Howard Argue, the unit's wine steward.
Encased by German-made shelving and woodwork, the room is kept at 58 degrees. Selections range in price from $13 to $160. Giant Eagle rotates the assortment every nine months.
Argue describes the room as a valuable marketing and merchandising tool, saying it provides a more upscale presentation to the wines stocked in the store.
The wine room lets Giant Eagle customers know that their favorite vintages are being stored in the correct position and at the proper temperature, said Argue. This means that bottles are stored lying down, not upright, to stop the cork from drying out and shrinking, thereby letting in air and spoiling the wine.
"The wines we put in there definitely get attention," Argue said. "A customer may go in there looking for a non-specific cabernet, but I can then approach them and show them a more upscale brand."
Giant Eagle currently has temperature-controlled wine rooms in about 40 of its 100 stores that carry wine, according to John Beese, category manager for beer wine and liquor.
On average, the rooms are 11 by 9 feet, and stock about 75 cases of wine. The retailer uses the rooms to stock a variety of vintages, including those that are more expensive; have a limited production; are new to the market; or aren't typically carried at retail, but rather in restaurants.
"The wine rooms set the tone for the category, and help define us as a better retailer," Beese said. He called the wine rooms a success, citing that they contribute about 5% to total-store sales, and up to 10% at the chain's best stores.
"We noticed that many people wanted to have better wine to drink at home, rather than in a restaurant," Beese said.
Wine cellars aren't the only way supermarkets can make their wine and spirits departments a destination. Today's added-value offerings range from in-store celebrity visits to a store-sponsored wine cruise.
Three Giant Eagle stores in Ohio recently hosted appearances by Andrew Firestone from Firestone Vineyard, Los Olivos, Calif. Readers may know the name: Firestone became a popular media figure after appearing on the reality television show "The Bachelor" earlier this year. During the in-store visits, Firestone signed bottles of Firestone wine and talked about his experiences on the show. Nearly 250 people turned out for Firestone's visit to the chain's Upper Arlington, store. Though Firestone arrived late due to flight delays, he stayed well beyond the allotted time to greet every person who turned out to meet him, according to Howard Argue, the store's wine steward.
Celebrities have made visits to other retailers as well. Last month, Jimmy Bedford, the "Master Distiller" of Jack Daniels' Tennessee whiskey, visited Wegmans Food Markets' Bridgewater, N.J., store. Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans promoted the visit in an e-mail blast to customers who receive its e-newsletter.
"He's the reason you can count on Jack Daniels' consistency, overseeing the entire whiskey-making process of milling, yeasting, fermentation and distillation," the e-mail read, in part.
Along with in-store celebrity visits, retailers are using other unique ways to cater to their wine and spirits customers. For instance, in February 2004, Jungle Jim's International Market will host the "Jungle Jim's Wine Cruise," a seven-day cruise to the western Caribbean. Nearly all of the 50 openings were taken as of last month.
While the ship will be packed with about 2,000 other cruisers, members of the Jungle Jim's party will get three, 90-minute wine tastings hosted by Dave Schmerr, the store's beer and wine director.
The cost of the trip ranges from about $1,000 to $1,500 per person and includes the cruise, tastings and round-trip airfare.
Ten wines will be sampled at each class. Three of Jungle Jim's wine suppliers will also be on the cruise to assist in the tastings. They are Chicago-based Paterno, a wine importer and broker; Estate Wine Co., Dayton, Ohio, a distributor; and Cutting Edge, a Cincinnati-based distributor.