If you were asked to name the top wine markets in the US, what would you say?
New York most likely comes to mind, with San Francisco a close second. Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami would probably round out the top five responses for most enthusiastic wine consumers, with “pockets” of other sensible options meriting attention as well. Seattle and Portland, for example, for their proximity to the wine regions of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia; Boston for its traditional links to European markets; and “niche enthusiast” markets like Naples, Florida and Nashville where robust wine auction or philanthropic events are organized annually.
That all makes sense.
Today, however, I’d like to focus on “B-list” cities that may not jump immediately to mind as a top wine market, but rank nonetheless as an “A+” option for wine lovers.
There are, I think, two differentiators that tip the scale.
One differentiator is an awareness of the kinds of wine you personally enjoy as a consumer, and whether you know someone in the trade (such as a retailer or sommelier) who has an inside track on accessing those wines to sell to you.
For example, I happen to deeply enjoy white wines from northern Italy. If I lived anywhere near Boulder, Colorado, I would be a very frequent visitor to Frasca Food and Wine on Pearl Street, where Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey engineers the wine list. Stuckey is arguably the country’s foremost advocate in the trade for this particular segment of wine I enjoy, which makes Boulder (and Denver, where Stuckey and his team recently opened a European wine bar called Sunday Vinyl) “A+” cities for me as a wine lover. Stuckey has the inside track, and guests to his restaurants are the beneficiaries.
The first differentiator, then, that tips the scale from “B-list” to “A+” starts with what you know about your own preferences, mixed with who you know, namely someone who has access to those preferred wine options. It has to do with affinities — your own and that of your “guide.”
The second differentiator has to do with supply and demand. Wineries, naturally, have an interest in seeing their most in-demand wines in the hands of the people demanding them (and are willing to pay for them). Wineries are also looking for brand awareness; traditionally, the biggest “hits” in that regard have been in larger markets where the voice is amplified through scale. These are some of the reasons why major metropolitan areas and population centers are at the top of the pyramid when it comes to desirable destinations of wine brands around the world, and why the lion’s share of the supply of wine is funneled in the direction of “A-list” cities.
However, wineries also have an interest in cultivating new or emerging markets in order to keep their customer database “fresh.” Some wineries will intentionally orient their resources (and their supply of wine) into those “B-list” cities. In that case, brand awareness is amplified because there are fewer competing voices, and wineries can home in on a tighter radius of consumers that they are trying to reach.
Consumers in these “B-list” cities, for their part, benefit from the attention, most noticeably in terms of actually being able to find and buy wines that are in very limited quantities or are on allocation. Let’s say that a winery with a media-darling or cult-favorite wine has 100 cases to distribute throughout the US. Seventy-five of those cases may go to accounts in top-tier markets including New York, San Francisco and Chicago where demand is high. The other 25 cases would be distributed elsewhere, and accounts in “B-list” cities might only receive one case or even a few bottles each.
But if the sommelier or retailer at those accounts — who you know and who knows your preferences, as I mentioned above — then a little experience of magic happens. Happily, this has happened to me in Atlanta, where I live, multiple times with wines from Pierre-Yves Colin in Burgundy and, most recently, Christian Tschida in Austria. I have a relationship with the local wine shop, Elemental Spirits Co. just up the street, where they know my preferences and alert me to special deliveries of small-allocation wines like this.
Atlanta may not have been one of the markets that came to mind when I asked the question at the top of this story. In the follow-up post, however, I’ll dive deeper into three examples from the local restaurant landscape that further support the idea that, although, it may be generally considered a “B-list” city, Atlanta scores an “A+” for wine lovers. Please stay tuned for that.