Friday, July 22, 2011

Exclusive wine selections at Brennan's Market - Part II of II

MadisonWineScene (MWS) recently interviewed Thea Miller, Product Manager at Brennan’s Market, (, @BrennansMarket on Twitter, Brennan’s Market on Facebook) at their Watts Road location about their wine business.

A previous post discussed Brennan’s strategy of focusing on exclusive relationships with wine producers. This post will discuss popular wines at Brennan’s.

MWS: What wines do you offer as part of the Brennan’s Cellars Collection?
Thea: We offer a wide range of prices $6.99 and up. Above $50, is not really our focus. Most of the wine we sell is priced between $9.99 & $15.

We focus on Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Italy and the U.S. (California, Washington State, Wisconsin, Colorado & Arkansas)

The varietals that we offer include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, Chianti, Riesling, Shiraz, Syrah, and more. Plus lots of red blends and white blends.

MWS: How many wine SKUs (stock-keeping units) does Brennan’s carry?
Thea: About 400.

MWS: Any differences between the Brennan’s stores (University Avenue and Watts Road in Madison and stores in Monroe, Brookfield and Oconomowoc) in the wines you carry?
Thea: No. All of our stores carry the same wine. It may seem like more at Watts than at our University Avenue store, but that’s just because Watts has more room to display.

MWS: What wines are the most popular?
Thea: Judging by sales since the beginning of the year, our two most popular wines are South Island Pinot Noir from New Zealand (at $9.99) and Italia Moscato d’ Asti from Italy (at $15.99). They are trending into the summer so far, so it will be interesting to see when the weather really warms up. I anticipate the Moscato will keep on going. It has such a great following.

MWS: Any surprises – wines that have done better than expected?
Thea: Yes. When Carlson Winery in Colorado first released their Laughing Cat Sweet Baby Red, I thought it would do ok, but it really took off.

There is a huge market for sweet reds for people looking for the health benefits a red wine provides, without the dryness.

Since then, we expanded the number for sweet reds we offer.

MWS: Any disappointments – wines that have not done as well as expected?
Thea: Sure. We had line in our label called Monterey Coast. Priced at $9.99 with great California varietal characteristics. We thought it would be a quick mover. Unfortunately not the case. So, we tried different things, but it just never caught on. So, we moved on.

MWS: Any hidden gems in the store?
Thea: The 2009 St. Laurent Riesling from Washington State is going to get a 90pt rating in the September issue of the Wine Enthusiast.  Guglielmo’s 2007 Petite Sirah from California got a 90pt rating in Wine Enthusiast in March.

But, we really aren’t all about ratings here. While we have rating signs, we are about finding a wine to fit each customer’s palate. That’s why we almost always have a wine selector on hand to navigate our unique selection.

If you come in looking for mainstream wine like Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, we aren’t going to have it. So, a knowledgeable wine selector is a must to offer alternatives to the consumer. We also have wine selectors to help our customers complete their meal. They shop their way through Brennan’s and then stop by the wine department to pick up wines for the week or wines for a party.

I will say that hands down the best deal in the store for everyday drinking are our Private Reserve 1.5 from Chile. Viu Manent Winery makes them exclusively for us. Can’t beat the value for a table wine.

MWS: Personal favorites?
Thea: My personal favorites change day-to-day, week-to-week. Ask me in a couple of weeks and it could be totally different. Depends on what I’m doing and cooking. Right now, here are my picks:

Powers Coyote Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State. I hadn’t had in a while and we had a dinner with the winemaker. Fell in love with it all over again.

South Island Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp, citrusy. At $9.99 it’s a great deal for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Italia Prosecco. So food friendly. Great for picnics. Great for wine cocktails, too, like a Strawberry Sparkler. Made with simple syrup, strawberries, lemon and Prosecco.

Plus, I make a lot of Sangria in the summer. One of my go to Sangria wines is our 1.5 Private Reserve Chilean Cab.

MWS: How would you describe the typical Brennans’ wine customer?
Thea: Our customers vary from store to store, but the most common thread is that they are people who are interested in having a unique shopping experience and who want to provide the best products for their families.

Because we are more than a wine store or liquor store, we get everyone from first time wine drinkers to experienced wine drinkers. Most of our wine customers are looking to complete a meal they have planned or pick up some wines to complement cheeses they just bought or just try something different.

Because half of our store is based on seasonality and freshness, our customers come in more frequently than maybe a traditional wine or liquor store. The average customer buys 2-3 bottles. Of course, some do take advantage of our 10% off 6 bottles (exclusions apply) or 1.5L case discount, too. Luckily, we know that if they pick up 2-3 bottles, they will be back next week for more.

MWS: How successful have your wine samplings been?
Thea: Our samplings are a great tool for us. Because everyone’s palate is different, it’s great to be able to say, “Try this wine. Let us know what you think.” Because sweet to me, might still not be sweet enough for someone else and so on.

It really helps to guide our wine selectors to exactly what the customer is looking for. Of course, we do sell the wines that we are sampling, too, but we are more concerned that a customer walks away with a wine that is just right for them because that keeps them coming back to Brennan’s.

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