It's hard to resist the lure of big box stores this time of year. The turkeys are cheaper. The deals are abundant. You can usually cross all the items on your list off in one convenient shop.
But in advance of Small Business Saturday, McLean Patch is highlighting small businesses in our area, including Chain Bridge Cellars.
Meg House, with Chain Bridge Cellars, graciously answered a few questions for McLean Patch.
So skip the wine aisle at the local megamart. Stop by a local shop. You might even learn a thing or two about wine (and get a little holiday shopping done, to boot.)
1. Give us a little history behind the Chain Bridge Cellars. When did you open? Why did you choose McLean?
The wine store has been in McLean for about a quarter century, and we bought it four years ago after Doug had worked there for a couple of years. We adopted the Chain Bridge Cellars name in 2011 because we wanted to highlight that we're really a community store. Being part of that community, we've gotten to know how diverse McLean residents can be and how eager they are to connect with family and neighbors. Wine is a wonderful vehicle for making those connections, and that's a huge reason why McLean has been such a great place for our store.
2. What are some of your most popular wines people are buying this time of year?
Bubbly, big bottles, and party wine all get more attention this time of year. December brings demand for all kinds of sparkling wine, but nothing sparks more demand than our Holiday Prosecco, a fun and fruity fizz in a bright blue bottle decorated with wintery images. It’s the kind of wine people love to take to parties or just keep around the house for those, “Oops, I forgot to give a gift to … ” moments.
Large format bottles – magnums or even double-magnums – get popular during the year-end entertaining season, too. Almost every wine really does taste better in bigger bottles, and nothing shouts “we’re celebrating!” quite like a magnum on the table.
And, naturally, this is the time of year folks want a case or two or four of wine for a party without breaking the bank. You’ll see plenty of value Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay go out the doors over the next month, but our best sellers (and best values) tend to be less well known grapes and blends from the South of France, Argentina, Spain and Italy.
Last, now ‘tis the season for samplers – case samplers, that is. Our $99 sampler of 12 selected value wines and our 90 Point Case Sampler are perfect “grab and go” gifts, and we’ll see plenty grabbed and gone in the next few weeks!
3. Do you have any tips for buying wine as a gift?
A few different strategies can make wine gift-giving more satisfying for both the giver and receiver. First, think about giving a bottle that’s special to you – a wine you especially love, something you drank on your last vacation, etc. People like receiving wine, but they like getting a taste of your passion even more, so share a bottle and a story when you can. A $20 bottle with a story from you is better than a $50 wine that just has a big score and review from a critic.
Instead of trying to find one big knock-them-over showpiece bottle, think about giving a set of more moderately priced wines based on a theme. It’s always fun to open a box and find a $100 wine looking back at you, but it can be even more fun to find four bottles that each represent a different style of Chardonnay or a half dozen “Wines I Bet You’ve Never Tried Before” waiting under the tree.
If you really want or need to go for a “shock and awe” impact, then buy magnums. And, if you want to be really considerate to an older couple or someone who lives alone, think about an assortment of half-bottles. Or, just give Champagne – no one ever has enough Champagne!
4. Why is Small Business Saturday important to you?
It's a great community counterpoint to the big box experience of Black Friday. Customers patronize the small stores where the owner is on site and knows the customers, a little about their lives, the kinds of wines they enjoy .. and the kinds they don't.
5. Your small wine shop is competing in a market filled with big box stores (grocery stores, Total Wine, etc.). What are some challenges you face in that business environment?
It's always a challenge, but it's been a consistent part of our market for many years. They disrupt our business the most when they decide to sell a big name wine at or below their cost or offer crazy discounts to drive traffic. We understand that some of these discounts actually represent pretty good value for fans of certain wines, and we're not shy about telling customers to walk across the street or drive down the road a bit when someone else sells something for 25 percent or more less than we do!
Mostly, our customers are looking for food friendly wines they can enjoy now and for years before, during, and after a meal. We spend a lot of time looking for those wines, and we usually find them coming from family wineries and/or less well known grapes or regions around the world. These are wines that come to us through local importers and distributors, and that don't have advertising, sales promotion, or national broker costs built in to their price. That means that a $10 wine at our store often has "more wine" (in terms of cost of production) in it than a $15 wine you'd find at a big box store.
Our customers understand this and appreciate the chance to explore the world of artisanal, small production wines with us. They appreciate the chance to learn about new regions, new grapes, and the people who make these honest wines - and sometimes even get to meet them.
And, of course, McLean's like anywhere else - people love to be known. We work hard (and use a little technology!) to build our understanding of what each customer likes, wants to know more about, and what doesn't work so well. While our whole staff has strong opinions about wine, our goal is to limit how often we say, "Here's something I like" and maximize the amount we can say, "Here's a wine for you." That's what the small business experience is all about - connection between the people in the business and the folks in their community.
Chain Bridge Cellars is located at 1351 Chain Bridge Road, McLean.