Wine shops tempt savvy palettes

Wine shops, wine bars and wine events have sprouted throughout the Truckee Meadows, and proprietors cultivate as many specialized niches as wines boast bouquets.

The reason for the grape's sudden popularity?

"People are drinking more wine and drinking more high-end wines," says Martin Kloska, owner of Napa Sonoma, which dominated the local market for sophisticated wines since it was founded in 1985. "People moving in from California are wine-friendly," he says.

"And locals in their 40s and 50s are developing a more sophisticated palette. Plus they can now afford the higher-priced wines."

Jerry Russo, owner of Viaggio Italian Cuisine and Wine Shop, launched in 1998 at Franktown Corners, also notes that the influx of Californians includes many wine-savvy consumers from the Bay Area and the Wine Country.

Those Wine Country transplants suddenly have a lot of places to shop.

There are longstanding mass market retailers such as Ben's Liquors. And upscale Washoe Wine Co., opened at Double Diamond Town Center in 2003 by Matt Marcewicz, who selects stock after traveling to wine tastings in New York and France.

L'uva Bella Wine Gallery opens next month at Summit Sierra. Owner Debby Bullentini and her husband spent four years researching the industry and possible locations.

"Then," she says, "to our surprise, all of these new shops popped up."

Among the new competitors is Vintage, A Wine Shop, launched by Dawn Ligon this winter on south Lakeside after she traveled the world learning about wine.

Vino 100, meanwhile, opened a franchised store last year at Double Diamond Smith's center. Co-owner Cathy Blair spent more than a year in research, much of it conducted at the Small Business Development Center at the University of Nevada, Reno.

"We spent endless hours, weeks and months there, researching market demographics," she says.

Downtown, Jungle Vino entered the fray last year with a wine bar on First Street.

Each store is trying to carve a distinctive niche.

Kloska hand-picks the wines for his clientele at Napa Sonoma, and positions the store as a place to purchase wine as a gift.

Russo relies on exclusivity, marketing boutique and Italian wines.

Marcewicz, an importer, says, "The bulk of our wines are not found elsewhere in the area."

At Jungle Vino downtown, manager Ty Martin says, "We try to concentrate on up-and-coming areas. Artisan wines from family-owner small producers. Small varietals that are different."

Vino 100 carries 100 boutique wines for $100 or less and also looks to carry wines available nowhere else in town. She also does joint promotions with Dream Diners, a gourmet take-out company located next door.

Ligon, meanwhile, markets Vintage, A Wine Shop, with taste tests all day, every day.

"We have testing machines imported from Italy," she says. "It allows us to have 50 bottles open for five weeks."

L'uva Bella will host educational programs teaching consumers how a chardonnay differs from a cabernet or even how to taste from a riedel glass.

Can the region support all the wine retailers?

Competition is not a bad thing, says Kloska, particularly because each store has its own place in the market.

"When Ben's and when Vino 100 opened, our business increased," he says. "The more people who are interested in wine, it's to our advantage. Our growth is explosive. Our sales were up hugely from last year."

Marcewicz cautions, however, that there always is a boom before a bust. He notes, for instance, that consumers have been buying more expensive wines in the past decade. "But the era of huge splashy make-a-scene is over. These are cyclical things."

Others expect the growth will continue.

"It's big," says Martin at Jungle Vino. "It's definitely big. We'll see a couple more wine bars in the urban core."


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