COLUMBUS, OH. – I first heard of Vino 100 a national retail wine shop chain several years ago when dabbling with the idea of going into retail wine at retirement. On a work related trip I had my first chance to visit a Vino 100 on the north side of Columbus, Ohio, at the Polaris Parkway exit off I-71.

That was 2007 and on the first visit and two or three times each fall since, I get to chat with the delightful Liz Avera. Liz is the shop owner and wine guru. I wrote about Vino 100 on this blog and also for the national online wine magazine – Palate Press. (Click the links to see those stories.)

I had missed Liz on two previous attempts this year but spent about a half hour Friday afternoon talking wine and the wine business. The shop is located in Westerville, an affluent Columbus suburb. The Polaris Parkway area is a thriving retail district with businesses that one could fairly label “upscale.”

Many wine retailers have talked of the recession of 2008 and how they’ve struggled to this day to recover. Liz and her Vino 100 story is a bit different.

“We’re not a good test study because we opened in 2007,” she said. “Our history is very short and spanned the entire recession. Not a lot of people knew about us when we first opened so we didn’t have a cushion of all thesewine drinkers coming here to buy wine. We’ve actually grown every year since we opened.
Liz in her shop with the tasting notes that helped build her business
“What is interesting is buying patterns have changed. Some of our market has gone to buying two $10-$15 wines instead of one $50 one. We’re still really strong in the value niche and the longer we’ve been here the more people realize we are good at finding really good drinking wines that don’t cost as much. We’ll show you a $50 wine but then we’ll show you one that’s $25or less that will be really really good. People have learned to trust our inexpensive wines just as much as our higher end.”
The Vino 100 system labels wines on taste characteristics but Liz is the buyer an has an eye for unique wines and great values. After all, the Vino 100 marketing line is “100 Great Wines Under $25.”
I bought five bottles of wine – three under the $25 price point. The first one I picked up stunned me! I found a Stroppiana Oreste Langhe Rosso. Langhe is the premier region in Italy’s Piedmont known for the big and expensive Barolos. The $23 wine is a blend of the grapes from Langhe but at a price far, far below what you normally have to pay to touch the applelation. I can’t wait to try it.
The other wine I noticed was a Vina Robles from Paso Robles red blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Mourvedre for $17. Liz then sprinted at me with a bottle of Ippeas Kikonees from Greece that “you just have to try.” So I plopped down the $25 for this Cab/Merlot blend on Liz’s assurances.

That also is an illustration of what I preach in the newspaper column and here. Find wine store proprietors you like and trust and then take their word.

Just as a side note, I bought two more wines above the $25 price – beyond what I usually write about and don’t purchase that frequently. I am a big fan of dry Rose’. Liz’s husband Don poured me a taste of Domaine Ott Cotes de Provence. It was very light salmon in color and simply the best darn Rose I’ve ever tasted. Apparently, according to Jim, Robert Parker raved about this Rose as one of the best France has to offer.
My other purchase is an entire story, that I hope to do, but often what you’ll find in smaller shops Liz told me of seeking out Napa winemaker Sandi Belcher who few people know. Long story made short for now – longer later – is Sandi makes some incredible wines. Liz was lucky enough to strike a chord with Belcher and landed 50 cases of IMPROMPTU a blend of Howell Mountain Cabernet from 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. She’s down to just 15 cases and expects to sell it quickly. She is the only retail store, minus one New York restaurant, to have the wine. Belcher won’t be making any more.
So I trusted Liz and plopped down some bigger bucks for the Rose’ and IMPROMPTU which I’ll cellar for awhile. But I can’t wait to taste them.
“What’s cool, I think, is the business has grown organically, by word of mouth,” Liz said. “People who are into wine are out in the community or at a party and they get asked, ’Where did you get this wine?… Where do you shop? And they say we love Vino 100. That’s been a lot of our growth.”

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

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